When an Australian woman is a victim of sexual violence, men and boys on our lands have a responsibility to stop the violence.
I was a teenager when I first began experiencing violence from my local indigenous men. Many of them have children and a responsibility to care for them. But they fail their children and themselves. I learned my hard lesson when I was 13 and one of them knocked me unconscious. A son of sorts, but one with a history of alcohol abuse. If I’d had more time in that car, I might not have been knocked unconscious. I would have been able to help my sister – had we stopped at the police station to report the incident.
All too often my experiences are replicated, far from isolated or contradictory, on remote Aboriginal communities, where there is chronic, chronic conflict. We know this, because it is what we’ve observed in countless reports, and in the two women we are celebrating today, one who has been living with chronic alcohol abuse, and one who was fatally beaten.
Benita Fitzgerald McIntyre: ‘Two of us were in the car and it was just the boys in the car.’ Photograph: Richard Pohle/ABC
The final straw, perhaps, for both of the women killed on the Northern Territory’s Barkly corridor was a woman asking a man, in her position, to stop abusing her.
Aboriginal man Christopher Chalmers Lowitja is caring for his three young children, two of whom have a serious disability, and is a known figure of community stability. (His 9-year-old daughter is in her mother’s care.) For three years, he has been living on a remote property in the Yothu Yindi community, a traditional custodian of the Barkly-Tyndall region. The women who knew him know him as Uncle Christopher.
In November 2017, some of his neighbours on the property were visiting him. Lowitja found one woman bleeding from her nose. The other woman, who wasn’t bleeding, wanted him to help her. No, he said. They could go elsewhere.
Without words Lowitja touched the sharp end of that tattooed hand with his thumb. “Bye,” he said. They went elsewhere. What ensued was another violent attack on the two women, but without a man in the room. The women left. Lowitja’s family and community were notified.
An Indigenous man in our community has been charged with the murder of his 22-year-old cousin. During a period of domestic violence in the community, after Lowitja’s cousin had been assaulted and a previous altercation occurred, the cousin told police that Lowitja was the one responsible. There was a scuffle, and Lowitja was injured but stayed down.
Uncle Christopher Lowitja, interviewed by ABC TV. Photograph: ABC
The cousin was unable to cross the river in the ambulance to come to his cousin’s aid. When he did arrive at the hospital, Lowitja, 41, was dead.
Why do Indigenous women have to wait until they are dead to get justice for violence against them?
I have been in this fight my whole life, and I know that women and children are at risk wherever we are on the land. In Camooweal and Yirrkala and Ntaria and Katherine and Berri and Karumba and Ashmore.
In Karumba this week, two women have been murdered. In the first, a man, Peter Tilar lost his life shortly after receiving a court order to remove his children from his care. In the second, his brother-in-law, Michael John Tilar, used a sawn-off .303 rifle to shoot and kill his sisters-in-law, Nikie, 41, and Jasona, 33.
Peter Tilar, photographed in 2014. Photograph: ABC
Two of us were in the car and it was just the boys in the car. But this was and still is a family living in a cultural context of violence. I can say this with confidence – about 30 years ago, when you left our youth in the land you would never return, because the simple fact of an Aboriginal man coming after a woman makes it a cultural war of a different kind. In other words, you won’t come back.
So, I am able to say as an Aboriginal man, that I see violence as a crime. I see it as an attack on my culture.
It is an attack on my