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.
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
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.
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.