Nothing is Written in Stone
I never knew Miss Dhu, and now I never will.. You might say, peering in from outside Aboriginal Australia, that her death was hideous, and hideously predictable, and you’d be right. But wait a second. Nobody’s life or death is ever written in stone. Miss Dhu could be alive today, and thriving. Things could be very different.
Like Ms Dhu in life, “Sally” (*not her real name) is visibly Aboriginal, twenty two years old, and given to wearing hoop earrings. Sally has lived on the street, and has seen most forms of conventional violence in her young life. Sally has been beaten by men, and has herself beaten women. Sally’s severely disabled mother is unable to help her much. Yet Sally does not look like going to jail, much less dying there. Why? Because Sally was able, unlike Miss Dhu, to find help through community programs in inner Brisbane, an arguably less racist environment than country WA. At 22, Sally is now a young mother raising her child in stable housing and doing a good job of it. She is clean of drugs, free of domestic violence, and no longer entangled with police.
Like Sally, Miss Dhu could have been helped to leave an abusive partner, the partner who broke her rib and indirectly killed her. Like Sally, Miss Dhu could have been provided with trained people who understood the reasons for her drug use. Like Sally, Miss Dhu could have been supported to make better choices, to battle the white supremacy which killed her in the form of racist indifference to her suffering. But the services which could have helped simply were not there. Funding to black community services – already pitiful - was slashed to historic lows in the 2014 Federal budget. Because Aboriginal lives don’t matter - so why not cut such services to the bone, or outsource them to large corporations who have little clue who they’re dealing with?
The ABS estimates the economic wealth of Greater Geraldton at $5.072 billion. Just over five billion dollars, every one of them earned on or extracted from Yamatji lands. In a less racist State, Ms Dhu could have expected to enjoy some of the fruits of that five billion dollars. But she was Aboriginal in country WA and to be Aboriginal in country WA in the 21st century is to expect little from the State which dispossessed you, and to receive even less.
It could have been so different. We must fight until it is.
Melissa Lucashenko is a prize-winning Goorie novelist from Brisbane. Her essay “Down and Out in Brisbane and Logan” won the 2013 Walkley Award for Long-form journalism. She is widely published.