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“It can just work the way we do it”

Sgt. Wendy Kelly works at WA's only Indigenous-run Police Station, and believes two communities can co-exist.

Sgt. Wendy Kelly

Right now, Sgt. Wendy Kelly sees two sides of a national debate.

As an Noongar woman and Western Australian Senior Constable she is effectively at the centre of a national conversation around social debates including Black Lives Matter and Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.

But as one of two police officers at WA’s only Indigenous-run police station she also appreciates both perspectives.

Sgt. Kelly tells TV Tonight, the debate doesn’t have to be an “us vs. them” conversation. Together with Senior Sergeant Revis Ryder, they are the epitome of community policing in remote Warakurna.

“It doesn’t really have to be like this. It can just work the way we do it,” she says.

“Revis and I have proven it, really, with what we’ve done out at Warakurna.

“It was just getting one big community getting on with it.”

“I think it’s worked. Everybody was happy. We all got on. Yes, we would have arguments, but it was resolved. Nobody held grudges or anything like that. Certainly not the people, and neither Revis nor I held any grudges.

“It was just getting one big community getting on with it.”

Their story features in the documentary Our Law as part of NITV’s Karla Grant Presents. At Warakurna, near the NT border,  if they are to effectively police one of the most remote beats in the world.

Kelly was born in Bunbury, where she was abandoned at birth, but grew up in a Perth foster family.  At the age of 36 after being homeless on the streets and having her throat by her partner, she joined the force.

Our Law sees her during her two years at Warakurna, working alongside Sen. Sgt Ryder . Writer / Director Cornel Ozies, an Indigenous man from the Kimberley region, captures their local policing methods, including how the two attempt to learn Yarnangu Lore and culture and master the local Ngaanyatjarra language.

“I’ve got words which I can use with authority.”

As Kelly explains, there are 40,000 dialects just in WA alone and language can change dramatically within Indigenous cultures.

“I’ve always tried to learn some of the lingo and it’s served me quite well. I mean I can’t put a sentence together to save my life. However, I’ve got words which I can use with authority.

Senior Sgt Revis Ryder, elder Daisy Ward Wendy, Sgt. Wendy Kelly

“I had an old fella come up to me one time and he went off. I was standing there shaking my head saying ‘No good, no good,'” she recalls.

“But the fella that I was working with happened to be a local who joined as a liaison officer, and at the end of it he asked me, ‘Wendy how did you do that?’ And I said because I could pick out some words and every now and then he would throw in an English word. I just wrapped my little brain around what he was saying. And I said, ‘Did I get it right?’ He said ‘Absolutely. Word for word pretty much.’

“So that was my sort of technique, I guess.”

The documentary includes sensitive policing scenes involving a mother struggling with parenting, but also scenes involving bush medicine and even coaching a local Aussie Rules team.

“People need to see that Aboriginal people are quite capable of running stations.”

“People need to see that Aboriginal people are quite capable of running stations. But it also showcases what we do for the community,” Kelly continues.

“(The producers) came up and spoke about what they would like to do. They went and got permission from the community, so that wasn’t a problem.

“Half the time we didn’t even realise they were there. They would put a camera inside the car, so you just didn’t notice.”

“It’s just matter of having that understanding that not everybody is the same.”

Kelly is also not in favour of ‘defunding’ police.

“I don’t think so. It’s just matter of having that understanding that not everybody is the same. You can’t treat urban, Indigenous people the same as the outback people. We’re all different.”

But how do we ensure there are no more Black Deaths in Custody?

“I really don’t know,” she admits. “All I can say with that is that it’s just have a look at the program and maybe try and get some ideas from that.

She adds, “If it gets a message across then I’m happy.”

Karla Grant Presents: Our Law 8:30pm Monday on NITV.

2 Responses

  1. After more involvement in communities with higher indigenous populations, I learned to use both equally the Western system of laws and regulations, such as government information relating to places, and the knowledge of indigenous land names, languages and culture. Sometimes it’s tricky to learn because the traditional lands on some occasions overlap council areas and similar factors.

    NITV continuing to show how communities can cooperate and work together is a good way to further mutual understanding and respect.

    For all channels and functions, acknowledgement of state suburb in addition to the standard acknowledgement of traditional land where the program was made and in welcome to country acknowledgements – that can help mutual respect, lessen division.

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