Earlier today I witnessed the most powerful and (hopefully) effective public event I’ve yet seen in my short stay in Alice Springs.
Alice Springs is a town where men – particularly Aboriginal men – rarely make mass public statements that address the issue of greatest concern to most people living in Alice Springs – domestic and inter-personal violence. But thanks to the concerted efforts of a determined group of men that is changing.
The “Stop The Violence” march held today saw several hundred men and boys march through the centre of Alice Springs to join a large group of women and supporters to rally at the Alice Springs Town Council lawns. The march stopped the traffic in town and hopefully lifted just a little of the malaise and downheartedness that often seems to be the dominant sentiment in this troubled town.
Domestic and inter-personal violence pervades too many areas of life in the Northern Territory and the last week of the recent Federal election campaign for the two NT lower house seats was marred by an undignified spat centered on allegations of domestic violence against candidates from both sides of NT politics.
And in a horrible coincidence just yesterday the NT Supreme Court in Alice Springs sentenced Joachim Golder to life imprisonment for beating his wife to death in an attack that Justice Judith Kelly described in her sentencing remarks as:
…a cowardly and vicious attack on a defenceless woman who should have been able to look to you for protection. You have offered no explanation at all for attacking her, other than that your counsel says you were very drunk at the time. You have a lengthy criminal history, including a conviction for manslaughter in March 1993 for the unlawful killing of your brother and a conviction for unlawfully causing grievous harm in 2005, when you stabbed your then de facto wife. Both of these crimes were committed when you were intoxicated.
And just last night NT Police had been called out to a fracas at a local town camp:
Police were called to Walpiri Camp just before midnight following reports of a disturbance. When they arrived they found a group of up to 30 people involved in an argument, and a 21-year-old man with a stab wound to his leg. The man was taken to Alice Springs Hospital where police discovered another victim of the disturbance who had already been taken to hospital.
One of the key initiatives in the apparent reduction of the overall rates of violence has been the response of Aboriginal men living in central Australia. In June 2008 a large meeting of men met at Inteyerrkwe outside of Alice Springs and released the following joint communique after the meeting:
“We the Aboriginal males from Central Australia and our visitor brothers from around Australia gathered at Inteyerrkwe in July 2008 to develop strategies to ensure our future roles as grandfathers, fathers, uncles, nephews, brothers, grandsons, and sons in caring for our children in a safe family environment that will lead to a happier, longer life that reflects opportunities experienced by the wider community. “We acknowledge and say sorry for the hurt, pain and suffering caused by Aboriginal males to our wives, to our children, to our mothers, to our grandmothers, to our granddaughters, to our aunties, to our nieces and to our sisters. “We also acknowledge that we need the love and support of our Aboriginal women to help us move forward.”
The success of the 2008 meeting was followed by another earlier this year at the conclusion of which John Liddle, Male Health Manager at the Central Australian Aboriginal Congress said:
“Like most Aboriginal males in Central Australia I am sick of going to funerals and seeing our courts, jails, health clinics and hospital filled with brothers and sisters who have been involved in family violence. It is time that Aboriginal males stood up both morally and culturally, taking positive action and a zero tolerance approach to stop the excessive violence in families, communities and towns, a crisis that is having a devastating effect on community members of all ages and genders, especially the children.”
Today’s march and rally follow on from those meetings and are the start of a schedule of events that will culminate on Australian Human Rights Day in December 2010.
Local blogger Dave Richards over at Alice Online reports that John Liddle told the rally on the Council lawns that:
“We need to get across to the world, our community, black and white, that we are against violence,” Mr Liddle told the crowd. “What these T-shirts are saying is we don’t want to condone it, we don’t to put up with it , we want to stop the bloody violence. “We’ve got very strong cultural men here today. they are our leaders. They are right behind this programme we’ve got going now.”
There is a lot more to come in this movement and I look forward to having a closer look at this quite remarkable movement and the work of people like John Liddle of the Ingkintja Male Health program at the Central Australian Aboriginal Congress and Baydon Williams of Ingkerreke Outstation Resource Services based in Alice Springs.