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  • Tim Muirhead

Disturbing the Peace

“Where they make a wasteland, they call it peace” (Calgacus – Scottish Chieftain – AD83


We watch America burn in response to an unjustifiable death and we are horrified by the chaos and the flames. But there is a more damaging response than chaos; it’s disinterest.  There is an uglier sight than fire; it’s apathy. There is a more disturbing sound than screams and chants; it’s silence.

Listen: Aboriginal Western Australians are the most incarcerated people on the planet.

Please read that sentence again. And again. The rates are much higher than African-Americans; much higher than the other Australian states and territories.  This fact is shocking.  But what’s more shocking is our response as Western Australians: apathy, silence, disinterest.  

The causes of this shocking rate of incarceration are deep and complex. And solutions are many if only we’ll listen and take notice. Those solutions rest with all of us – with Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people; with governments and communities; with police and CCTV operators; with prison officers and health workers; with businesses and non-government services; with sports clubs and churches. With all of us.

But none of these solutions can even begin to take hold until we break ourselves out of apathy, silence and disinterest.

A little over 30 years ago my Dad, as Royal Commissioner into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, asked Ernie Bridge – then a key Aboriginal politician – ‘what can I possibly say that you and other leaders have not been saying for decades’? Mr Bridge’s response was ‘Probably nothing. But they might listen to you’. We didn’t.

Today we have many clear, strong articulate Aboriginal voices calling to us to join them in change. Can we, at least, listen to them? As Americans rage in the streets can we at least insist, as Western Australians, that we will no longer turn away;  that we will no longer respond with apathy, silence and disinterest?

Of course we can. Let’s start.

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