New Darwin group hold vigil at Don Dale detention centre

The Darwin community has gathered at Don Dale to show their support for young people abused in detention.

(Re)building a network

SA/NT Community Organiser Nicole Donnelly has spent time recently in Darwin, working to re-build the Darwin Amnesty Action group.

Once an enthusiastic group of new activists were recruited and trained up, the group hit the ground running by organising a vigil out the front of Don Dale detention centre in the wake of Four Corners’ investigation into the abuse of young people detained there.

The night of the vigil began with a smoking ceremony and Welcome to Country by a Larrakia Elder. Speakers included Jared Sharp, Manager of Law and Justice Projects at the North Australian Justice Agency, John Lawrence QC and Matthew Bonson, an independent lawyer – all of whom were involved in exposing the abuse at Don Dale through the Four Corners investigation. The event also featured local Aboriginal elders who are both musicians and activists, Ali and June Mills.

Jared Sharp speaking at the vigil for Don Dale kids in Darwin
Jared Sharp speaking at the vigil © Amnesty International

Reflections

Kate Rendell from the Darwin Amnesty group said of the vigil:

Given the haste at which we put this event together, it was an incredibly humbling and affecting event. That our little Amnesty International group could provide a platform for such impressive and passionate legal practitioners, community organisations and Aboriginal families and supporters was a rewarding and affirming thing – these are people who have been fighting this system, this injustice, for many many years in the Northern Territory and it felt like they were finally being heard. The vigil also provided a space for grief and shared sorrow – which I felt had not yet had an outlet.

It was both powerful and distressing to be gathered with such strong Aboriginal leaders, elders and community members celebrating the announcement of the Royal Commission and being hopeful for change – yet just metres from where 25 kids were still being incarcerated – the cry from June Mills that those kids need to be brought into this circle to be healed – was felt sharply by those gathered.

That night, the humble and yet immensely symbolic Amnesty candle felt like the most significant and powerful tool. I hope we can continue to gather in this fashion, if necessary, until those kids are released from detention.

Sign calling for rehabilitation not incarceration at Don Dale vigil.
© Amnesty International
Stephanie O’Connell, Social Media Coordinator of the Darwin Amnesty Action Group:

At one point we could hear the kids yelling out from the detention center. They knew we were there to support them. The vigil helped with community awareness about the facts from different sides of the argument, and not just what the media had portrayed.

The event received a lot of media attention including live interviews from the vigil on ABC news outlets, quotes from vigil attendees in NITV news articles here and here, and SBS TV news coverage. There was also coverage in 9News online, 7 News Online, and The Guardian as well as interviews on various ABC and community radio stations.

The vigil helped to break down barriers of race and stereotypes so you can see on a personal level the effects that this kind of treatment has had on a whole community.

All in all, it was a great event and a promising start for the new Darwin local group – great work by everyone involved!

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