JUST days after filming started on a documentary about outback Aboriginal police officers changing law enforcement culture, news broke that Geraldton police had killed Yamatji woman Joyce Clarke.
Director Cornel Ozies, an Aboriginal man from the Kimberley, said it gave the project a new dimension.
“I think at that point we realised how important the documentary really was to tell that positive, good story of the police attempting to repair a broken relationship.”
Our Law documents Noongar officers Revis Ryder and Wendy Kelly arriving in the North West community Warakurna to run the first Aboriginal-led police station.
In the deep centre of the state, many locals speak English as a third or fourth language, and the officers must learn the local Ngaanyatjarra language and Yarnangu lore and culture; it’s helped diffuse tense situations and lower the number of arrests.
The doco’s producer Taryne Laffar is from the Bardi and Jabbir Jabbir people around the Dampier Peninsula north of Broome. She says seeing the Noongar officers come to Ngaanyatjarra country “is a big eye opener to a different way of doing business.
“For us, we take some things for granted on the Indigenous side.
“We naturally, when we go to a different part of the country, we will always show respect for those people in that country, because we instinctively grow up with the knowledge that that’s not our country.
“So it’s a good way to come into a new way of thinking for non-Indigenous people when working with Indigenous people and communities.”
Ozies, who started his broadcasting career in Broome using a mast with a 150km range, now works at Sydney university but says just recently he experienced discrimination from police while walking to work.
“I was pulled aside by police officers here in Sydney and told I ‘fit the description’.”
Despite quickly establishing he wasn’t their suspect, the officers continued to detain him to run checks for outstanding warrants.
“I was standing on the streets, with a lot of people looking at me, in my local neighbourhood … they had me there for half an hour, then let me go. They didn’t apologise.
It was very upsetting for me just to be pulled aside because I was black.”
On the other side, Ozies’ mum and brother have both served as police.
“I hear stories from them about how hard it is to police,” he said.
“There’s a lot of negativity towards black police officers who are trying their best to work within the system they have, to bridge that gap and make it better for us, our community.”
As the film nears release, the police officer accused of Joyce Clark’s murder has pled not guilty, another Aboriginal man died in custody in Acacia prison on June 5, and Black Lives Matter protests are taking place across the world.
“It’s been a strange week,” Laffar says, “because we are Indigenous people and there is that legacy here, but it makes us feel more proud and determined to make sure we get this film out there to say that there are really important, good ways of working with people to avoid seeing some of the big problems we are seeing in America.
“It really reminds us … how important it is that we work with Indigenous police officers because there’s a definite understanding about the cultural side of the relationship – a respect.”
Our Law has its virtual premiere at the online Sydney Film Festival June 10 to 21, tickets via sff.org.au and it screens on NITV June 22 at 8.30pm.
Ozies and Laffar were interviewed by the Voice’s Matthew Eeles for his Cinema Australia Podcast, and the full interview is up at cinemaaustralia. com.au or via any podcast app.
by DAVID BELL