The Weekly Notebook

Ruby Kulla Kulla: childhood trauma

This week: 1) Codey Herrmann’s sister talks; 2) Victoria’s DPP seeks tougher sentence; 3) Growing support for Julian Assange; 4) The Guardian changes its mind

Ruby Kulla Kulla, older sister of Codey Herrmann, talks about her painful upbringing

In 2016 Ruby Kulla Kulla took part in an SBS Insight discussion on the shocking treatment of indigenous children in and out of home care.

Presenter Jenny Brockie talked to six indigenous people about their experiences in home care situations. It was three years before Ruby’s younger brother Codey Herrmann was convicted of the brutal rape and murder of Palestinian student Aiia Maasarwe. The programme, Looking After the Kids, broadcast by SBS on 19 April 2016, was presented by Jenny Brockie and produced by Kyle Tayla. This is an edited portion of the transcript:

JENNY: Welcome everyone, good to have you with us tonight. Ruby, you’re 18, you were removed from your birth parents when you were four. Why?    

RUBY: Um, not too sure but I know that there’s a report about the whole situation. Um, I did read that report when I was 16.

JENNY: What did you find out? 

RUBY: Um, so through that report I found, I found out that, um, there was, um, a lot of, um, problems between my parents going on.

JENNY: Is there anything specific that you remember from that time when you were really little, when you were still with your parents? 

RUBY: Um, I don’t know where I was, I think I was in between my parents, they were both arguing about something and, um, it was my father, my father got really aggressive and got really angry and he threw like a TV at my mum.

JENNY: A TV? 

RUBY: Yeah, yeah, yeah, I remember that. And it ended up, um, falling on top of me.

JENNY: A television fell on top of you? 

RUBY: Yeah, a television – that’s what I remember, yeah.

JENNY: And how old – you would have been under four then or four…

RUBY: Yeah, probably under four, that’s what I remember.

JENNY: And were you hurt? 

RUBY: I’m not sure if I was hurt or not. Probably was…

JENNY: Hard to remember because you were so tiny? 

RUBY: Yeah.

JENNY: But you remember that? 

RUBY: Yeah.

JENNY: Do you remember being removed from your parents? 

RUBY: No, no.

JENNY: And did you have any contact with them growing up? 

RUBY: I did have contact with, um, them both, including my father, but I kind of lost contact with my father around the age of four towards five because for some reason he had just disappeared out of my life and my brother’s life as well. From that age up till now we still haven’t heard anything from him. Um, but we did see our mum quite frequently because we had access but sometimes my mum would cancel out on our plans for access and it was kind of really upsetting and stuff growing up because, you know, wanted to hang out with your mum and you couldn’t because she cancelled on you. So…

JENNY: And what was that like for you as a child not seeing her as much as you’d like to? 

RUBY: Um, it was, um, I kind of got used to it. You kind of just get used to, you know, only seeing them on rare occasions. But when she, um, passed away, it was like one of the regrets that I wished I had spent more time with her ‘cause, I always look at other people’s families and I’m like, you know, I would like to have that same connection with my mother and my father but I can’t. So it was, yeah, growing up was really upsetting but, yeah, kind of move on, I guess.

Melbourne mural by street artist Matt Adnate with the collaboration of Ruby Kulla Kulla, Ray Thomas and Kulan Barney

JENNY: Ruby, who looked after you? 

RUBY: So, I had a carer who I was with for 13 years.

JENNY: Was she Aboriginal or non-Aboriginal? 

RUBY: She was non-Aboriginal.

JENNY: Okay, and what was that like for you? 

RUBY: I actually went through an identity crisis growing up because I was living, you know, I was Aboriginal and I was living with a non-Aboriginal woman and I was, you know, going to school. I was doing, I was doing things that, you know, the majority of my family wasn’t really doing. I’ve gone through primary school to high school and now I’m into university and not a lot of my family have done that. And so growing up I was, I kept asking myself, um, who I was, like am I black, am I white? Like who am I sort of thing?

JENNY: Now that you’re 18 and you look back on that, I mean how do you, how do you view it? How do you weigh it up in terms of the benefits and the disadvantages of the upbringing that you had? 

RUBY: Well, with the upbringing I had, I was quite, I was very grateful to be, you know, cared for and, um, to have, you know, just got given a childhood even though I wasn’t with my family. I wasn’t with parents. Throughout my care I got, I got so many opportunities to, like a lot of like things that I always wanted to do, like even my art and music and stuff like that.

JENNY: Was there anyone else in your extended family who could have looked after you do you think and would you have wanted that? 

RUBY: I don’t think anyone was able to look my brother and I. Not anyone that was stable enough and kind of like in the right shape of mind to actually look after two young kids.

JENNY: Ruby, you talked a little bit about your identity crisis when you were growing up. I want to talk to you a bit more about that when you were a kid. Tell me more about that, about wondering whether you were black or white. How old were you when you were thinking those things? 

RUBY: Probably – I was in primary school, probably maybe around the age of eight upwards until I got into high school, my first year of high school.

JENNY: Did you talk to anyone about it when you were feeling like that? 

RUBY: No, I didn’t. It was just this thing. It was like a conversation I had with myself. You know, I just sat there and I was like are you black, are you white? Yeah, I think it’s just me getting involved with community, whether or not it’s my community or not. I think it’s important for indigenous kids wherever they are for them to be connected to their culture in some way, but like to be connected through maybe if they don’t have access to their own community to another community because it’s possible. I was involved with cultural activities, I was being…

JENNY: And was that because your foster carer actually supported you in that? 

RUBY: Yeah, she got me, she got me to do, you know, to get me going and to get to go to these things and you know, through VACCA [Victoria Aboriginal Child Care Agency]. If it wasn’t for VACCA, I probably wouldn’t be as connected to culture as I am today. Like I’m proud of my culture, I go to so many cultural events.  Even though we’re not, like, I’m not related to any of them, they’re still my family, you know?

JENNY: When you were nine you discovered something about your background.  I want to have a look at you announcing this. 

VIDEO CLIP PLAYED. 

RUBY: My name is Ruby. My family is from Cape York. My grandmother is Amberlamba, my grandfather Wantawanta and my group is … I don’t know.

JENNY: What was it like when you found that out though, that you were from Cape New York [sic], because you’d grown up in Melbourne?

RUBY: I felt unique. I was like really happy. I was like, you know, Oh My God, I have somewhere where I belong, even though it’s not down here.  I have somewhere I belong and, you know, I carry that with them. Whenever someone asks me, I say, “I’m from Cape York, not Cape New York, Cape York.”

Jenny Brockie presenting “Looking After the Kids’

JENNY: You eventually went there four years ago, about four years ago, and you met your extended family. What was that like? 

RUBY: That was really emotional, yeah. Because I remember this one point where we got to where we were staying up in Coen which is where my family lives. [Coen is an Aboriginal town on Cape York with a population of about 400]. There’s this, like, really, um, old looking woman who kind of looked like my auntie and kind of looked like my mum. And I was like, “Who’s this woman?” It was my Nan and she just broke down in tears when she saw all of us.

Because I look so much like my mum, so I look like my mum and she just broke down in tears and I was like oh, you don’t need to cry because I hate when people cry because I get all teary. And I was like, “You don’t need to cry, it’s all good, it’s all good.” I think she was just overwhelmed that her grandkids had come up to see her and stuff.

JENNY: Did you think about staying there? 

RUBY: I actually have thought about staying there but I don’t think so, because I’m too, I’m too used to Melbourne weather and I’m too used to, like, the Melbourne lifestyle. I think we need to kind of come to a realisation that, you know, not play any cards, you know, not play the culture card or not play the race card. I think we need to come together as a community to figure out what’s best for the kids because as a kid in care, sorry… [Ruby starts to weep]

JENNY: That’s okay, Ruby. Are you alright? 

RUBY:  No, yeah, I’m fine, just – it’s just frustrating to hear that – I believe strongly, I strongly believe that we need do come together as a community to try and stop all that is going on from alcohol, to violence to all these things that kind of like upset our children and you know, I mean I see it, I see all the time that people like to play, you know, the culture card, you know, kids aren’t in, you know, with their family and stuff, they’re not going to recognise the culture.

Well hey, I’m going to tell you right now, I know my culture. I grew up in a foster care, I’m still fine. At the end of the day, you have to think about the children, you can’t just think about yourselves, you can’t just think about oh, what’s this going to look for us? You know, is this going to give us a bad image? No, it’s not about the image, it’s not about anything, it’s about the children. Ask yourself what’s best for the children and I think that if there is a place available for them to be safe, for them to grow up in an environment, then that’s fine, then you should let them do that and for the parents.

You know, my parents they didn’t try hard enough to get me or my brother back. I’m going to do this… If you want your children to come and live with you, you need to step up your game and you need to start taking responsibility. You need to start analysing yourself and asking yourself am I stable enough to look after these children because you can do it? You just need to work hard enough to do it because I can tell you, you can do it, alright?

I believe that if you want your children back, you need to, you need to honestly work for it because you can’t just keep blaming, you know, the non-indigenous people. You can’t keep blaming anyone else. You need to just, don’t even blame yourself because it’s not your fault, it’s, it’s just the environment that you’re in. Isolate yourself from your environment because you can do it. I believe parents can do that, just get away from all of that mess and just find yourself, you know, look after yourself first before you look after a child.

JENNY: I’m going to stop you there.  That is an incredible speech, well done, Ruby. And Ruby, what would you want, if you have kids what you would want for them? 

RUBY: I would want them to, I would want to give them a lot of love and support. I would want to inspire them, I would want to, um, just make sure that, um, they knew how much I loved them and surround them with culture, surround them with people who will support and look after them and I would just want them to be happy and for them to like know who they are and be more confident in themselves to do the things they would want to do in life.

JENNY: Thank you all so much for joining us tonight and for sharing your stories, really generous of you and great to talk to you. Thanks so much everyone. 

  • The SBS discussion centred on a 2016 report on the 17,664 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children stolen from their birth mothers and parents and forced to live in “home care”. Ten years before, in 2007-08, the number living in foster homes was 9,070. In other words, since the apology given in Federal Parliament by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in 2007, the number of “stolen generation” children had shot up by 8,594, or almost doubled.
Codey Herrmann’s “b4 An afta” Facebook post: on the left, as a baby; on the right, at the time of Aiia Maasarwe’s murder

Victoria’s DPP seeks tougher jail term

Ms Kerri Judd QC, Victoria’s Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), has launched an appeal against Codey Herrmann’s 36-year jail term claiming it was “manifestly inadequate”.

The DPP’s appeal, announced on 26 November 2019, puts Ms Judd and Justice Elizabeth Hollingworth, two of Victoria’s most senior law officers, on a collision course.

Ms Judd claimed that Justice Hollingworth gave “too much attention” to Herrmann’s mental health when she conducted his sentencing in Victoria’s Supreme Court in October. However, a seasoned crime reporter who covered the police murder investigation and Supreme Court sentencing told me: “I don’t believe 36 years in jail is ‘manifestly inadequate’. If Herrmann does manage to survive he’ll be a broken little old man. Even on the outside, living to the age of 50 is remarkable for an Aborigine. I think it’s more likely he will die in jail from diabetes or get shivved in the yard by another crim.”

DPP Kerri Judd QC

Ms Judd is the first female DPP since Victoria obtained Statehood from London in the 19th century. A former senior Crown Prosecutor, she has a reputation for seeking tough sentences. In February 2019, Ms Judd wrote to 50 Australian news publishers, editors, broadcasters, reporters and sub-editors accusing them of breaking a “gag order”. She ordered them to stop mentioning Cardinal George Pell’s conviction on child molestation charges or they would face serious legal consequences.

Her Honour Justice Hollingworth occupies a controversial seat on the Supreme Court bench. On 19 June 2014 she issued one of the world’s most sweeping suppression orders, or gagging orders. She upheld an application by the Federal Government to prevent any media coverage of bribery allegations against several international political leaders, including those in Malaysia, Indonesia and various tax havens around the world. WikiLeaks, co-founded by Melbourne-born journalist Julian Assange, published a treasure trove of documents revealing her decision and provoking commentary that Canberra and the courts were partners in a glaring example of media censorship. This was categorically denied.

She appears to hold conflicting views on suppression orders. When the Commonwealth Government asked her court to suppress press coverage of a worldwide financial corruption scandal, she obliged. But when the Maasarwe family opposed the lifting of a suppression order on graphic details of their daughter’s murder, Justice Hollingworth took an opposite view.

Justice Elizabeth Hollingworth

Explaining her ruling, the judge said: “At the start of the plea hearing, I lifted a Magistrate’s Court suppression order which prevented publication of any of the details of the criminal offences other than that Ms Maasarwe had died as a result of blunt force trauma. I did so because there was simply no legal basis for allowing the suppression order to continue. Terrible as these events were, there was nothing in this case that would not ordinarily be reported in full in an Australian court. Even the media have, as far as I am aware, been very respectful in their reporting of this case. I acknowledge that the requirements of open justice in this country have, unfortunately, caused additional distress to family members”. What a farce! “Open justice in this country” when legal violations occur almost daily in courts across Australia. Just ask any Aboriginal, Moslem, refugee or climate change activist – the law is loaded against them – in this country and Israel.

WikiLeaks revelations about Justice Hollingworth’s suppression order created a storm in the media, the political world and among the general public. The story became front-page news across the world, much to the embarrassment of the Canberra government and its overseas diplomats. In June 2015, one year after she allowed the suppression order, it was revoked.

A date for Ms Judd’s appeal to increase Codey Herrmann’s sentences has not been set. She will be using all the experience she gained when working as a young lawyer in Alice Springs when Aboriginal boys were being sent to NT jails in droves. For some it became “a rite of passage”. For others they never came out alive.

Team Assange continues to gather global support

John Pilger, Kerry O’Brien and Phillip Adams, three of Australia’s most revered journalists, have boosted the global campaign to free fellow journalist Julian Assange and allow him to come home.

The co-founder of WikiLeaks remains jailed in London facing extradition to America at the behest of the CIA and Pentagon while free speech activists continue to rally in support of his plight.

In a recent TV interview, Pilger presented shocking details of how some selected media commentators have turned on Assange and rubbished him with distortions privately supplied by the US Embassy and the British Foreign Office.

He said the British Guardian, once a gold standard for media reporting, had recently adopted a “propensity to suck up to rapacious power and smear those who reveal its double standards”.

Suzanne Moore, a senior Guardian columnist, wrote to her IT followers in June 2012: “I bet Assange is stuffing himself full of flattened guinea pigs. He really is the most massive turd.”

When asked about Assange’s current Orwellian predicament, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison replied: “He should face the music.” Pilger commented: “This kind of thuggery, bereft of any respect for truth and rights and the principles of law, is why the Murdoch-controlled press in Australia is now worried about ‘the Assange precedent’. Could any of its reporters be extradited for ‘treason’ for writing articles about Washington’s secret war on China, South Korea, North Korea, Iran, Palestine or Russia?”

John Pilger

In 2017, the US working party on arbitrary detention ruled that Assange was being unlawfully detained by the UK Government and called on then Prime Minister Theresa May’s Tory Government to set him free. The official plea was ignored in London, Washington and Australia.

Pilger singled out a “lazy, specious” article by SMH London correspondent Nick Miller headlined, “Assange has not been vindicated, he has merely outwaited justice”, referring to Sweden’s decision to abandon its on-again, off-again “investigation” of Assange.

Pilger wrote: “Miller’s report is not untypical for its omissions and distortions while masquerading as a tribune of women’s rights. There is no original work, no real inquiry: just smear.”

Miller made no mention of the Swedish prosecutor who attempted to abandon the Assange case as long ago as 2013. But when she emailed London’s Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to say she would no longer pursue European arrest warrants against the Australian journalist, she received an email reply saying: “Don’t you dare!!!”

Then there was the opinion piece by Anne Ramberg, secretary general of the Swedish Bar Association, who condemned the handling of Julian Assange’s case in Sweden and the UK as “deplorable”. That wasn’t mentioned either.

Kerry O’Brien

Meanwhile at the annual Walkley Awards for Excellence in Journalism, former 7.30 host Kerry O’Brien and the evening’s host, appealed for active support for imprisoned colleague, Julian Assange.

“As we sit here tonight, Julian Assange is mouldering in a British prison awaiting extradition to the United States where he may pay for their severe embarrassment with a life in prison. This Government [Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s Coalition Government in Canberra] could demonstrate its commitment to a free press by using its significant influence with its closest ally to gain his return to Australia.”

He welcomed the formation in June of the Journalism is Not a Crime campaign but warned against complacency. “For journalists to call out the powerful of any political colour for their abuses of power is not about ideology. It is simply journalists doing their job, practising their craft.”

Phillip Adams, the widely admired ABC Radio presenter, has warned in an appeal on behalf of Julian Assange, that the Australian-born WikiLeaks co-founder could face 175 years’ jail in a US military prison if he is “rendered” to the USA on trumped up “treason” charges.

Phillip Adams

Adams wrote: “Julian Assange is an Australian citizen who has been ‘arbitrarily’ detained for over eight years and more recently endured over one year of torture in the form of continuous solitary confinement, deprived of sunlight, contact with the outside world and proper health care. The UN Human Rights Commissioner determined on 5 February 2016 that Assange detention should be ‘brought to an end’. Julian is an awarded and respected international journalist who has never incorrectly published any news.”

All of Australia’s major parties are deeply divided on the Assange case, including the Nationals and Labor. Some factions wish to go along with the “rendition” plans of London and Washington while others want him brought home. It is a very simple choice which has been over-complicated by fence-sitters. The simple truth is that you stand for free speech or you don’t. As the “wobblies” (the Industrial Workers of the World) used to sing a century ago: “Which side are you on?”

The Guardian changes its mind

The Guardian editorial board has done a somersault with pike and landed on its arse.

It now declares that Julian Assange’s extradition is “a matter of press freedom and the public’s right to know”. Really? Most people worked that out more than a decade ago.

Dr Alison Broinowski, a Wikileaks Party candidate for the Senate in 2013, has reported The Guardian’s change of heart on John Menadue’s site, Pearls and Irritations. She has set the cat among the pigeons: opponents of Assange are having to re-think their strategy now that “their” newspaper has spoken. Watch this space …

Quote from the Past

“The real divide is between the entire class of people now reposing their fat behinds on the green and red benches in the Palace of Westminster, and the bottom 20 per cent of society – the group that supplies us with the chavs, the losers, the burglars, the drug addicts and the 70,000 people who are lost in our prisons and learning nothing except how to become more effective criminals.”

–       British Prime Minister Boris Johnson writing in the London Telegraph in 2005. At the time he was editor of The Spectator and Tory MP for Henley. He had taken exception to Labour Chancellor Gordon Brown dismissing Tory leader David Cameron as “an old Etonian”. Johnson and Cameron were classmates at Eton and Oxford.

Quote of the Week

“False anti-Russian Government narratives emanating from London and Washington may be laughed at in Moscow, but they are unquestionably accepted in Canberra. We are the most gullible of audiences. Important contrary factual information and analysis from and about Russia just does not reach Australian news reporting and commentary nor, I fear, Australian intelligence assessment. We are prisoners of the false narratives fed to us by our senior partners in the US and UK.”

Tony Kevin, author and former diplomat, speaking at Avid Reader bookshop in Brisbane’s West End on 27 November 2017. He was launching Russia and the West: The last two action-packed years 2017-19, his latest of five books. Tony Kevin is famous for his award-winning book, A Certain Maritime Incident: the sinking of SIEV X. Masterminded by the Howard Government in Canberra, the tragedy resulted in 353 asylum seekers drowning at sea.

2 comments

  1. More important stories – with thorough provenance/background. Thanks.

    Alison’s article re Julian Assange – in Pearls & Irritations – absolutely covers it. I have made a response but as of an hour or so ago – had not been moderated to appear.

  2. Thanks Alex for desperately needed humanitarian commentary on the Codey Hermann and Julian Assange cases. By contrast privileged lawyers appear to ponder only their preconceived concerns with rules of ‘law’ which too often have little to do with justice. The brutal persecution of Julian Assange has been sustained by cowardly journalists and politicians. By ducking for cover when they could have supported Assange and human rights , they have failed to contribute to courage in public life.

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