Say her name: inquiry reminded of women who have died

Rudi Maxwell |

Latoya Rule read out some of the names of Aboriginal women who have died in custody.
Latoya Rule read out some of the names of Aboriginal women who have died in custody.

A public hearing into missing and murdered First Nations women and children has finished with a list of Aboriginal women who have died in custody and a poignant reminder: say her name.

Latoya Rule, from the Jumbunna Institute for Indigenous Education and Research, read out some of the names of Aboriginal women who have died in custody to the senate inquiry in Sydney.

“A lot of the parents, sisters and cousins of people who have been murdered, typically by the state, have hashtag ‘say her name’ as a main call to action,” they said.

“It’s part of that not remembering which is why we come to inquests, to not only remember names, but stories and lives and real people. 

“And that is the disconnection that I am seeing repeatedly. 

“The humanising of Aboriginal people will account to the care for Aboriginal people.”

NSW police officers earlier faced a grilling by senators about the way they respond to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in times of crisis.

When Colleen Walker’s mother went to Bowraville police station in September 1990 to report her daughter missing, she was dismissed and told the Aboriginal teenager had probably “gone walkabout”.

In the following four months, two more Aboriginal children, Evelyn Greenup, 4, and Clinton Speedy Duroux, 16, also went missing from the northern NSW town, near Coffs Harbour.

Their families were similarly patronised by police and have never seen justice. Their stories are some of the tragic tales being investigated by the inquiry.

Three senior NSW police officers faced a grilling by the senators, who wanted to know what lessons had been learned from the failures in Bowraville.

Superintendent Christopher Nicholson conceded that in the past, a lack of cultural understanding of Aboriginal people had led to officers dismissing concerns with “someone’s gone walkabout”.

“And a lack of understanding as to what that means has led to negative outcomes,” he said.

“What we’re saying is that at that systemic level we’re building in that cultural awareness.”

Detective Inspector Ritchie Sim, head of the Missing Persons Registry, said the unit had changed its standard operating procedures.

But committee member, Greens senator Dorinda Cox, who is a former police officer, said it would take much more than cultural awareness training to address the systemic and structural racism inherent in the police.

Senator Cox said, sadly, too often Aboriginal women were seen as “bad victims” by police.

“People don’t know how to deal with that,” she said.

“Police use the word victimology but when we don’t fit into that mould – if Aboriginal women are angry or distraught – that plays into that a lot of the bad policing practices.”

Senator David Shoebridge said the maths of the NSW police didn’t add up.

“We heard that they have 17 female Aboriginal community liaison officers across the whole of NSW,” he said.

“When we took evidence it was clear that there are deeply committed people including senior First Nations, public servants who who are hitting structural barriers.

“It’s a it’s a credit to them that they keep turning up but it’s a failure of the system to make it so bloody hard to get the change.” 

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