Tuesday 16th of July 2024

the festering racism....

If anybody in Australia is interested in real “Truth Telling” then look no further than the continued operation of Don Dale Juvenile Detention Centre in Darwin, NT. Don Dale has, and continues to provide, the real truth for all to see as regards the disaster that is race relations in Australia and how distant the prospect is of ever achieving Reconciliation. Forget ‘Dreamtime at the G’, NAIDOC and Reconciliation Weeks, Sorry and Apology Days, Welcome to Countrys and Paying our Respect to Traditional Owners Past and Present.


The real truth telling    By John Lawrence


The “truth, the real truth and nothing but the truth” is to be found in the continued incarceration of Indigenous children in the Hell Hole that is Don Dale. Between 40-50 Indigenous children, male and female, locked up in their individual cells in this condemned adult men’s jail, built in the 70s and condemned in 2012. Dirty, dark, ridden with ants and cockroaches these conditions have to be seen to be believed. Children as young as 12 and 13, most already affected by trauma, incarcerated in this dungeon. Don Dale also confirms, along with Australia’s 20 plus year policy on treating refugee children that we place little value on what is our most precious asset; children. A community with little regard for children is a community losing its civic virtue and probably heading towards its end.

Don Dale thus provides a Report Card on our own moral and ethical decline as well as illustrating the shameful deterioration in the professional standards and quality within the Northern Territory’s Legal System. That “System” is a system no more. A twenty-year descent into mediocrity has brought about its collapse which, although still able to operate by jailing Indigenous men, women and children at record accelerating levels, is essentially a broken shambles. There exists now scant due process and little justice with ever increasing instances of injustice. It has become, to most intents and purposes, a jailing machine. The curse that is “Don Dale” is part of this shambles. That inexcusable decline in professional standards has occurred in full view of the leaders of this legal system who have just allowed it to happen. This is all a harvest of neglect.

Don Dale

Don Dale continues to imprison Indigenous children between the ages of 12 and 17 at record levels. 100% of these children are Indigenous, whilst 70% of them languish on remand. Their conditions of confinement constitute blatant child abuse and are unequivocally unlawful. How any person in their right mind could countenance treating any child in such a way is mind boggling. And yet it has been going on like this for over 8 years. In that period literally hundreds of Indigenous children have entered, “abandoned all hope” and eventually been released, all the worse for wear, the majority inevitably destined to return.

In 2016 Four Corners called it “Australia’s Shame” when it exposed the conditions and practices which led to the White/Gooda Royal Commission confirming the same and more with their 2017 Final Report and 227 Recommendations. One of its loudest recommendations was to immediately get the children out of Don Dale and close it down and yet it still exists, 7 years later. Most of the other recommendations have been largely ignored despite the Labour Government promising it would implement them all and ensure no such thing could ever happen again. Just lies. The situation now, in June 2024, is worse, thus compounding the shame which lies not only with this Legal System and all who sail in her, but also the citizens of Australia who have once again “looked away” and allowed it to continue. Not only have we looked away from the Indigenous child abuse and growing injustices produced by this broken “system” but we also look away from the obvious fact that the “system” itself is broken. To this ‘inconvenient truth’ the response is classic with; “Nothing to see here, steady as she goes”. This is what we’ve become, a complacent people who live in wilful delusion, seeing what we want to see; not seeing what we don’t want to see; living in “make believe”. Taking the blue pill not the red pill.

Compounding the vulnerability of these Indigenous children is the fact that they are without voice. Their lawyers are in the main from NAAJA, an organisation drowning in its own managerial incompetence and corruption. NAAJA is a dysfunctional player within a dysfunctional system within a failed state. Other bodies that should be demanding its immediate closure are co-opted and flaccid. The NT Children’s Commissioner, The Federal Children’s Commissioner; both say little and do less. The Northern Territory Bar Association is a non-entity. The Criminal Lawyers’ Association of the NT, once an agitator for human rights, now is mute. These Indigenous children are in there on their own with no support. There is no way this would happen to white children. This is real truth telling.

Only last month the kids themselves, as they did two months previously, fought back protesting against their conditions. This time they defied orders to return to their single cells for further solitary confinement, euphemistically described by the Authorities as “rolling lockdown”. They refused, “rioted” and set fire to several buildings before climbing onto the roof of the prison where they remained in a 17 hour standoff. Their actions were heroic. Fourteen of them have since been charged with 79 offences and are now locked up in B Block, the former maximum-security section of this condemned adult prison. B Block used to hold the worst of the worst male prisoners; psychopathic murderers, rapists and pedophiles in their single 3x3m steel and concrete cells all of which enclosed an open caged over concrete exercise yard. It is in these single cells that Indigenous children now languish: 24/7. On a recent visit these same children were seen to be in disturbed physical and mental condition. Several of them had recent and old self-harm markings on their legs and forearms. Their eyes appeared lifeless; their engagement desultory. These Indigenous children, like so many others, live in a world built on the premise that they have no place in it. This is real truth telling.

To describe Don Dale as brutal is being kind. No child should ever be allowed near it. The place should have been demolished back in 2012 but it remains, operating within this broken legal system. The NT Judiciary have been remanding and sentencing Indigenous children into this hellhole since 2015.

I’ve lived and practiced law in this jurisdiction since 1987. Twenty years ago, along with our biosphere, things appeared somewhat immutable. Not anymore! Since then everything’s been in collapse, a collapse that has been accelerating rapidly. The NT Legal System, along with other crucial NT Institutions [Health, Education, Media, Police] are collapsing at an ever-increasing pace. The evidence is overwhelming. 1 in 100 people in the NT are in jail. Our imprisonment levels are the highest on the planet and increasing rapidly. Both male and female jails are overflowing. Prisoners have to sleep on the floor of cells and reception whilst others have to be held in suburban Police Watchhouses. Three escaped from the Darwin Police Watchhouse in the last month. In April the Government implemented a three-week Curfew in Alice Springs due to rising youth crime. This desperate control measure (others currently operate in Peru, Venezuela and Haiti!) was described by most commentators as a “success” with the Government then changing the law to empower the Police Commissioner alone to declare a Curfew which, while suspending the Anti-Discrimination Act cannot be reviewed in the Courts. If “truth be told”, such a Curfew is evidence of collapse, but real truth telling just doesn’t happen in this country. The truth is “we can’t handle the truth!”.


There is no better evidence on where race relations are in Australia than the continued horror that is Don Dale. Everything you see, hear and read about race relations, reconciliation and truth telling deliberately avoids this real truth.

Truth telling is ultimately again just words. We are a society drowning in words. The only thing that will end Don Dale, and for that matter racism and injustice, is action.

The further a State drifts from the truth the more it will hate those who speak it.” – George Orwell