THANKS AUNTY JUNE: Shoulder of support in the face of crime
HAVING a reliable person, someone you can trust, who will lend an ear and a shoulder to lean into is something most of us would appreciate.
When things are particularly tough, having a person like this to count on is even more vital.
For Clarence indigenous kids who are being held in custody at the Grafton police station, that person is more than likely to be Aunty June Duroux.
The Gumbaynggirr Elder has been helping the local area command with its cell support program, a volunteer role she has been involved with for more than a year now.
Aunty June said she was proud to be able to work with her community and the police to help provide the support both groups needed.
“I am on call 24 hours and no matter where I am, what time of the night it is, if they (police) ring me I get up and go over straight away. I usually spend about three to six hours over there. I’ve done that many times. Once I got up at one in the morning and stayed there until five in the morning.”
Aunty June said she was introduced to the role by Aboriginal community liaison officer John Skinner. But when she started she insisted that she was going to look after both indigenous and non-indigenous people.
Aunty June said she mainly deals with children but sometimes works alongside adults in custody.
“I work with all sorts of situations, I haven’t done any study but I have been around kids all my life. I’ve raised grandchildren and great grandchildren, plus other people’s. I’ve fostered a little boy, he’s 14 now. I’ve looked after kids since the age of 15 and I’m 68 this year so I think I’ve done pretty well.”
Aunty June said the work she does can be unpredictable and hard-going sometimes. But it was rewarding.
“I’ll sometimes get a run of calls and then all of a sudden it will stop. Sometimes the parents can’t go so the police show the kids a list of names and they’ll ask them which person. They always say Aunty June. Most of them call me that or ‘nan’.”
She said most of her work involved sitting down and talking to the kids and sometime giving them a hug.
“Nine times out of 10, they’ll let out why they are doing it and how they are sorry they have done it. I always say to them, you’re the only one that can change things. I talk to the adults the same way. I don’t rouse on them, I just talk to them. Then the solicitor will talk to me and then I help the kids talk to the police that way. I know most of the people in Grafton because I’m born and bred here.”
Aunty June said when she arrives at the station the officers are very supportive and they respect the work she is doing.
“I’ve got my shirt that I have to wear when I do go in there. They all acknowledge what I’m doing and then they offer me a cup of tea or coffee. If I have to stay there for a while and it’s dinner time or tea time I’ll have that too.”
Aunty June said she did find the work hard at first but was happy with results she is starting to see.
“I call it a job because to me it is a job and I’m proud of myself for doing it,” she said.
“Since I’ve been doing it there haven’t been as many kids in there. It’s sort of slowed down. If anyone does goes there it’s ‘ring Aunty June, ring Aunty June’. Sometimes they just need someone to talk to, to offer some moral support. They are always glad I’m there so I feel I’m a bit of a role model for them.
“But I don’t just do it for my mob, I do it for everyone in there.”
Aunty June said since being a regular visitor to the Grafton station it had really opened her eyes to the relationship possible between the indigenous community and the police.
“I’ve never been in trouble but to see the respect they have for an Aboriginal woman, I have that much respect for the police here (in Grafton) now. If they see me up the street or shopping they’ll always come up and say hello. They’ve become my friends.”
She said while she wished it was a paid role, she was rewarded by things like seeing the kids go back to school and the feeling she was doing something positive for her community.
“The kids always say thank you for helping me. When I put my shirt on to go to work I feel about 10 foot tall, a bigger person instead of a little one.”
Chief Inspector Jo Reid said the cell support program was an excellent initiative and Aunty June Duroux and others like her were crucial in its success.
“It is all about trying to provide assistance to Aboriginal people in custody at the front end, to try and help make the process as less traumatic as it can be under the circumstances,” Insp Reid said.
“For members of the (indigenous) community to put their hand up to work with police officers speaks volumes for those relationships and how we’ve built them up over time.”
Insp Reid said they would continue to work on those relationships because they want to see better outcomes for Aboriginal people right across the board.
“Aunty June and others like her do an amazing job and we are very thankful for that,” she said.
“And it’s not just symbolic. If you get a phone call at 2 o’clock in the morning to come and support an Aboriginal person in custody … it takes a pretty special person to do that.”