'Do You Forgive Me?': The Moment Kerri-Anne Met The Women Of Alice Springs
Kerri-Anne Kennerley’s Aboriginal abuse claims are reinforced but broadened out in an extraordinary encounter in the desert.
“Do you forgive me?”
Kerri-Anne Kennerley is sitting cross-legged on a woven plastic mat under a corrugated iron shade.
Outside, the red-dirt is scorched from recent fire. Flies rise in clouds.
The TV veteran is leaning forward, hanging on the answer.
“Yeah, I do,” says Shirleen Campbell. She laughs. The women clasp hands.
It has been a difficult ten weeks for the Studio 10 host since she stared down the barrel of the camera and launched an on-air spray against Australia Day protestors.
“Has any one of them been out to the outback where children, babies, five-year-olds, their mothers are being raped, their sisters are being raped, they get no education, what have they done? Zippo.”
“You’re sounding quite racist right now,” said her co-host Yumi Stynes.
On social media, many agreed. Protests were staged outside Channel 10.
In far off Alice Springs, Shirleen Campbell’s first reaction to the exchange on Studio 10 was anger.
“I felt upset. My head was all over the place. Then I thought – no, we’ve got to bring Kerri-Anne here to show what we’re doing.”
At 36 and already a grandmother, Shirleen’s family history is full of violence.
Her grandmother, Peggy Brown, was orphaned during the notorious 1928 Coniston massacre, when for weeks white pastoralists and their gangs hunted down and killed uncounted numbers of Aboriginal people after the murder of a white man.
More recently, two of Shirleen’s aunties were murdered by their partners. Her mother was killed in 2003 when a fight broke out in the car she was driving.
Campbell’s response was to reinvigorate a women’s group, the Tangentyere Women’s Family Safety Group, and set to work.
“We’re sick of it,” says Shirleen of the numbing violence. “We’re parents now, we need to end it.”
She is determined to fight for every other woman in the town camps. But it is also personal. For her kids.
“I don’t want them to have no mum,” she tells Kerri-Anne, simply and bleakly.
So, driven by her energies, in 16 Aboriginal town camps around Alice Springs men now undergo behavioural change courses if they commit family violence. Shirleen says it makes a difference. Good men are more likely now to “shame” men who are violent towards their partners.
According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Aboriginal women are twice as likely to be killed by domestic partners as non-indigenous women. They are an incredible 32 times as likely to be hospitalised from domestic violence. Indigenous children are also more likely to face sexual abuse, although the nature of the crime makes the true extent unknowable.
Guided by her hosts, Kerri-Anne Kennerley moves from a desert meeting ground west of Alice Springs to two town camps within the city limits. These are intense sessions, full of detail of pain, frustration, loss and defiance.
Kerri-Anne herself intended to take up the invitation to visit weeks earlier. That plan was set aside when her husband John, died suddenly after a short illness. Still mourning his loss, she was determined to make good on the promise to come.
During a break, she says she has learnt a lot from Shirleen and the other women of the group. But she has no regrets about her Australia Day outburst.
“The fact I stated is that Aboriginal women and children are being abused. That is absolutely correct and right,” says Kennerley. “I understand it may have been a bit clunky and I’m a white person saying it. That doesn’t mean it’s not true.”
But meeting Shirleen has given her a deeper understanding.
“She’s a very impressive woman. They’re making great inroads… they have some successful programs and those programs need to be expanded.”
And then damper was being pulled out of a camp oven and it was time, as one of the women said, to “break bread together.’
So, with the cameras down, the blonde woman normally seen on the Sydney social circuit or on TV, took a moment in the shade with the woman with the brown skin of a thousand generations, wearing a t-shirt saying “Men can be gentle, women can be strong”.
Two strong women. One big cause.
To see Kerri-Anne's visit to Alice Springs tune into Studio 10 from 8.30am Tuesday.