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Listen to the experts: town camp women on DV

Above: In 2017 town camp women and girls demanded to be heard; they haven’t stopped since. Photo from our archive.

The message was driven home by a list, a very long list, and a bucket of balls.
Co-coordinators of the Tangentyere Women’s Family Safety Group, Shirleen Campbell and Carmel Simpson wanted their audience to understand the pressures experienced by a woman on a town camp in Alice Springs who is experiencing domestic violence.
Ms Campbell (at right, in 2017) is an “Alice Springs girl ” from “a large family and a big background”: Arrernte / Luritja / Pertame on her mother’s side,  Warlpiri and Anmatyerr on her father’s side. She has become the public face of the Women’s Family Safety Group, taking her clear-eyed advocacy as far as Canberra and for her efforts earning a NT Human Rights Award in 2018.
She introduced Ms Simpson, who has lived in Alice for the past decade, as her “best friend”. The pair (pictured below right, photo courtesy APO NT) are doing “two-way learning” together: “That’s what keeps the passion going,” said Ms Campbell. They foreground women’s voices, but work with the whole community, young people and men too, collectively, not just with individuals.
Their memorable presentation was delivered to a Collective Action learning forum, held in Alice Springs last week.
Each item on the list that Ms Campbell read aloud was represented by a ball in the bucket, which Ms Simpson put into the hands of a volunteer from the audience.
First up, there were the balls representing appointments that the woman experiencing domestic violence might need to attend:
Community Centre
Women’s Shelter
Domestic Violence Specialist Children’s Service
Department of Children and Families
The balls were starting to fall, a simple illustration of a stark fact: it’s hard to hold all of this together.  But we were nowhere near finished. Ms Campbell moved on to the second layer.
The services, agencies, government departments that the woman might have involved in her life:
CIB (criminal investigation branch of NT Police)
Family Safety Framework
Department of Children and Families
Truancy (officer with the Department of Education)
Department of Housing / Zodiac (housing tenancy services)
Legal Aid
Family Responsibility services
Sexual Assault Referral centre
Probation and Parole
Third, pressures, responsibilities, stresses the woman might be dealing with:
Violence from her partner
Threats from her in-laws
Getting her children to school
Transport issues
Housing inspection
Centrelink request
Health issues
Power costs
Caring for the elderly
Caring for pets
Caring for babies and children
Financial insecurity
Child trauma / behavioural issues
Sorry business
Food insecurity
Alcohol and other drugs
Extended family
Legal issues
Cultural and family  obligations
As we listened, a graphic projected onto a screen alongside the presenters showed the accumulating layers of pressure, circle upon devastating circle (see the final result at bottom).
Fourth, the disadvantage and discrimination due to gender / class / race:
These factors are out of the woman’s control but have a big impact on her life. As an Aboriginal woman in a town camp in Central Australia, she experiences them in combination and to a higher degree. This understanding of her experience is known as “intersectionality”. The factors are:
Gender-based violence and inequality
Substance abuse
Poor quality and overcrowded housing
Single parent families and young parents
Language  and culture not supported in school
Low levels of Western education
Poor health
High levels of unemployment
Invasion and dispossession
Children experience violence and abuse
Poor service coordination
Poverty and economic exclusion
High numbers of children in state care
High levels of family separation
Youth detention
Institutional abuse
Loss of identity
Trauma of the Stolen Generation
Intergenerational trauma
Racism, systemic and direct
Loss of land
High rates of incarceration
Intervention (NTER) policies
Lastly, the negativity the woman may experience because of all the above:
Strained family relations
Low self-esteem
Feels unsafe
Fear and insecurity
Dissociative states
Self neglect and injury
Poor adherence to medical advice
Panic attacks
Health issues
Emotional numbing
Emotional ‘overeaction’ to stimuli
Alcohol and other drug issues
Chronic pain
Chronic depression
Suicide attempt
Sleeping and eating disorder
By now the five volunteers had their hands more than full and many balls had fallen to the floor.
Town camp women experience all this pressure on a daily basis, observed Ms Campbell.
This lived experience is what makes them “the experts”; they know the good ways to work, they are “the influencers when it comes to family safety” because they have the knowledge, the stories and the resilience to share.
Taking stock like this, it is hard not to imagine them being utterly overwhelmed.  But people recognise their reality, said Ms Simpson, it is validating to have it named, and they have their community around them. That is the strength that they draw on, that the Women’s Family Safety Group focusses on in their work.
The Collective Action learning forum, convened by Aboriginal Peak Organisations NT and the Central Australia Community of Practice, was held at the Alice Springs Baptist Church, 1-3 October 2019.


  1. Unfortunately and sadly it’s become part of a culture now and the only way to stop it is from within.
    I think the solution is for better up bringing for kids. Kid need to be brought up in a safe and loving environment where they get to see parents that act in a loving and supportive way. They will more likely become caring and not violent themselves (in my opinion).
    If you are around violence from a young age and through to teenage years it becomes the norm.
    Find a way to fix this and it will go along way to eliminating most of the above stresses.


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