Features Australia

What to do about Yuendumu?

Where black female lives appear not to matter

Tony Letford

Getty Images

Tony Letford

18 June 2022

9:00 AM

The Weekend Australian recently ran a series of articles providing in unflinching, graphic detail, an account of a young woman from the remote Central Desert community of Yuendumu, ‘Ruby’, who was repeatedly bashed and raped by her own father. The depravity depicted in the story was truly shocking. What made it worse was that, when Ruby went to the police to complain, her extended family ostracised her for reporting the matter.

The story moved Northern Territory Supreme Court Judge Judith Kelly to go public and give an interview to the Weekend Australian to draw attention to the problem of domestic violence in the NT, (‘Epidemic of violence plagues women: judge’). Justice Kelly said Ruby’s account failed to shock her ‘Because it’s a horrendous story but we see that every day’. Justice Kelly noted that between 2000 and 2002, two Aboriginal men were fatally shot by the police and, ‘In that same period, 52 women have been the victims of homicide, mostly by their partners’.

While Supreme Court judges can sometimes make generalised comments about society when passing judgement in court cases, it is rare for them to speak out so frankly at other times. So Justice Kelly’s incendiary remarks should have created a massive response in the media. Instead the national mainstream media had other issues of concern. The ABC decided that a traffic accident involving two Aboriginal adolescents on bicycles and a white driver who allegedly called them ‘black dogs’ was of national importance. I couldn’t see why the murder of 52 Aboriginal women was less important than an incident of alleged racial abuse by a white male driver so I sent the following request to the ABC on its online contact system for clarification.

‘Today your Mildura office published a story about two kids who were allegedly racially abused by a motorist who damaged their bikes. The story included photos of the kids and their father. Last Saturday, the Australian had a front page story in which a senior NT judge spoke about the epidemic of domestic violence in indigenous communities and the ‘vast numbers of Aboriginal women in the morgue and in hospitals. I am a writer and am looking into an article about the ABC coverage of indigenous affairs.’

‘I wonder if you could tell me if anyone in your news rooms read the article in last Saturday’s Australian and if there was any attempt to follow it up? If not, would it be correct to conclude that, when some racist idiot shouts at a couple of Aboriginal kids, its national news for the ABC but, when a young girl is raped by her father then ostracised by her community for reporting it to the police, it isn’t worth covering?’

‘Also, when a senior judge speaks out so strongly about domestic violence in Indigenous communities, why it isn’t deemed worth reporting?’

But answer came there none. Possibly the ABC journos, are too busy looking for more examples of motorists abusing kids to look into the stories behind the Aboriginal women murdered in domestic violence disputes.  The ABC is not alone in its somewhat selective reporting of indigenous affairs. When the NT police officer accused of the murder of Kumanjayi Walker was found not guilty and acquitted, the Harvey Norman Herald which used to be known as the Sydney Morning Herald, commented, ‘The verdict inevitably caused anguish and despair for Mr Walker’s family and, more broadly, Indigenous Australians who believe – with some justification – that the justice system is stacked against them’ (Profound issues remain after acquittal in Kumanjayi Walker case SMH 13/3).

Like the ABC, the Herald is more concerned about one man who was shot by a white police officer while resisting arrest than the murders of numerous Aboriginal women by their partners.

In some ways the willful blindness of left journalists covering indigenous affairs resembles the self-deception that Russians seem to have in relation to the invasion of Ukraine. Numerous surveys have shown that Russians overwhelmingly believe that blame for the ‘military operation’ in Ukraine can be laid at the door of the US and Nato. Depending on which survey you use, somewhere between only four to seven per cent of the population believe that the war was caused by Russia. People, it would seem, can be made to believe anything if it resonates with their world view.

If the distorted or mad view of the Russian people about the Ukraine invasion can be attributed to restricted access to the truth and lies told by their government, then how do we explain the inability or refusal of many Australian journalists to recognise the horror of life for indigenous women in communities such as Yuendumu? Unlike the Russians, Australian journalists are well educated and have unrestricted access to the vast amount of information that is available concerning dysfunction and criminality in remote Aboriginal communities in the deep north. Yet while the daily incidence of serious criminal assaults due to domestic violence continues, it is rarely mentioned in mainstream media.

In the May edition of the Monthly, Melbourne writer Anna Krien is allowed almost twenty pages to go into forensic detail about the shooting of Kumanjayi Walker by Constable Zachary Rolfe. (‘A shooting in Yuendumu’). Ms Krien presents a superficially neutral account of the shooting and subsequent trial of Rolfe but can’t resist concluding, with a literary flourish by claiming that ‘Walker never stood a chance against Rolfe. Not in life and not in death’ and, while Krien goes into great detail about aggressive police behaviour in the community, she glosses over the violence that women in the community experience on a daily basis.

In a recent edition of Justinian, Richard Ackland’s online blog about the law, Justice Kelly said, ‘Like most people, I would like to see an end to indigenous disadvantage. Like most people, I am pretty clueless about how that is to be accomplished. I would also like to see an end to the kind of polarisation that has people isolated in bubbles of the like-minded not listening to each other – but this is not happening’.

The refreshing, honest, candour of Justice Kelly stands in contrast to the obfuscations, and distortions that too many journalists use when discussing places like Yuendumu. If our journalists could exhibit the same honesty about remote indigenous communities as Justice Kelly, it may not immediately solve anything but it would be a start.

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Published by Nelle

I am interested in writing short stories for my pleasure and my family's but although I have published four family books I will not go down that path again but still want what I write out there so I will see how this goes

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