Posted May 14, 2017 08:58:13
A trio of women, who have made the long journey to Broome to make a memorial for their murdered sister, say they fear violence will continue so long as itinerant women are sleeping rough in the Kimberley town.
Susan Chamoweera, 36, was killed on a warm wet season night on Male Oval, in the middle of Broome, in February 2015.
She died after her boyfriend of several weeks, George Thomas Walker, struck her in the head with a bourbon bottle during a drunken fight, in the kind of alcohol-related assault that is all too common in a region that has some of the worst domestic violence rates in Australia.
Early this year her three sisters, Kathryn, Monica and Mary Njamme, gathered at a makeshift memorial erected on an oval power pole, to tell the ABC about their grief.
“She’d only met this man for two weeks and the day before she died she told one of the ladies at Centacare that he was already bashing her up,” Kathryn said.
“But she didn’t let us, her sisters, know that he was a violent man.”
Monica Njamme said they set up the small memorial with flowers and a faded football jumper, to try to keep her memory alive.
“We will always miss our little sister, Susan. Her life was taken away suddenly from us … but we will always love her, and keep her in our heart,” Monica said.
“Every time we come to Broome we come past here and we think about how she died.”
Susan was part of what police and social workers said was a high-risk group of out-of-towners, who slept in parks and on verandas around Broome while visiting from their home communities.
They were in town for a variety of reasons: to access health services, attend court appointments, visit family or attend football matches.
But many, intentionally or not, ended up in a cycle of binge-drinking, unaccustomed to the easy access to full-strength alcohol.
Alan Dadada grew up in the same Tanami Desert communities as Susan, and knew her as a child.
He said her brief relationship with Walker, who was sentenced to life in jail for the murder, was alcohol-fuelled and volatile.
“She’d been singing out for mercy when she died, but that bloke didn’t show any mercy, just killed her, just like that,” he said.
“They closed the bars up in Halls Creek and Fitzroy Crossing and that’s why she was heading up here. If the Government hadn’t opened that bar up, nothing would have happened and she’d be alive today, it’s really sad.”
The movement of people to Broome and other major towns is one of the challenges facing politicians as they continue to craft liquor restrictions and other social-engineering strategies to reduce alcohol-related harm in the north.
The banning of full and mid-strength takeaway alcohol in Halls Creek and Fitzroy Crossing brought about an immediate reduction in violence and injuries, however there was evidence that many alcoholics simply relocated to towns like Broome, Kununurra and Port Hedland.
Domestic violence rife
The manager of the women’s refuge in Broome Rowena Puertollano said they had noticed an increase in women from Halls Creek and Fitzroy Crossing seeking help for domestic violence.
“There has been an increase in women from other parts of the Kimberley, and there are a number of contributing factors, but a lot is to do with alcohol. It has increased, and it’s not a safe environment,” Ms Puertollano said.
“If you don’t have self-esteem and self-worth, you’re easily convinced that alcohol is the cure. For the women that drink, the hurt that they’re feeling inside, it gets numbed, so they don’t feel the pain when they get hit.
“The alcohol covers the hurt, but they’re sore and sorry the next day.”
While Ms Puertollano said the majority of domestic assaults occurred within private properties, public displays of violence were a regular spectacle around Male Oval, where Susan Chamoweera died.
Each evening, around dusk, a police car cruises slowly around the oval with high-beams glaring, with officers on the look-out for so-called “sly grog” stashed in bushes, and breaking up fights.
Last year, on one of these nightly patrols, police spotted a young man apparently having sex with a woman who was fast asleep or passed out.
The teenager was arrested and the case is currently before the courts.
Two years after Susan Chamoweera was murdered, another woman who had been sleeping rough around Male Oval was found dead, this time a 23-year-old from Port Hedland.
Her body was found in a caged alcove at the back of a nearby shopping centre in mid-March.
On the dirt and concrete floor, covered in hundreds of cigarette butts, was a bit of bedding, indicating she had sheltered there several nights.
Relatives have told the ABC she had had ongoing issues with domestic violence and had headed to Broome to try to get some space.
The woman’s on-again, off-again boyfriend, Les McLarty, has been charged with murder.
Hostel set to open in late 2017
It is hoped the building of a hostel in Broome, specifically for itinerant Aboriginal people, will provide a safe place for women to sleep.
The $21 million facility is due to open late in 2017.
Meanwhile, Ms Chamoweera’s sisters visit Broome regularly, to reminisce about their sister.
“I’m still sad for my little sister, that she’s not around with us now,” Monica said.
“She was always there for us, and she was a kind lady, she wasn’t violent, but that man – he did the wrong thing to her.
“My mum, she’s an old lady now, and she’s lost her youngest daughter. She worries a lot.”
“There’s a lot of violence in Broome right now, between girlfriends and boyfriends, husbands and wives,” Kathryn said.
“We want other people to stop fighting, and the jealousy makes people kill one another and mix up with the wrong people.”