Meeting Martu People on Country

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Group photo of people in the outback.

It’s the classroom in the desert where the breathtaking scenery is eclipsed by the invaluable learnings coming direct from the Martu people to senior police.

In the last week of August 2019, a group of 18 senior police, including attendees from South Australia Police and the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission, packed their swags and headed to a campsite in the Karlamilyi National Park located in the Pilbara between the Great Sandy Desert and the Little Sandy Desert. This location is inside the 13.6 million hectare area known as the Martu native title determination.

The trip provided a unique insight into community, culture and country. Participants heard Martu Elders and leaders speak of their strong connection to country, their social structures and kinship, their respect for Martu law, and importantly their experiences with the justice system. Later, they listened as Martu leaders presented their leadership journey, the lessons they have learnt about the justice system and their plans for a different story for Martu, away from prisons.

See the photo gallery

“This is one of the most isolated communities in the world and it was a privilege to spend time with Martu in their country,” Assistant Commissioner Craig Ward said.

“Our conversations with community elders and leaders were both inspirational and aspirational—full of hope for a brighter future—and importantly, touched upon how Martu are developing approaches for better engagement with the justice system and building strong sustainable communities.

“The big takeaway for me was that Martu aren’t waiting for someone else to solve their problems. They know what needs to be done and are looking for meaningful partnerships to provide a little help to realise their aspirations for a better future.” 

Sergeant Diana Flint also provided perspective on the experience.

“Hearing the Martu people speak last week gave me an incredible insight as to the cultural systems they live their lives by and the difficulties they face understanding our criminal justice system,” Sergeant Flint said.

“I thought I understood, having spent so much time in the Pilbara, but I really didn’t have a clue. I admit to a few light bulb moments when I looked back on my time at South Hedland and realised why what I was doing was ineffective.”

This is the second year the Western Australia Police Force has participated in this cultural immersion program. 

Photo gallery

Four tents set up at a campsite.
Heavily packed trucks driving through the desert.
A row of trucks drive in a desert landscape.
Two men smile at the samera, one is holding a device.
Two men conduct a lesson using a whiteboard.
Two men sit on the ground and a dog sleeps.

Two men sit on the ground and talk.  

Two men sit in camp chairs. 

Ant mounds in desert landscape.  

Lots of starts in a night sky over a tent. 

Star filled night sky.

Group of people around a campfire at night.