I read a news article yesterday and this morning I’m still thinking about it.
I keep wishing journalists would do behind-the-scenes stories to explain what’s going on in the broader context of news events, but I guess they don’t have time. In the absence of more explanation, I just end up speculating and imagining.
My latest speculating and imagining builds around this article. A video has been added since last night, but thanks to my dodgy slow connection, I can’t see more than half of it.
From what I’ve read or seen, these are the facts:
– A 34-year-old woman with a blood alcohol reading of four times the legal limit rolled a car on an unsealed and presumably semi-rural road in western Melbourne.
– The car was carrying ten children and only nine of them were restrained. Some of them were injured in the accident, and one may permanently lose the sight in one eye.
– The woman will be pleading guilty to the charges, so there won’t be a court case or any further explanation of what happened, or not unless the judge’s sentencing remarks appear online (I haven’t yet checked whether that happens in Victoria).
– According to the article, the children had been hungry and the woman took them to get food because she hadn’t wanted to leave them at home with their father, who had passed out drunk.
– The children were all under 16, and one was a six-month-old baby. Seven of them were “hers” (a strange term when you think about it, but I guess the article is trying to establish the family structure or something). Three of the kids were her boyfriend’s; he has 15.
– The video shows the woman walking up the street towards court alone.
– The article says the children are no longer in her care, but doesn’t say what’s happened to them.
Put yourself into that story. Be the woman, or the boyfriend, or one of the children, or one of the police or ambulance workers arriving on the scene of the accident, where it’s dark and presumably children are screaming; or be the lawyer, or the judge, or a social worker, or someone in the extended family, or a neighbour, or even the mechanic who has to haul away the wrecked car and find something to do with it.
Where to start making sense of the situation? Where to start if you were trying to get things sorted out? It seems like a cascade of troubles, all locked together. What if you were the woman and wanted to stop drinking – and you had ten hungry children with no food in the house and a partner you didn’t trust to look after them? How is it that there was enough alcohol to get very drunk on, but no food? Did anybody in the house have a source of income? What will they do now their car is wrecked? What will happen to the children – have they been split up? How is it the woman had to walk to the court, under the TV cameras, all on her own – does she have no one supporting her even in that small way? If she goes to prison, will the boyfriend leave? Will she lose the house? If she has a job, will she lose that too? If she goes to prison, will that help or hurt her and the kids in the long run? (Maybe it would be a way to dry out and get some more education; or maybe it would be terrifying and stressful and lead to further problems down the track.)
And what about the fact she’s Aboriginal? I think the journalist is not allowed to state that fact baldly, but look: the lawyer arranged for the matter to be heard at the Koori Court, so there we go.
The story is like a stereotype of the worst sort, except in this case it’s the actual situation. At the start of reading the article I was even thinking “I bet she’s Aboriginal…” and then when it was confirmed I felt terrible: not only had I been racist and prejudiced, but those things have just been reinforced.
I really wish some journalist would follow the story up and put things into a larger context. The family can’t have been in such a state because they’re Aboriginal – except that yes, maybe that is partly the reason: generations of poverty? ongoing racism? I don’t know, which is the point. I would like to know how a family ends up on the side of a road in a wrecked car in the middle of the night, and what could happen next.