Candlelight Vigil Melbourne Parliament for Don Dale Kids
Tonight Melbournians gathered in freezing sombre clusters for a vigil on Parliament steps. Clasping our candles, we had joined this Aboriginal-initiated and led event to demonstrate solidarity with children in detention across Australia and in particular at Don Dale Detention Centre in Darwin.
The recent expose by the ABC's 4 Corners, featuring videos of children at Don Dale being tortured and abused - in one case hooded, Abu Ghraib-style, on a restraining chair - have sickened and shamed Australian viewers and sent shock waves internationally. The statistics are indisputable: while Indigenous Australians comprise slightly less than 3% of the total Australian population, half of all children in detention are Indigenous. And in the Northern Territory 95% of all children locked away are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders.
This horrifying situation has spawned numerous protests across the country, of which the Melbourne Vigil is just one example. As Darwin's Don Dale campaign organiser, Matthew Bonson, put it so eloquently: 'Anything the Aboriginal people and non-Aboriginal people can do would be great for these young boys, soon to be young men, soon to be husbands, soon to be fathers. It really made a difference for us. I hope you turn out in force again... we need change for these boys.'
Unfortunately I had to leave the Vigil early, even before the music started. I only got to hear one speaker, who told the story of his own journey and his struggles with racism.
I don't know what followed but I imagine people talked about the Royal Commission and some of their reservations. After all, at their speediest, Royal Commissions tend to be slow in reaching conclusions, and children are suffering now, their futures sullied and hopes destroyed.
The larger problem of incarceration as the knee-jerk response to juvenile offenders, and the paucity of other options such as rehabilitation or community service, I'm sure, would also have been highlighted.
Tramming home after the Vigil, I kept hoping that the recent spotlight on the sufferings of the boys at Don Dale will lead to substantial improvements in the day-to-day life of its current inmates and of children in detention everywhere in Australia. And also that government resources will at last be channeled into developing a range of alternatives to incarceration for children.