Close the Inquest

By Alison Whittaker
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David Jackmanson/flickr

I

Led in silence by Aunty Donna Bartlett,

our feet move to the rhythm she set.

The quiet is important. If we have heavy soles

we tip-toe from a monument to Captain Cook to

Newcastle Court House. The metaphor is obvious.

If you could give the colony feedback, you’d say

‘more subtle, please’. But the colony is like that and

sometimes it is not like that.

 

Before the more subtle flex of the colony

will come — in the form of sixty pages delivered by

video link to Ms Maher’s mother, Awabakal Aunties,

and us — our small silence

gets blotted out. A car with its windows down

blasts ‘I Love It (I Don’t Care)’ by Charli XCX and Icona Pop,

stops nearby at a traffic light. Its occupants smirk.

 

II

The smoke is readied near a placard of Ms Maher

smiling on a brown lounge in a pink shirt. Like

all photos on these placards, it was taken in the course

of a life in the same way we’re all photographed by loved ones.

So someone in a few years can say ‘Look how beautiful you are!’

or ‘Remember this?’ Not ‘Look how beautiful she was.’ or

‘Remember her’.

 

Aunty Madeline McGrady tells us about all that.

Remarks, at the inquest just gone in March, it was just

a mother and a sister in law and her in that court and a couple dozen gunjis

saying ‘it wasn’t my fault’ and ‘my sympathies’.

Aunty Donna calls them ‘blue murders’.

Aunty Tracey Henshaw says ‘negligent manslaughter’ and ‘maybe today’.

 

The flags get held upside down. Oh, and also, as we’re about to

walk on, a gust of wind spreads out the smoke to exactly

the width of the crowd and pushes it through us. Ready.

 

III

Acting State Coroner Teresa O’Sullivan asks Newcastle Court

‘Who is there?’ because she is not.

 

Nor is the media, bar

two or three local outlets. There are some cops, one grabs four tissues and jokes

‘I’m a crier.’ He doesn’t, though. Everyone else is in Lidcombe, but

Ms Maher’s mother, Debbie Small, is here and so are two screens just showing

a chair until someone sits in it. We stand. The Coroner tells some

stories about Ms Maher, who was truly tender, smart, compassionate

and real, who was taken from a big Wiradjuri family who love and miss

her and whose kindness was astonishing, who’d buy coats with

her last money for neighbours and strangers. Who loved so

many and did so many other good things unobserved by this crude

public record and me.

 

The Coroner looks at the camera when

she reads and savours these bits, acknowledges the family. Then, she takes

a breath and quickens. Looks down to read things like ‘criminal history’ and

‘drug use’ and ‘antibodies’ and ‘benzodiazepines’ and we know

this unsubtle and cruel clinical pivot means the Coroner will soon say

‘protocol breached’ and ‘could have been prevented’ and

‘should’ and ‘training’ and ‘apologise for any further distress’.

And she does say these things but not ‘racism’ or ‘killed’

and then she says ‘close the inquest’ but it never really will.

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  • bev henwood

    Thank you Allison. Remember this woman, her story, what she experienced in those last hours, when she could have been out under the stars with a mate, as she wanted. Her beautiful, quiet, loving mother. The Justice Aunties, setting out to be with people locked up, while they deal with that ignorance, that fear, that shame. All this, in my community. Grief, shame, respect. Acknowledgement.