Hope in a time of world-shattering events and unbearable situations: Policing and an emergent ‘ethics of dwelling’ in Lander Warlpiri country

Petronella Vaarzon-Morel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

In November 2019, members of Willowra community marched on the local police station in protest against the police shooting of Kumunjayi Walker at Yuendumu. Expressing solidarity with family at Yuendumu, individuals breached the barbwire fence of the vacant police compound. Unlike settlements such as Yuendumu, which have had resident police for decades, Willowra police station is 1 of 18 Northern Territory ‘Taskforce Themis’ stations set up as a temporary measure during the 2007 Intervention. Although the police presence is recent and inconstant, Lander Warlpiri Anmatyerr people have long experienced the agonistic effects of police authority in their region—beginning in 1928 with the gunning down of their relatives by Constable Murray and his accomplices during the Coniston Massacre. No charges were laid against these murderers, a reflection of the moral economy and ‘politics of life’ of settler society at the time. Although policies have changed, the past reverberates in the present, as people find creative ways to survive the effects of totalising state institutions and punitive regimes. Furthermore, while locals might back a police presence at Willowra, they continue to assert the importance of Warlpiri Law. This paper reflects upon narratives and events that illuminate local perceptions of police and their role in the community over time. In the course of this account, the focus shifts from policing to people's hopes that unbearable situations might improve, as they use shields both as object and metaphor to deflect the weapons of the state and maintain the Warlpiri socio-moral order.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)77-91
Number of pages15
JournalAustralian Journal of Anthropology
Volume33
Issue numberS1
Early online date18 Jul 2022
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2022

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