Aboriginal women from Alice Springs have travelled to Canberra to deliver a defiant message — they are deeply worried about assaults of women in their communities, and they urgently need more support to make it stop.
“Basically we’re just sick of it. We’re coming here telling the decision-makers we actually want our voices to be heard,” said Shirleen Campbell, a resident of Hoppy’s Camp, one of 18 town communities on the outskirts Alice Springs.
“We are the grassroots people, we know what’s best for our mob, so coming to Canberra is a start.”
The Tangentyere Women’s Family Safety Group — a family violence education and support alliance — staged a sit-in, or sorry ceremony, at Parliament House today, in memory of the women who have been killed or injured by partners and relatives.
The women cried as they placed flowers in the grass at Parliament House, to honour loved ones who had died after being assaulted.
“It put a tear in my eyes that we’re talking to the Government, and teaching them that we’ve got feelings too, us women,” said Marlene Hayes, a town-camp resident.
Two of Ms Campbell’s aunts were killed by their partners in 2014 and 2015 — both women had suffered several years of abuse before their deaths.
“I’m doing it for my daughter, and I’m doing it for my grandmothers, my mothers, my aunties, and I also will be reflecting on two of my aunties who are not here today, and I’m in doing it in honour of those two ladies,” she said.
Other members of the group have been victims of domestic violence, Ms Hayes said.
“All us women, we’ve been victims. The violence always goes into the homes and it starts off with racism and arguing and then a fight starts and it’s got to stop.”
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are killed by their partners at twice the rate of other Australian women, according to research released by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare last month.
The town-camp women led a major march through the centre of Alice Springs last year, urging more media and government attention to be paid to the deaths and serious assaults of Indigenous women in Central Australia.
‘We want Government to listen to us’
Northern Territory Labor senator Malarndirri McCarthy praised the women for their courage, and said each had “their own personal story of violence”.
“They’ve gone through a lot. They’ve got a very deep investment on an emotional level in terms of what they want to see for themselves and for their children and grandchildren,” she said.
“Here is a group of people who come from the town camps of Alice Springs, who live day in, day out with some of the most appalling incidents of family violence, and they’re doing something about it.”
“We have First Nations women who are always talking to one another about the impacts [of violence]. Sometimes those voices can be loud and strong, and other times they still need encouragement.”
The Tangentyere women educate town-camp residents on early intervention and the prevention of violence, but Ms Campbell said the group was seeking long-term government funding to continue their work.
“We want to tell the Government to listen to us, stand with us and to support us,” she said.
“We are working hard and we want to build that collaboration with the Government — sharing our voices — we want our program to be run for our next future generation.”
Ms Campbell, a mother of five, said speaking out and working for change in their small communities, had been difficult for many of the Tangentyere women.
“Four, five years ago it was really daunting, it was really heartbreaking. It took me a while to get me where I am, and to how I’m feeling now,” she said.
“I feel so strong and confident, hoping that our program runs for the future generation
“It’s also a privilege coming to Canberra because I want to share that message about visibility.”