It was ironic that the only reason we were vindicated was because the Chapmans’ sued for around $20 million. Because their case failed and they didn’t get any money, they actually caused justice to be done all round, to my way of thinking.
The Aboriginal Program, SBS Radio, 22 August 2001
It was phenomenal. I have to say in more than fifteen years as a journalist I haven’t seen a day quite like it and I’ve certainly never seen this sort of a scene in a courtroom before. We’re talking Hindmarsh Island, the ten-year saga of the bridge case about 80 kilometres south of Adelaide, known to the Aboriginal people, the traditional Ngarrindjeri custodians, as Kumarangk, and known to the whitefellas as Hindmarsh Island. It’s been the scene of a very bitter battle between the construction of a bridge that the Ngarrindjeri people believe would severely interfere with their sacred Dreaming pertaining to women’s business. The bridge, as our listeners would be aware, has been built due to a Royal Commission which found that the Aboriginal women’s business was fabricated.
Now in astonishing scenes in the Federal Court yesterday, Justice John von Doussa found that in his opinion, the evidence that he was presented suggests that the women’s business in fact was not fabricated: a huge, huge vindication for Aboriginal cultural beliefs here in, not just South Australia, but Australia. It essentially overturns the Royal Commission finding. We have some incredibly buoyant Aboriginal people here in Adelaide, including Dr Doreen Kartinyeri, who is the chief custodian of the women’s business that was at the centre of this row and she’s quite plainly elated.
Dr Doreen Kartinyeri:
I hope it can prove to the world that I am not a fabricator and I’m looking forward to my grandchildren and all other young Ngarrindjeri people learning their culture. I hoped it was going to be that finding because I knew I never lied. That I know myself. And I’m very, very happy about the decision.
After the Royal Commission
The headlines read, ‘LIES, LIES, LIES!’ I couldn’t understand why they didn’t now say, ‘SORRY, SORRY, SORRY!’ But of course they didn’t. Just, ‘Hindmarsh ruling against Chapmans’. Apparently Justice von Doussa was also very scathing of the Chapmans in his ruling, but I just didn’t care.
The von Doussa decision was marvellous, and it went a long way towards justice at last. But how do you recover from events like these? How do you even begin to heal? It could possibly start with a public apology and we put together some wording for one of the politicians to read out in parliament. But we couldn’t get a single one of them to find the courage.