Court helps Pilbara families in language

Chief Judge Stephen Thackray, Brianna Lonnie (Legal Aid), Sharon Pedley (Family Consultant), Wokka Taylor, Nancy Karnu Taylor, Julie Jackson (Legal Aid), Neil Anderson (Aboriginal Legal Service)

Renowned Pilbara artists Wokka and Nancy Karnu Taylor didn’t expect to be bringing up their grandchild but were happy to step in when the boy’s parents needed help.

While they’ve been raising their grandson for some time, they’ve never been granted formal custody and admit they’ve often been worried about not having legal papers to prove their guardianship of him.

So when the Family Court in Western Australia went bush, the Taylors were delighted to sit down for a yarn with Family Court Magistrate Eric Martino, who organised a laid-back sitting for paperwork to be put in place.

“We were really surprised by how relaxed and helpful everyone was,” Mr Taylor said, through an interpreter who’s been helping the court during its trip to Newman this week.

“We’ve now got a court order which we can give to schools, doctors and government agencies to show that our grandson is legally in our care. We can now prove that we are the boss of keeping him safe.”

Chief Judge Stephen Thackray, who retires from the bench next month, said the early results from the new remote service had exceeded his expectations.

“Naturally, many of the people we met spoke only language. Our interpreter was able to explain the process and reduce the stress often associated with appearing before a court,” Justice Thackray said.

“If we can spread the word and generate demand, we would hope to be able to expand this project to other Aboriginal communities around WA.”

The Family Court began visiting Newman earlier this year. Lawyers provide free legal advice during the visits and also help families who need court orders.

Another Newman grandmother, who didn’t want to be named, said she’d felt a great sense of relief when she was granted her order in a relaxed setting. It had been a more intimidating experience when she visited court in Perth.

“There was too many people, I had to repeat myself too many times, it was very scary and frightening, and that was just to get some advice,” she said.

Appearing before the Family Court in her own community had reduced the stress.

“I was worried before court because I didn’t want to mess up the family arrangements but, in this court, everybody got listened to,” she said.

“It can be a good way and our way is a good way too, it’s about getting a balance.”

Justice Thackray said he was pleased that some families had chosen to share their stories, for the benefit of other community members.

“We hope that people now understand that the Family Court is there to help make safe arrangements for Aboriginal children within their own families,” he said.

  • People wanting to deal with matters to do with documenting existing Aboriginal family arrangements can visit Newman House on Iron Ore Parade. No appointment is necessary and there is no cost. The court hopes to be back in Newman for other matters early next year.

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