Our black mark of shame

THIS is a plea to the women of Australia. The appeal is to women because men, particularly politicians and those in authority, have shown little will or desire to take up the challenge.
The plea is on behalf of the women and children who live on the remote Aboriginal communities in this state, those people who spend their every day expecting to be bashed, abused, raped or killed by drunken men.
The only thing that makes those women different from others in Australia is that they were born black. That is the sole qualification to make them liable to a life of misery and abuse.
Last week, I visited Normanton in the Gulf and sat with Jacqueline Murray, who told me her story.
Hers is quite possibly the worst case of sustained physical and mental abuse I have encountered from one who lived to tell the tale.
She is a slightly-built woman, now aged 38, but the merciless beatings she has received have aged her another 30 years.
There is not a part of her face that is not marked by scars. Her nose has been broken, as have her ribs, her arms and legs. She is more facially brutalised than a prizefighter. And that is little wonder because her husband has used her as a punching bag for the past 20 years.
On August 30, 1996 this assailant, Basil Barr, was not satisfied with just blood and broken bones.
The police report of the incident says: ``Barr abused Jacqueline Murray verbally then grabbed her by the right arm and dragged her over the fire in the backyard.
``He pushed her into the fire and on to the burning coals, holding her there. She raised herself up. He pushed her back down. She was screaming for help. She was burning. She was dizzy with pain. It was the most pain she had ever suffered.''
Barr was not convicted of that offence because no witnesses came forward.
However, a domestic violence order was issued against him. In October, 1996, he got drunk and went to the house where Murray was recuperating. Barr punched her twice on the jaw and dragged and threw her down a flight of high steps.
Because of this brutal abuse of the DVO, he was jailed for two years.
The psychiatric examination of Murray said she had ``severe anger management problems along with her residual anxiety as a result of the assault and she says the anxiety causes sleep problems, makes her irritable, and she is uncharacteristically jumpy and fearful''.
To visit a community and speak to victims of crime like Murray is to hear them without exception plead to be delivered out of the community _ away from the place where they invariably have to face their stalker or assailant every day. Or they wait there for him to get out of prison, knowing all the while that he will continue the abuse at the earliest opportunity.
In these communities, women and children live in fear in an environment that is ruled by alcoholism and shrouded in hopelessness.
In cities, victims have support networks and somewhere to go to avoid their attacker should he return to the scene. On remote communities they have nothing. Every day they could, and do, encounter the person causing them grief _ that is if he is out of jail at that time. It is a frightening scenario.
As the community women repeatedly say, until the consumption of alcohol is brought under control, things will not improve.
The unwillingness of politicians to address the problem is a national disgrace.
Where is the Liquor Licensing Division _ that group of highly paid public servants charged with the responsibility of ensuring that our liquor laws are obeyed? They reap millions from the communities in liquor fees, and allow riots and mayhem to occur daily. When was the last community canteen closed down because of the appalling behaviour as would occur if the venue were a hotel in a less remote town?
Police, ambulance and medical staff on the communities suffer physical and verbal abuse trying to keep the peace and attend the traumas, but it was the same 20 years ago as it is today.
Someone has to stand up and say enough is enough.
IT IS the women on the community _ those directly suffering the abuse and seeing their children growing up in the same environment _ who utter the plea for help.
One answer would be for every state female politician to charter an aircraft and visit the communities, talk to the women, the victims, stay overnight and witness the fear and horror of the screams of those being flogged.
No woman I know would put up with it for a day. No woman politician would come away from such an experience not filled with compassion and sorrow. And anger. This is their sisters who are being being treated worse than animals. It should not be allowed to continue. It cannot, or what we are witnessing is certain genocide.
Over the past few years there have been thousands of fine speeches made about indigenous rights, millions of words uttered and written. Concerned people have cried publicly when confronted with the dreadful privations suffered by the stolen generations of indigenous children.
Apologies have been offered, acts of genuine reconciliation made.
But nowhere in all those public utterances and writings has there been one word of concern offered for those who are really suffering today _ the women and children who are the victims of their own menfolk. It is black killing off black.
This degraded conduct does not go on in any civilised society on Earth. Where else in the world would one see hundreds of comatose people drinking away their social security money as soon as it comes in? Then, as the grog takes hold, the women and children cop the abuse. And the same women and children suffer more because there is no money left to buy them food for the next fortnight.
It is an horrific situation that almost defies description. When the subject is raised in the company of men in authority _ and that particularly includes indigenous leaders _ the favoured response is that this conduct is all a result of the colonisation of indigenous people, or the dispossession, or the generations of children separated from their families.
Some or all of those matters might well be reasons for men being frustrated and taking to drink. But none of them is an excuse.
The issue to be addressed is not why Aboriginal men drink. It is how they drink, and the effects that drinking has on others _ particularly their own family and society members.
The sooner a proper inquiry is set up to answer those two questions and find solutions for them, the better.
The more it is delayed, the more women and children are made to suffer at the hands of their own men.
But men, white and black, have had decades in which to do something about the situation and instead have chosen the coward's response _ and turned their backs.
In doing so they have denied the most basic of rights to human beings who are, without doubt, more in need of genuine, immediate help than any other section of the Australian population.
For that reason it now falls on women to do something that men won't do _ to put their hands up and be counted and speak out for their black sisters.
No woman could look into the pained eyes of Jacqueline Murray and tell her that there's some other social problem that is in more urgent need of attention.
And no woman could look at the face of the three-year-old girl at Kowanyama who just last month had a colostomy bag removed, and say that help would not be forthcoming. The little girl had worn the bag since she was brutalised in a rape when she was just a year old.
Every flogging, every rape of a child, every stabbing, could be avoided if only people had the guts and common decency to demand that something be done about the alcoholism and violence now.
If you are too busy, what with Christmas and all those celebrations, drop a note to Jacqueline Murray at Normanton and explain it to her. She'll understand _ if by some slim chance she happens to be out of hospital on the day your letter arrives.
Tony Koch is The Courier-Mail's
chief reporter