After Yorta Yorta woman Aunty Tanya Day died in December 2017, her children began looking for traces of her memory in her bedroom. They already had much of it close to their hearts.
Their mother, 55, was a proud community woman. She had helped run the co-op in her home town of Echuca and had assisted at the childcare centre. She was an excellent cook and used her skills to make big batches of food for elders and the community, as well as bake cupcakes with her grandchildren.
She was also political and had travelled interstate to attend rallies against black deaths in custody, standing in solidarity with families of victims. Her advocacy had taken shape early in her life, after her uncle Harrison Day died in custody when she was a teenager. His death was one of 99 investigated by the landmark Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody (RCIADIC, 1987–1991).
But along with the memories of their mother, in that bedroom they found her hopes for the future. On a piece of paper, Aunty Day had written down her goals and dreams.
“Some of her goals were to get her [driver’s] licence and to get her own place,” her daughter Apryl, 28, tells marie claire. Aunty Day had been planning a move to Melbourne to get her qualifications in cooking, hoped to work at social enterprise restaurant Charcoal Lane, and to be closer to her daughter Kimberly, 23, who was pregnant.
“She was very much looking forward to her future,” her third daughter, Belinda, 39, says.
It’s a picture far removed from typical media portrayals of women such as Aunty Day.
On December 5, 2017, she had arrived at Echuca railway station in northern Victoria and bought a ticket to Melbourne – the site of her future dreams. But she would never reach her destination. Aunty Day, who had been drinking, fell asleep and just near Bendigo, she came to the attention of a V/Line train conductor. He claimed she was “unruly” and that her feet were blocking the aisles, and he called the police, who subsequently arrested her for public intoxication – an outdated law that the RCIADIC had recommended be abolished across the country nearly 30 years prior.
In the cell in Castlemaine police station, she suffered a fall, captured on CCTV footage. The police had failed to conduct regular checks. By the time she reached hospital, it was too late. Aunty Day died of brain injuries at St Vincent’s Hospital in Melbourne 17 days later.
The heartbreaking reality is that this woman should have never been in custody in the first place. Cross-examination by the coroner revealed she was not aggressive or disruptive, and the conductor admitted that he saw sleeping passengers on the train about three times a week, but this was the first time he’d ever called the police.
“She should have been left alone,” Belinda says. “She wasn’t unruly. She wasn’t disturbing anybody.”
“She was asleep,” Apryl adds. “There was systemic racism that played a part in decision-making [that day] and in the way the police are programmed and deal with Aboriginal people. Because at the time, Aboriginal women were 10 times more likely to be arrested under [public drunkenness] laws than non-Aboriginal women.”
In May this year the world erupted in fury after African-American man George Floyd was killed by a police officer. His death, and his last words, “I can’t breathe,” were captured on mobile phone footage by bystanders, and streamed around the world.
In Australia, Aboriginal people were quick to point out that the deaths of black people in police watch houses and prison cells was not just an American phenomenon.
It was happening and had happened in our country too. In the 30 years since the RCIADIC, there have been 437 Aboriginal deaths behind bars. Shockingly, there’s been no convictions and very few charges laid.
Continue reading your story on the app
Continue reading your story in the magazine
VALLEY OF THE DOLLS
A subculture of women who collect hyper-realistic baby dolls is growing around the world. For some, it’s much-needed therapy after losing a child or infertility, while others see the tiny toy humans as a collectible – part art, part addiction. Writer Kelli Korducki goes inside the thriving reborn doll industry
What I've LEARNT
marie claire's original cover girl reflects on the past 25 years of her life, and explains how she used her supermodel status to agitate for change
BACK TO THE '90s
Nostalgia for the ’90s has hit new heights thanks to its pop-culture power and fearless fashion. But could you really live there again? Alexandra Carlton ditches the digital world and steps back in time to find out
A NEW ERA
As the latest incarnation of Miss Dior launches, we talk to its long-time face, Natalie Portman, and ask how she has evolved with the iconic fragrance over a decade
Skinny jeans, sexy selfies, celebrity icons … With opinions diverging and society dividing down generational lines, we asked a Gen Z, a Gen X and a Gen Y (millennial) to weigh in on today’s hot-button topics
Cannes' Shining Return
After last year’s cancelled event, the 2021 Cannes Film Festival was a dazzling display of decadence as Chopard once again dressed the stars in headline-worthy jewels
Shame Pain & Fame The Dark Side Of K-Pop
Bright and irresistible, K-pop provides the beat to South Korea’s youth culture. But behind the perfect smiles and dance routines are tales of sexism and abuse, writes Crystal Tai
NICOLE UP CLOSE
Legendary actor, sought-after producer, champion for women, proud wife and mum. Nicole Kidman’s CV is studded with glory, but she insists she’s only just getting started. For our special 25th birthday issue, editor Nicky Briger chats to the homegrown superstar about longevity, love and her latest role
The Day That Changed The World
Twenty years on from the world’s worst terrorist attack, three women who were caught up in the unprecedented disaster of 9/11 share their stories of horror, heartache and hope
Fighting For A Brighter Future
In the Northern Territory where the youth incarceration rate is three times the national average, a group of First Nations grandmothers are uniting to prevent the next generation of children from being locked up and let down. Alley Pascoe meets the women on the frontline.