A profound loss and a grieving community: We must take action now to end violence against women

Activism News

WORDS: Chay Brown / 07.02.2021

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are warned that this post contains images of people who have now passed.
All photos used with the permission of RaRa’s family and the Tangentyere Women’s Family Safety Group.

WORDS: Chay Brown / 07.02.2021

Portrait of RaRa wearing a Mums Can Dad Can t-shirt in Anthepe Town Camp.
RaRa pictured after she was elected as Anthepe Town Camp President. Picture taken from TWFSG.

We began the year with a profound loss. I say ‘we’ because our whole community is grieving.

On the 8th of January, I received a phone call early in the morning from my good friend Maree, who is the manager of the Tangentyere Family Violence Prevention Program here in Mparntwe/Alice Springs. She was crying and she had some hard news to tell me, she said that R.Rubuntja(1) had been killed the night before in a hit and run outside of Alice Springs hospital. I was devastated and confused – what and how had this happened?

R.Rubuntja – affectionately known as RaRa – was a founding member of the Tangentyere Women’s Family Safety Group, a group of senior Aboriginal women from Alice Springs Town Camps campaigning against family violence and who endeavoured to bring visibility to Aboriginal women’s experiences. RaRa was also the president of Anthepe Town Camp and was on the executive board of Tangentyere Council. I had known and been working with RaRa since 2016, as she and the Tangentyere Women’s Family Safety Group are my long term research partners, colleagues, sisters, nanas, aunties and friends. RaRa was a huge part of my PhD research and her words and artwork feature heavily in my thesis. She was a friend of mine.

After receiving the news, I went into the Tangentyere offices to be with the staff and with the Tangentyere women. I remember the shock, grief and confusion of that morning. I remember someone saying “at least it was not family violence”. A grim reminder of the work we do every day to prevent violence against women here in the Northern Territory, which has the highest rates of domestic, family, and sexual violence in Australia, and among certain cohorts, the highest rates in the entire world.

As the day went on, information began to travel through our community. That day we came to know that RaRa’s partner had been driving the car that had struck her as she sat on the pavement outside of the hospital. We came to know that the act was a deliberate act of domestic violence. And we came to know that he had been charged with her murder.

It’s difficult to explain how that growing realisation of what had happened to RaRa affected me. I was already shocked and so very sad, but what I came to feel was so much anger. This anger wasn’t necessarily solely directed at RaRa’s partner who had stolen her from us, but it was directed at the whole system which allowed this violence to continue unchecked and unabated. And what was so ruthlessly heartbreaking was the silence that seemed to greet RaRa’s death – where was the national outrage? Where were the men standing up and condemning men’s violence against women? Where was the collective commitment to action to stop all forms of violence against women? Why did ‘mainstream’ Australia seem not to care? That night I spent with my friends and I cried so very hard and I raged against what was such an injustice. I hated that RaRa’s life and death could go by unnoticed – as though her life did not matter.

RaRa was my friend and I have many great memories with roo tail out at Ross River, laughing about the dingoes that had chased me on my run, the many many workshops and meetings and discussions and car rides. And I am so very very angry that now all we have are memories. I am so heartbroken that her children have had their mother stolen from them.

In the days and weeks following RaRa’s murder, the Tangentyere Women’s Family Safety Group and our community rallied. We came together to support RaRa’s children. We took food and clothing. We sat by them in court. We sat with each other in sorry business, and grieved. And the Tangentyere Women’s Family Safety Group made a call to action that RaRa’s death would be a catalyst for change: “We grieve now and then we mobilise, we will continue, it just may take a minute. We will be inspired by our sister’s legacy, we will not let her be forgotten and then we will ask you to stand with us against family and domestic violence”.

Picture of the members of the Tangentyere Women's Family Safety Group, all elder Aboriginal women, sitting in the ground all wearing colourful clothes
RaRa sitting with the other members of the Tangentyere Women's Family Safety Group. Picture taken from TWFSG.
Rar'a Aboriginal dot painting illustrating a colourful moving start that reflects a future free from violence against women.
A painting RaRa created in a workshop I had led about what a future free from violence against women might look like. Picture: Taken by author.

Many people have asked me what they can do to support our community during this difficult time.

I do not speak on behalf of the Tangentyere Women’s Family Safety Group, but what I am choosing to do is to donate to this strong Women’s Group so that RaRa’s work can continue. Donating to the Women’s Group can also help with funeral expenses, so that we can say goodbye to RaRa in the way that she deserves, and any leftover donations can support the Tangentyere Women’s Family Safety Group’s brave and important work into the future. If you would like to join me, you can donate to the Tangentyere Women’s Family Safety Group using the button below.

What we also need is for our national and international community to come together to shine a light on RaRa’s life so that her death doesn't go unnoticed. The Tangentyere Women’s Family Safety Group was formed in response to the murders of two Town Camp women whose deaths went unreported and unacknowledged as though their lives were not important - we cannot allow this to happen to RaRa. Our community, led by the Tangentyere Women’s Family Safety Group, is asking everyone to stand with us in honouring RaRa and calling for an end to violence against women. You can help to shine a light on this issue by educating yourself about the drivers of violence against Indigenous women and sharing this blogpost widely among your networks. If you are able to, you can also make a donation. We hope we can use this grief and anger to galvanise the community, and bring us all together to demand change.

Foot Notes

(1) In Central Australia, we do not use the full names of deceased persons to follow cultural protocols. We are naming RaRa as R.Rubuntja with the permission of her family.