The last week was a big one for women. Lindy Chamberlain-Creighton finally heard the words that brought full circle the events of August 17, 1980. One day past what would have been her daughter Azaria’s 32nd birthday, coroner Elizabeth Morris handed down a final finding that the babe had been taken and killed by a dingo. Marked as ‘Other’ for her Seventh Day Adventist faith, a belief system poorly understood in the conservative (for all its professed progression) Christian society of the day, Lindy and her husband Michael became the focus of societal difference, facilitated by a media that was crucial in manipulating public opinion through selective footage of an apparently austere mother and heartless father, a media that left images of the tears they shed at various points of their trauma on the editors’ floors. Shoddy forensics and unreliable testimony of so-called expert witnesses presented at the first trial of Mrs. Chamberlain was exposed in the Northern Territory Court of Criminal Appeals re-trial instituted in 1988 after the discovery of Azaria’s matinee jacket near a dingo’s den at the base of Uluru. The result was the exoneration of both parents, with last week’s coroner’s finding turning the second last chapter in a saga of 32 years duration. It’s a long time to wait for the legal system to finally reverse its wrongs and to know that your word is finally believed, to be reassured that you are in fact recognized as a victim who was made a pawn in the vagaries of some political whimsy. I’m not sure you can call it justice – the losses wrought upon the Chamberlains can never be undone – but that’s a conclusion only those affected can draw and one that is now as close as they can achieve so long after the events. An apology for not ensuring a fair trial remains the only outstanding issue.
It’s a striking counterpoint to the case of Ms. King, also a victim of state indifference and political advantage. Unlike Mrs. Chamberlain however, she was not implicated in the death of a child, but rather was a secondary victim of one man’s hatred of Indigenous Australians. Subjected to racial vilification for her heritage and association with another Indigenous man, Ms. King was the victim of an indecent assault and battery whilst lunching outside the Waldorf Café in Akuna Street in the heart of the Australian Capital Territory’s (ACT) political and public service sector.
It is a very short walk from the site of the assault to the ACT Police Station on London Circuit, where Ms. King and two companions went to report her assault. Despite several witnesses to the assault, two of whom accompanied her to the police station, her dress and braziere damaged, her face bruised, and her glasses broken, Ms. King was not only refused the right to make a statement and request investigation into the attack, but was threatened with being charged herself if she did not leave the premises. Denied her constituted legal right to police support and protection, Ms. King made a statement to a lawyer, along with other witnesses in the hopes of achieving redress in the future. I doubt she expected to still be waiting seven years later.
Ms. King crime was to have been lunching with the former Commissioner for ACT Revenue (aka ‘Pat’). Ms. King’s assailant, previously described as the Inquisitor in this blog, who was and remains an ACT Department of Treasury employee, has some minor degree of notoriety in the ACT that has apparently made him a protected species in much the same manner as the dingo that took Azaria Chamberlain. Despite numerous complaints, trails of deceit and manipulation of evidence by the Inquisitor in his dealings in the ACT Department of Treasury and without, he has retained his unblemished reputation whilst those of his victims have been tarnished, in some cases beyond repair.
Ms. King, the virtuous and innocent private sector employee and Australia’s most senior Indigenous female banking executive even at that time, has been summarily ignored and forced to endure ongoing distress since that fateful day in Akuna Street. Like Lindy Chamberlain, this Indigenous woman, the ‘Other’ in a white man’s capital, has been forced to accept that ‘just-us’ does not include her, regardless of her efforts at education, to fit into a modern Westernised society. The demon woman, stained because of her heritage and gender, not that dissimilar to Lindy who was denied her justice for so long because of her beliefs and her gender. But Lindy Chamberlain had one advantage over Ms. King, even if it did take eight years to reach an acquittal – the blame for the death of Azaria could be layed squarely at the paws of a dingo and as such, the police had no need to find another scapegoat.
Not so, Ms. King, who with her witnesses was able to identify her assailant. No dingo to hang here, but rather a minor ACT identity, protected by the ACT Department of Treasury, the Australian Federal Police and Ernst & Young.
Lindy Chamberlain, finally has a death certificate that states what truly happened to her beautiful daughter that sets the record straight. It’s what should always have been. But the only way for Ms. King to be awarded her justice is for the Australian Federal Police (AFP) to do the job it should have done back in 2005. The question is, at this point and with the demonstrated bias of their agents and the stated harassment Ms. King has endured subsequent to her indecent assault, can the AFP deliver such justice? I severely doubt it, which forces the dilemma into the hands of our Federal politicians. The only way forward for Ms. King, an emblem of female Indigenous suffering at the hands of white Australia, is for the Federal Government to set up a Royal Commission into the Australian Federal Police to examine the extent of and reasons for the corruption that has allowed this injustice and many others detailed in the petition prepared by Bakchos to fester for so long. Until that happens, any other efforts at advancing the rights of women, especially Indigenous women, will be viewed as window dressing.
Australia has basked in the glory of finally electing its first female prime minister. And whilst that grand achievement has been touted as evidence of the impending end of the glass ceiling, Ms. Gillard has been unable, disinterested even, in effecting real change for women such as Ms. King. The light she shone upon women bloggers, at last Friday’s reception at Kirribilli House, some of women I read and chat with online, conveniently drew attention away from her Women In Leadership speech hosted by the Australian Financial Review, in which she pointed out the still relative paucity of women in senior roles within industry and how much harder they must work to achieve senior roles:
… Ms Gillard quoted Joan Rosanove, who said that a successful female lawyer needed the ”stamina of an ox and the hide [of] a rhinoceros and when they kicked you in the teeth, you must look as if you hadn’t noticed”.
Many women would argue that Ms. Gillard is correct, but imagine if that woman is Indigenous, how much harder must she fight, especially in the ACT, to advance? How much harder must she fight to be allowed equal rights under not only the corporate banner, but that of the legal fraternity? With Ms. King as Prime Minsiter Gillard’s example, I can tell you that women’s and Indigenous suffragism in this country has a very long way to go before we can raise our voices in harmony and sing with Dr. Martin Luther King Jnr.:
“Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty, we are free at last!”
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