There are three things we need to solve the juvenile crime problem: It’s not $250m, not more cops, not more talk.
It’s families, families and more families – functioning ones.
The film Audrey Napanangka playing in Alice Springs this week is about a woman in her seventies who demonstrates this, and doesn’t take no for an answer.
She combines that with lots of charm and generous warmth and humour.
She had two children in her teens and lost them in tragic and mysterious circumstances.
One died and she thinks the other was stolen. It took her decades to find what she believes might be their graves, in the Memorial Cemetery.
A car accident had killed her husband and made her unable to have more children.
From then on she devoted her life to growing up lots of other children. She loved them no less than she would have loved her own.
Yes, growing them up is what she did. It’s how many people say it up here in The Centre. The term is so much more intense than “raising”.
Santo, Audrey’s Sicilian partner of decades, sings to her Italian love songs and collects empty cans to supplement their income which is in part from selling Audrey’s traditional paintings.
These empties led to the painful taking away by authorities of two children, assuming that their carers – parents, really – were drunks.
Audrey tells us in the movie, shot over 10 years by local film maker Penny McDonald, that no legal service would help her getting the children back.
So she got her own lawyer and got her kids back.
Audrey one, Welfare nil.
Although it’s worth pointing out that in this time the two children were separated and placed in the care of three different foster families; and for the boy, the younger of them, this came after he had been orphaned at two.
Audrey specifically ties his emotional and behavioural difficulties to these traumas, and especially to the later completely unnecessary removal.
When as a young teenager he starts to go out at night, it’s not a big leap to recognise the fallout of “well-intentioned” interventions by the state.
In later years she would fly to Canberra with other Aboriginal grandmothers, to campaign against child removal at Parliament House.
The documentary starts with her in a laundromat. She and Santo live in an Alice suburb. Their front yard features a Hills Hoist with lots of blankets. The bedding is needed for the kids living there – it seems to be up to eight of them at a time. Or visitors who come for a day or two or 30, as Santo explains.
It’s a fairly unusual and crowded household but in a way sufficiently organised for the kids to be well dressed and fed and ready for school in the morning.
Trees planted by Santo in the yard are bearing fruit.
Some of the children are children of children the couple had taken in years ago. The film isn’t overly troubled about chronologies and who was whose kid and when: Traditional customs which make uncles fathers and aunties mothers come in handy.
Santo, regarding himself as a father, calmly tends to an angry, troubled boy.
Traditions become powerfully present when the family heads bush. That is to the Yuendumu area, particularly to Mount Theo, Audrey’s Warlpiri homeland, and a place for kids in trouble but at present just minimally used.
Audrey and Santo want it to be a bustling centre where young Aboriginal people can connect with their culture and have fun, digging for witchetti grubs and reptiles, shooting ‘roos and gathering seeds.
The film provides wonderful inserts of the couple’s early days through footage shot by Santo on his amateur video camera, including their visit to Sicily where Audrey was warmly welcomed by his family.
In one scene she is sitting on a city footpath, with a canvas in front of here, painting an exquisite bush tucker scene, to the total amazement of elegantly dresses Italian women stopping to watch.
The style of this old footage is used for scenes that recreate aspects of the couple’s pasts, enriching the textures of this important film.
This article appeared on Alice Springs News on 25 May 2023.