Kumanjayi Napurrula Dixon took the Route 74 bus through Darwin’s southeastern outer suburbs, getting off at the last stop and continuing to walk south on the Stuart Highway.
It was a Monday night and Anmatyerre’s grandmother was going to see her family at their camp near Coolalinga. She never made it. Between getting off the bus and arriving at the camp, she was allegedly hit by a car and killed.
It was the 70th time since 2012 that an Aboriginal person was hit by a vehicle and killed in the Northern Territory, according to government data provided to Guardian Australia. During the same period, 12 non-Aboriginal pedestrians were killed. Nearly six times as many Aboriginal pedestrians have been killed, despite only making up a quarter of the territory’s population.
“For my family, I think it’s disgusting,” said Dixon’s sister, Carol Dixon.
“The indigenous people go on foot, they don’t have the luxury of having a vehicle. They are walking from one place to another.
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“And if you look at the city camps and where they are situated, it’s outside of the city and they have to go back and forth from there. The only way is by road.”
Dixon’s death on May 30 was discovered after one of her legs was found near the road the morning she was struck.
The man who allegedly struck Dixon in his vehicle and his mother, who allegedly helped him return to the scene of the accident and bury the rest of the body, have been charged with crimes including attempting to pervert the course of justice. His attorney indicated in court that they intend to plead guilty once the facts are settled and there is no indication that the man drove erratically or that he is legally responsible for the accident.
Judge Therese Austin said the text messages potentially showed there had been callous disregard for Dixon’s death.
Data from the NT Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Logistics shows that 18 Aboriginal pedestrians have been killed since 2018. During the same period, not a single non-Aboriginal pedestrian was killed.
Pedestrian deaths have been split fairly evenly between urban areas, classified as Darwin, Palmerston and Alice Springs, and the rest of the territory, which is classified as rural.
Aboriginal people were not as overrepresented in other road traffic fatalities: with pedestrian figures removed, 148 Aboriginal people have died, compared to 192 non-Aboriginal people. The only other category of road deaths in which more Aboriginal people have died than non-Aboriginal people since 2012 is passenger deaths.
Professor Jennie Oxley, associate director of Monash University’s accident research centre, said not enough had been done to understand why Aboriginal pedestrians were dying at such a worrying rate in the NT.
“There is a lack of research to really understand indigenous collision risk,” he said.
“There isn’t a lot of in-depth analysis of indigenous crashes in general, and certainly not among pedestrians.
“Clearly it’s a big problem, it’s not being addressed and we need to understand more clearly why.”
Without that research, Oxley said, it was impossible to develop a strategy to reduce deaths.
He said existing research had found that Aboriginal people were more likely than non-Aboriginal people to walk on roads or along roadsides, more likely to be hit at night, more likely to be hit while standing or lying on roads, and more likely to be affected. by alcohol at the time of his death.
David Woodroofe, the chief legal officer at the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency (Naaja), said the pedestrian deaths may have occurred as an unintended consequence of laws to reduce alcohol consumption.
In a 2017 submission to the NT government, Naaja said that laws restricting alcohol in remote communities had resulted in “drinking places” springing up just outside of them.
“Most drinking venues present significant public health and safety risks because they are often…located along major roadways with maximum speed limits, not adequately lit to provide visibility to individuals or obstacles in the road, and are not properly marked to warn drivers of the likelihood of people or obstacles in the road,” the filing said.
“NAAJA has represented several family members of people killed by motor vehicles while intoxicated at drinking venues near remote communities.
“It is important that immediate action is taken to ensure that tragic deaths of this nature are prevented and the serious risks drinking venues pose to the community are minimized.”
In 2014, Professor Marcia Langton and two other academics from the University of Melbourne said in a presentation to a federal government inquiry into the harmful use of alcohol in Aboriginal communities that they had been told of eight deaths involving “intoxicated people who wandered from the drinking camps to the road. of fast moving vehicles on the roads of the Stuart Highway near the Mataranka Hotel and on the Roper Highway.”
Neither presentation caused a significant change. In a 10-day period last December, two Aboriginal men were hit and killed by cars in separate incidents in the exact same area of Mataranka, a community some 100km south of Katherine, which had featured in the University presentation. from Melbourne.
‘Pushed to the fringes of cities’
Woodroofe said alcohol wasn’t the only factor. Aboriginal leaders in some camps have been lobbying for funds for security fences, traffic bollards and other infrastructure to make them safer, he said, but to no avail.
Guardian Australia also understands that around Darwin, the community organization Larrakia Nation is partnering with the Safer City Program to provide Aboriginal people with high-visibility t-shirts, among other initiatives to reduce the rate of pedestrian fatalities.
Police and the NT Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Logistics did not respond to questions by the deadline about Aboriginal pedestrian fatalities and what was being done to address them.
“When Aboriginal people are pushed to the fringes of cities, literally to the fringes, and you have camps set up on roads, you have places that are not safe for pedestrians,” Woodroofe said.
“People are doing things [that are dangerous] of the necessities of life because they are on the fringes of society.
“If you have to cross a six-lane highway to access water, that’s not something anyone else has to deal with.”
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Carol Dixon, an academic at Newcastle University, wants her sister’s death to be a catalyst for change.
Kumanjayi Napurrula Dixon should not be remembered as a body part on the side of a road, but as one too many Aboriginal pedestrian deaths, Dixon said. She should also be remembered for her “wacky”, “crazy” and “bubbly” personality of hers.
There was no evidence that she had been drunk or done anything dangerous, Dixon said; she was simply trying to do what she loved most: spend time with her family, a native people of the central desert.
“Because I wasn’t raised in the community, she was proud of me and my brothers when I went home and took them home,” Dixon said. “Very proud.”
Soon, Dixon plans to travel back home to the NT to attend his sister’s funeral.