Listen to the experts: town camp women on DV

Above: In 2017 town camp women and girls demanded to be heard; they haven’t stopped since. Photo from our archive.




The message was driven home by a list, a very long list, and a bucket of balls.


Co-coordinators of the Tangentyere Women’s Family Safety Group, Shirleen Campbell and Carmel Simpson wanted their audience to understand the pressures experienced by a woman on a town camp in Alice Springs who is experiencing domestic violence.


Ms Campbell (at right, in 2017) is an “Alice Springs girl ” from “a large family and a big background”: Arrernte / Luritja / Pertame on her mother’s side,  Warlpiri and Anmatyerr on her father’s side. She has become the public face of the Women’s Family Safety Group, taking her clear-eyed advocacy as far as Canberra and for her efforts earning a NT Human Rights Award in 2018.


She introduced Ms Simpson, who has lived in Alice for the past decade, as her “best friend”. The pair (pictured below right, photo courtesy APO NT) are doing “two-way learning” together: “That’s what keeps the passion going,” said Ms Campbell. They foreground women’s voices, but work with the whole community, young people and men too, collectively, not just with individuals.


Their memorable presentation was delivered to a Collective Action learning forum, held in Alice Springs last week.


Each item on the list that Ms Campbell read aloud was represented by a ball in the bucket, which Ms Simpson put into the hands of a volunteer from the audience.


First up, there were the balls representing appointments that the woman experiencing domestic violence might need to attend:




Community Centre

Women’s Shelter

Domestic Violence Specialist Children’s Service




Department of Children and Families





The balls were starting to fall, a simple illustration of a stark fact: it’s hard to hold all of this together.  But we were nowhere near finished. Ms Campbell moved on to the second layer.


The services, agencies, government departments that the woman might have involved in her life:


CIB (criminal investigation branch of NT Police)

Family Safety Framework




Department of Children and Families

Truancy (officer with the Department of Education)

Department of Housing / Zodiac (housing tenancy services)

Legal Aid


Family Responsibility services

Sexual Assault Referral centre

Probation and Parole



Third, pressures, responsibilities, stresses the woman might be dealing with:


Violence from her partner

Threats from her in-laws

Getting her children to school


Transport issues

Housing inspection

Centrelink request

Health issues

Power costs

Caring for the elderly

Caring for pets

Caring for babies and children

Financial insecurity

Child trauma / behavioural issues


Sorry business

Food insecurity

Alcohol and other drugs

Extended family

Legal issues


Cultural and family  obligations



As we listened, a graphic projected onto a screen alongside the presenters showed the accumulating layers of pressure, circle upon devastating circle (see the final result at bottom).


Fourth, the disadvantage and discrimination due to gender / class / race:


These factors are out of the woman’s control but have a big impact on her life. As an Aboriginal woman in a town camp in Central Australia, she experiences them in combination and to a higher degree. This understanding of her experience is known as “intersectionality”. The factors are:


Gender-based violence and inequality

Substance abuse

Poor quality and overcrowded housing

Single parent families and young parents

Language  and culture not supported in school

Low levels of Western education

Poor health

High levels of unemployment

Invasion and dispossession

Children experience violence and abuse

Poor service coordination

Poverty and economic exclusion

High numbers of children in state care

High levels of family separation

Youth detention

Institutional abuse

Loss of identity

Trauma of the Stolen Generation

Intergenerational trauma

Racism, systemic and direct

Loss of land

High rates of incarceration

Intervention (NTER) policies



Lastly, the negativity the woman may experience because of all the above:


Strained family relations



Low self-esteem

Feels unsafe

Fear and insecurity

Dissociative states

Self neglect and injury


Poor adherence to medical advice

Panic attacks


Health issues

Emotional numbing

Emotional ‘overeaction’ to stimuli

Alcohol and other drug issues


Chronic pain

Chronic depression





Suicide attempt

Sleeping and eating disorder



By now the five volunteers had their hands more than full and many balls had fallen to the floor.


Town camp women experience all this pressure on a daily basis, observed Ms Campbell.


This lived experience is what makes them “the experts”; they know the good ways to work, they are “the influencers when it comes to family safety” because they have the knowledge, the stories and the resilience to share.


Taking stock like this, it is hard not to imagine them being utterly overwhelmed.  But people recognise their reality, said Ms Simpson, it is validating to have it named, and they have their community around them. That is the strength that they draw on, that the Women’s Family Safety Group focusses on in their work.



The Collective Action learning forum, convened by Aboriginal Peak Organisations NT and the Central Australia Community of Practice, was held at the Alice Springs Baptist Church, 1-3 October 2019.



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2 Comments (starting with the most recent)

NB: If you want to reply to a previous comment, start your comment with this notation: @n where n is the number of the comment you want to reply to.
  1. Psuedo Guru
    Posted October 9, 2019 at 6:39 am

    No forward growth, stuck in a world that never improves. What a terrible waste.

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  2. James T Smerk
    Posted October 8, 2019 at 10:04 am

    Unfortunately and sadly it’s become part of a culture now and the only way to stop it is from within.
    I think the solution is for better up bringing for kids. Kid need to be brought up in a safe and loving environment where they get to see parents that act in a loving and supportive way. They will more likely become caring and not violent themselves (in my opinion).
    If you are around violence from a young age and through to teenage years it becomes the norm.
    Find a way to fix this and it will go along way to eliminating most of the above stresses.

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