12March 2012

Justice_book_coverMEDIA STATEMENT

ALSWA ‘Justice’ book launched in Perth:
WA Civil Rights History in Black and White

12thMarch 2012

Aboriginal Elders, the High Court Chief Justice, magistrates and other members of both the Indigenous and legal fraternities recently gathered together to mark a powerful and defining period of civil rights struggle within Western Australia. The passionate and diverse group assembled for the much anticipated launch of a new book which sheds light upon one of the greatest stories never told.

The book “Justice–A History of the Aboriginal Legal Service of Western Australia” explores the forty year history of the Aboriginal Legal Service of WA (ALSWA). As Dr. Fiona Skyring, respected historian and author forensically uncovers, some were more equal than others. The book is a tale of two peoples, black and white, and one legal system which actively oppressed Indigenous peoples through a legal process which espoused that all were equal in the eyes of the law.

Using first hand accounts from both Indigenous and non Indigenous people who were in the eye of the storm, ‘Justice’ puts a human face upon the human rights struggle and powerfully demonstrates how an impersonal and discriminatory legal system attempted to crush human rights and Indigenous aspirations.

Adjunct Professor Dennis Eggington, ALSWA CEO since 1996 says that the book provides an invaluable insight into the vital role that ALSWA has played within WA’s justice system over the past forty years. “Those early years of our service came at a time of great social change and there are so many people who have made an enormous contribution to advancing the rights of our people during these decades. I am pleased that the history of our important service has now been told. Sadly, many more Indigenous Western Australians still feel the sting of this state’s gable as they are continually sent to jail. but this book will provide readers with a greater insight into the struggles faced by our people in striving for justice throughout this state” said Mr. Eggington”.

In the book’s introduction, Dr. Skyring notes that “From its original position as a radical challenge to the operation of the criminal justice system, the Aboriginal Legal Service of WA is now a central participant in that system”. “…ALSWA is a leading voice in issues surrounding the administration of the justice system across this vast state. It has had an impact far beyond its initial role of defending Aboriginal people in court, and it continues to advocate for laws and practices that defend and protect human rights, and to make the justice system fair” said Dr. Skyring.

Using facts, figures and insightful conversations with key players, Dr. Skyring paints a comprehensive picture of the civil rights struggle of Indigenous people and their non Indigenous supporters to establish a legal service for the most oppressed members of Western Australia.

The book is compulsory reading for any lawyer, police officer, journalist or academic who strives to understand the lasting legacy of past policies and practices on Indigenous peoples within Western Australia.

The list of people interviewed for the book reads like a roll call of this state’s most prominent individuals, from Indigenous human rights campaigners to high profile members of the legal fraternity including Dennis Eggington, Clarrie Cameron, Frank Chulung, Helen Corbett, Brian Wyatt, Peter Yu, Fred Chaney, Chief Justice Robert French, Hon John Toohey, Magistrates Catherine Crawford, Greg Benn and Steve Sharratt, The Hon Peter Dowding and Justice Jane Crisford.

The launch of this important new resource, held recently at the historically significant Aboriginal Advancement Council building in Beaufort Street Perth saw many people come together to reflect upon the past four decades and share their memories of an organisation that has been at the forefront of human rights advocacy both locally, nationally and internationally.

The very fact that a service which was born from the lack of legal representation for Indigenous peoples forty years ago is now invited to the table at the United Nations, demonstrates the influence, experience and commitment of hundreds of Western Australians over many years.

Dr. Skyring’s book is an unflinching, sometimes painful but ultimately crucial addition to Western Australia’s past and present. It will force many to re-examine their assumptions about a legal system which still locks up and locks out too many Indigenous Western Australians.

‘Justice’ is a book that had to be written, it is also a book that needs to be read. “Justice–A History of the Aboriginal Legal Service of Western Australia” is now available.

‘Justice – A History of the Aboriginal Legal Service of Western Australia’ (published by UWA Publishing) was officially launched at the Aboriginal Advancement Council building in Perth by The Hon Robert French AC, Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia. This significant launch featured a Nyoongar Welcome by Elder Janet Hayden with MC Jim Morrison and guest speakers ALSWA Executive Committee President Lorraine Whitby, ALSWA CEO Adjunct Professor Dennis Eggington, author Dr Fiona Skyring and The Hon Robert French. More information is available at www.uwap.com.au

Dr Fiona Skyring (Author) signing books at the Launch


Jim Morrison delivery the opening address

Attendees and contributors at the Justice Book launch
Speakers at the launch, The Hon Robert French, Chief Justice of the high Court of Australia, author Dr Fiona Skyring, ALSWA CEO Adjunct Professor Dennis Eggington and ALSWA Executive Committee President Lorraine Whitby