By JULIUS DENNIS
There were dark clouds over Alice Springs yesterday afternoon, as the sound of wailing and scraping of gum leaves on cement rounded the corner towards the hospital entrance.
This group eventually drew to a halt inside the gated area, where beneath tall skinny red gums, amongst fading red metal benches and playsets, the wailing continued. Outside the gated area another group had already arrived.
As cars and people went past on their regular business, these people were here in vigil to remember the life of R. Rubuntja, which sadly ended in the evening of January 7, just metres away in the carpark of the hospital, hit by a car allegedly driven by a man known to her.
Ms Rubuntja was a founding member of the Tangentyere Women’s Family Safety Group, an Aboriginal led group trying to put an end to the catastrophic rate of domestic violence in this town.
In the year that led up to Ms Rubuntja’s death, the rate of domestic violence related assaults in Alice Springs had gone up 31%.
That’s 1113 reported events — an everyday affair.
So, to remember the life of a person who by all accounts fought as hard as anyone against this epidemic, including going to Canberra to take up the issue there, perhaps an everyday setting was just right.
On the footpath Maree Corbo, manager of Tangentyeres’s Community Safety Division and a friend of Ms Rubuntja spoke of “a mother, an aunty, a grandmother and friend,” who had “her own gentle but strong way.
“We remember that [she] is not, was not a statistic. She was a real person with hopes and dreams, and expectations. Like everyone, she wanted to trust, to love and to be loved, to have connection, and to feel hopeful and safe.”
Ms Corbo urged policymakers to listen to those affected by domestic violence: “After the strategising, funding KPIs, implementation and planning regarding family domestic and sexual violence, there are real people with real lives that are impacted and that policy needs to include those affected, who have a lived experience and to remember that women’s lives matter, Aboriginal women’s lives matter.”
Shirleen Campbell, who worked closely with Ms Rubuntja, spoke on behalf of the Tangentyere Women’s Family Safety Group, in what was also clearly a personal speech.
Through tears, Ms Campbell asked the question that always comes, but is yet to be answered: “When is enough is enough?
“You know, we’re just sick of it. The fire in my belly right now. I’ve just had enough. I’ve been in this job for six years. And we need to come together as all womans — multicultural, Aboriginal woman and white woman, no matter where we come from.
“Another one lost to us, an outstanding, passionate person.
“She lived most of her life on a town camp, as a proud town camper, and a proud Arrente woman.
“She was one of the quiet ones, when she first started coming to our group in the early days she didn’t say too much, but when she did talk, you knew she’d thought about it, considered it, and then she spoke out in her quiet ways.
“She was very proud of the work she did, and the role she played.”
While Ms Campbell spoke, Ms Corbo and Ms Rubuntja’s daughter Cecily Arabie wrapped their arms around her.
Ms Arabie also spoke briefly through tears in English and Arrente.
She was followed by a few prayers, which in times like these can seem all there is left to do.
A white steel cross had been fashioned, it leaned on the fence of the hospital waiting, above and around it people began to weave flowers through the metal fence, creating a string of colour in remembrance.
After a group photo of family and friends with the cross, the crowd began to disperse. The words of Shirleen Campell’s speech were still ringing.
“When we held the biggest women’s march against violence in Alice Springs, she was up there shouting, ‘No more violence. No more violence.’
“She was very clear. It has to stop. No more violence, not only for her but for everybody else.”