30 years since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, pleas and passion for change were heard in Tarntanyangga/Victoria Square. (Image source: Helen Karakulak)

By Helen Karakulak | @helen_karakulak

On Thursday, 15 April 2021, many gathered in Tarntanyangga/Victoria Square in protest of continuous tragedies afflicted on Indigenous communities nationally.

The event was organised by Sosblakaustralia SA Action Group, with the date marking 30 years since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody published their findings. It follows protests of the same nature happening throughout Australia over the past week.

The findings of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody demonstrated the existence of inequality and disadvantage in aspects of Australian society and law. It noted disproportionate incarceration rates and dominant attitudes of overt and institutional racism adversely affecting Aboriginal people.

The report provided 339 recommendations pertaining to reducing and eliminating this disadvantage. This included specifying that imprisonment should be a last resort, providing greater medical assistance to detainees, access pertaining to family and community histories of Aboriginal people, and improved collaboration with Indigenous communities.

In 2018, The Guardian Australia reported that of these recommendations, only 64% were implemented fully, with others only in part. As of 15 April 2021, The Guardian’s ‘Deaths Inside’ database, along with figures from the Australian Institute of Criminology, put the number of deaths since the Royal Commission at 474.

Speeches given at the Tarntanyangga event were undoubtably passionate and informative. They provided both educational insight and reflection on the impact of lives lost, and the weight of this history on those who remain.

MC’d by Natasha Wanganeen, speakers included board members of the Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement (ALRM), campaigners for Raise the Age, and SA families of the deceased.

MC Natasha Wanganeen at Tarntanyangga/Victoria Square on Thursday, April 15. (Image source: Helen Karakulak)

Speeches touched on the right to self-determination and called for increased funding and support for legal and support services, along with raising the minimum age of criminal responsibility in South Australia to 14 years of age from the current 10.

Wirangu, Mirning and Kokatha person, Keenan Smith, delivered a statement on behalf of the family of Wayne Fella Morrison. Mr Morrison died in the Royal Adelaide Hospital in September of 2016, three days after being pulled unconscious from a prison transport van while restrained by 14 officers.

Approximately four and a half years later, the family will return to the Adelaide Coroner’s Court on Tuesday, April 27 2021 for continued proceedings in the coronial inquest. They encourage people to join them and follow their story as they continue to campaign for systemic change beyond their case, advocating globally against Aboriginal deaths in custody.

As memories of loved ones are shared and passionate and educational messages reach crowds, so too does an acknowledgement of the difficulty of delivery. This is a series of stories that carry weight for Indigenous people, bearing an emotional labour many of us will never understand. But for it, we should be grateful, and continue to learn from their stories.

The strength of these voices inspires courage in young people, such as Noonuccal man, Jacob Murray.

“We are still here. A lot of society these days don’t believe we are an existing culture, but we are, and we are so powerful and resilient,” he said.

“I haven’t been close to my culture due to the lack of involvement the care system had with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, and I think that’s important as well.

“We need to start having laws in place that involve these Indigenous children in their cultural education… it’s all a part of your identity, and I’ve missed that until I became an adult and went out and saw the world from my perspective and not from other people’s perspective.

“I realise there is so much that needs to be done for our people,” Jacob said.

This sentiment is shared by Kokatha, Mirning and Warramunga woman, Stella Ah Kit Burgoyne.

“It’s important for not only Indigenous people, but non-Indigenous people, allies, people of colour, anyone from Australia to come out and make a change,” she said.

“We can’t keep having these black deaths in custody. We’ve got our people dying from suicide, we’ve got them dying in custody, we’ve got them dying on the streets.

“There is so many key messages you have to take away from something like this. There are people that walk away with their privilege, there are people that walk away with those that they know still in custody, or that have died in custody.

“It’s important that you know you have to come back out and keep it up, keep supporting. It’s not just one day that this happens; this is 365, 24/7.”

Footage of protestors marching from Tarntanyangga/Victoria Square to North Terrace on Thursday, April 15 2021.