northern territory – Michmutters

Woman faces court charged with child abduction as Darwin girl Grace Hughes, 5, and mother remain missing

A woman charged with child abduction in relation to the disappearance of five-year-old Grace Hughes has faced court, as police continue to search for the Darwin girl.

Juliet Oldroyd, 50, was charged yesterday with one count of abducting a child under 16 and one count of attempting to abduct a child under 16.

She was interviewed at a property in Anula last week, with police saying she was later arrested for allegedly refusing to provide information about Grace and her mother’s whereabouts.

Police allege Grace was taken without permission by her mother Laura Hinks, also known as Laura Bolt, during a supervised parental visit on the afternoon of August 7.

During her first court appearance today, Ms Oldroyd told Judge Thomasin Opie she would not be seeking legal aid, but had no current representation other than her husband, Craig Oldroyd.

A woman and a young girl smile into the camera.  The photo is in black and white.
Laura Hinks and her daughter Grace Hughes remain missing. (Supplied: NT Police)

Mr Oldroyd told the court he did not have any legal qualifications, but later told media outside court that he had contacted an “international human rights lawyer”.

The accused was supported in court by a group of people who stood and applauded after she was escorted back to the cells when the case was adjourned.

Judge Opie had to instruct members of the public in the courtroom to sit down and “show courtesy to allow the court to proceed uninterrupted.”

A man with a beard and wearing a tie holds a bundle of papers and speaks into two microphones.
Juliet Oldroyd’s husband Craig Oldroyd said he will act on behalf of his wife in court. (ABC News: Melissa Mackay)

Search for Grace continues

A young girl of age five smiles into the camera.
Police are appealing for public information to find Grace. (Supplied: NT Police)

Police said in a statement yesterday they were using “all resources necessary” to find Grace, who has now been missing for more than a week.

They also said Grace and her mother may have traveled interstate.

Anyone with information on the pair’s whereabouts are being urged to contact police.

Ms Oldroyd’s matter will return to court on August 22.



Kumanjayi Walker inquest no longer starting in Yuendumu at family’s request

The inquest into the death of 19-year-old Kumanjayi Walker, who was shot by a Northern Territory police officer in 2019, will no longer begin in his home community of Yuendumu.

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are advised that this article contains an image of a person who has died, used with the permission of their family.

Kumanjayi Walker died after he was shot by Constable Zachary Rolfe during an attempted arrest in Yuendumu in November 2019.

Constable Rolfe was found not guilty of murder after a five-week Supreme Court trial earlier this year.

Northern Territory Coroner, Libby Armitage, will preside over a three-month inquest into his death, which had earlier been flagged to start in the remote community, about 300 kilometers from Alice Springs.

A person holds a t-shirt with the words 'justice for walker, never again' above their head.
Family and supporters of Kumanjayi Walker requested the inquest no longer begin in Yuendumu. (ABC News: Michael Franchi)

‘Change in circumstances’ in Yuendumu

Legal representatives of Mr Walker’s family and community today told the Coroner it would no longer be “appropriate” for the inquest to start in Yuendumu.

Representatives for the Lane, Walker and Robertson families, who cared for Mr Walker, said a “change in circumstances” in Yuendumu meant their feelings towards the inquest being held in community had changed.



In the vast region of Timber Creek, domestic violence victims have few places to go

In other communities Kathryn Drummond had worked in, domestic violence shelters were a haven for women and children in crisis.

In Timber Creek, where she treated a woman from a nearby community who had been beaten by her partner earlier this year, a terrible thought crossed her mind.

“I started becoming very uncomfortable, knowing there was potential that I may have to return this woman to the environment that I had just gone and picked her up from,” Ms Drummond said.

“I had long conversations with the police about… what is this going to look like? Is this a safe option?”

“And I don’t think it was a safe option.

“It was virtually the only option for her.”

Tasked with keeping vulnerable Indigenous patients safe from harm, Ms Drummond and her team at the Katherine West Health Board clinic in Timber Creek instead find themselves at the coalface of a glaring service gap.

Health worker Kathryn Drummond reads and reads some paperwork in the kitchen of a clinic.
Ms Drummond says health staff have to sit up all night with domestic violence victims.(ABC News: Jesse Thompson)

In more than a dozen remote communities across the territory, government-funded women’s safe houses provide families with refuge in a jurisdiction with the nation’s worst rates of domestic violence.

But the regional service hub of Timber Creek missed out, leaving vulnerable women in a vast stretch of outback linking Katherine to the East Kimberley hundreds of kilometers from dedicated help.

Overnight safe houses

When Lorraine Jones first began as an Indigenous liaison officer with the local police force in the 1990s, she would deal with domestic violence incidents by day and take the victims into her own home by night.

An Indigenous woman in a police uniform smiles at the camera.
Lorraine Jones began as an Aboriginal community police officer in 1996.(Supplied: Lorraine Jones)

“With all the victims that were coming through from communities, I used to put them up in my house before they got transported out to Katherine, or until they were safe,” the Ngaliwurru and Nungali woman said.

Decades on, her family says little has changed.

On the outskirts of Timber Creek in Myatt — a small Indigenous community skirted by rolling hills and bursts of canary yellow flowers — some of the demountable homes have been turned into overnight safe houses.

Ms Jones’ sister, Deborah, recalls spending anxious nights with victims here.

She worries it exposes younger generations to cycles of violence and places further strains on the small community.

“As a mother, as well, you know, you try and explain to the children who the victim is, where they’ve come from,” she said.

“The kids would ask, question, what are they doing here in their house?

“Plus, they don’t have any food with them. Don’t they have any money, those victims that come to your house.”

Two Indigenous women sit beneath the shade of a red gum tree.
Lorraine and Deborah Jones in the community of Myatt, outside Timber Creek.(ABC News: Jesse Thompson)
Indigenous leader Lorraine Jones stands in front of a house looking concerned.
Lorraine Jones worked as a community liaison officer in the 1990s.(ABC News: Jesse Thompson)

Several Timber Creek residents the ABC spoke with for this story said they had also resorted to taking women into their own homes.

Locals say the long-standing issue is evidence their calls for more resources continue to fall on deaf ears.

“We’ve been asking for a very long time to get a shelter,” Ms Jones said.

“Not only myself, but during my time in the police force as well.

“We’ve been pushing. We haven’t got any help.”

The small, north-west Northern Territory community of Timber Creek at sunset, seen from above.
Timber Creek sits about three hours driving west of Katherine.(ABC News: Jesse Thompson)

‘The rest of the day is gone’

Years after Ms Jones took off her police badge, serving members say the domestic violence situation in the Timber Creek region has become worse.

Provisional police statistics show the region’s officers responded to roughly 11 incidents in the 2018/19 financial year.

But that figure more than doubled to about 24 the following year, ballooned to 41 over 2020/21 then dropped slightly to 33 in the most recent period.

The Katherine police station as the sun sets
Superintendent Kirk Pennuto oversees officers in the remote NT from Katherine.(ABC News: Jesse Thompson)

Superintendent Kirk Pennuto, who oversees police operations from the Gulf of Carpentaria to the Western Australian border from Katherine, said the callouts are also generally becoming more serious, with more offenses typically flowing from each incident.

“Most of the communities that are not dissimilar to Timber Creek would have access to a service such as a safe house,” he said.

“Certainly, the statistical data, broadly, would suggest that one would be of value in that region, as it has been — as they are — in other regions.”

A Northern Territory police officer walks down a hallway with bright white lighting.
Superintendent Pennuto says domestic violence incidents in the region have recently increased.(ABC News: Jesse Thompson)
A bald police officer sits in a blue chair, looking at paperwork.
Superintendent Pennuto says the severity of the incidents is also getting worse.(ABC News: Jesse Thompson)

The service gap is having a domino effect across the sprawling region.

Police occasionally have to leave the community for entire working days as they escort victims to a shelter three hours away in Katherine.

“From a policing perspective, the moment you get that incident, you can be sure the rest of that day is gone,” the superintendent said.

“A lot of the stuff you would like to be doing in a proactive sense in trying to engage with that community and trying to prevent these things from happening going forward, you tend to just be responding and reacting to these things.”

A motorhome moves along a remote stretch of highway in the NT, with a road sign visible.
The town of Timber Creek sits near the WA/NT border.(ABC News: Jesse Thompson)

Nurses also embark on the 580 kilometer round trip, and the removal of staff from the area can see outreach services in surrounding outstations and communities be delayed or dumped.

On other occasions, Ms Drummond said, health workers have spent the night sitting up with victims in the clinic until the threat has passed.

“So it tends to be we curl the patient up in our emergency room on one of our stretchers,” she said.

A boab tree next to a police station sign in the remote NT community of Timber Creek.
Timber Creek police sometimes embark on a six-hour round trip to Katherine.(ABC News: Jesse Thompson)

Millions spent while region goes without

The federal government said it had invested more than $40 million into 16 remote women’s safe houses across the territory over two Indigenous partnership agreements since 2012.

But it said the Northern Territory government chooses where they go.

A spokesman from the NT department tasked with domestic violence prevention said that decision is based on rates of violence, staffing and funding.

They added that Timber Creek receives funding for a domestic violence coordinator in addition to outreach services in Katherine, which are supported by a women’s refuge in Kununurra, hundreds of kilometers away

The local council’s assessment is more blunt.

Senior Victoria Daly Regional Council, Brian Pedwell, says the issue is bounced between tiers of government like a handball.

“You can only write so many letters, you know, to all these ministers, but it doesn’t really hit them in the core,” he said.

Neither Mr Pedwell nor his deputy, Timber Creek resident Shirley Garlett, are sure why Timber Creek never received a shelter.

Indigenous Major Brian Pedwell leans against a glass building looking concerned.
Brian Pedwell says it’s unclear why Timber Creek never received the service.(ABC News: Jesse Thompson)

The Northern Territory’s domestic violence minister, Kate Worden, herself a domestic violence survivor, says she would build one straight away — if she had more federal funding.

“To all of the women in Timber Creek that require services: yes we will continue to look at it,” she said.

“We will make sure that we continue to talk to the Commonwealth government about making sure the Northern Territory has adequate funding going forward to provide services to women where they need them the most.”

The minister will soon formalize a request for additional Commonwealth funding, an issue thrust into the spotlight following the alleged domestic and family violence deaths of two Indigenous women and an infant in the last month alone.

A spokeswoman for federal Social Services Minister Amanda Rishworth said all domestic violence funding requests from states and territories would be considered once they are received.

An Indigenous woman in a red headscarf wears a look of concern.
According to Shirley Garlett, locals feel like they are flogging a dead horse.(ABC News: Jesse Thompson)

Ms Garlett said in the background of the bureaucracy, a serious problem rages on.

“It’s an issue because we’re losing people,” she said.

“People are dying, committing suicide and we can stop that if we have, you know, if we have the right place. If we have the right structure.”

A drone shot of Timber Creek with a car seen driving along a highway.
The clinic services a large area west of Katherine.(ABC News: Dane Hirst)



Sport, music and culture shine at Barunga Festival 2022 after COVID postponements

The dust barely settles as it drifts across thousands of spectators circled around traditional dancers from Groote Eylandt kicking up a storm this weekend in the remote NT community of Barunga.

Historically, the buŋgul, a meeting place of dance, song and ritual, at Barunga Festival is largely admired from the sidelines — but this year was different.

“Barunga is one of those different places, it brings so many people from different communities to try to share together in one place, that’s what Barunga is all about,” Groote Eylandt dancer Leonard Amagula says.

“It is reaching out to other communities, reaching out to the young ones, to grow up and see we are doing wonderful things.”

Dancers on sand can be seen through the crowd.
The crowd is invited to take part in traditional dances. (ABC News: Max Rowley)

It starts as a trickle, and then legions of people from the crowd swirl into the centre, and press together behind the Groote Eylandt Anindilyakwa experts, billowing sand across the tiny community about 400 kilometers south-east of Darwin.

It’s one of those special moments that makes the three-day festival what it is; a place where both historic agreements are made and the promise of treaties echoes loudly.

And a place where remote Indigenous culture is strengthened simply by sharing in it.

A ‘rough but happy’ beginning

The festival has a long and important history that started over three decades ago in 1985.

Mr Amagula has been a regular attendee since his teens.

Back then, he says, it was “kinda rough but happy” and much larger with far more people traveling in from other Aboriginal communities.

A man in a hat files a Didgeridoo at Barunga.
Cultural workshops including yidaki (didgeridoo) making ran all weekend. (ABC Katherine: Roxanne Fitzgerald)

This year, after the festival was postponed due to COVID, creative director Michael Hohnen says that balance was almost struck again.

“Because it was not a long weekend, [there] was probably a few less people and the date change, a lot of people can’t plan for that date change, but I actually like this energy a lot,” he said.

“We didn’t push it at all in anywhere but remote communities … that’s what Barunga [Festival] is supposed to be, the community invites visitors in.”

weaving workshop
Festival attendees learn weaving from Barunga elders. (ABC Katherine: Roxanne Fitzgerald)

A succession of local NT bands took to the main stage across the three days, as MCs called musicians up for their slot and announced the winners of sport trophies in between sets – the by-product of a festival thin on staff running on ‘Barunga time ‘.

On Saturday night, singer and political activist Walmatjarri elder Kankawa Nagarra – who toured with Hugh Jackman in Broadway to Oz – opened the main stage concert delivering a string of songs that delved into a life of hardship as she moved from mission to mission.

A woman playing guitar on a stage at barunga festival.
West Australian political activist, singer and songwriter Kankawa Nagarra was a special guest at the festival. (ABC News: Max Rowley)

Then Salt Lake and Eylandt Band from Groote fired up the crowd.

A link to political past

Dissimilar to past years, where the rallying cries for action from leaders have been loud and fearless, it was quieter on the political front, leaving the festival’s roots in sport, music and culture to shine.

But at a festival steeped in political history, the past couldn’t be ignored.



40 years on from the death of Clyde Fenton, the larrikin lifesaver’s legacy lives on

He flew in his single-engine Gipsy Moth on moonless nights or in torrential rain, often unlicensed, and at least once in his pajamas, with only a magnetic compass for navigation.

His name was Clyde Fenton – the tall, bespectacled doctor who, in the 1930s, clocked up 3000 hours and a quarter of a million miles, tending to the sick and injured across the Northern Territory.

This year marks 40 years since Dr Fenton’s death, and his legacy as one of Australia’s “original” flying doctors continues to live on.

A man stands on top of an old plane while two men look up at him.  The photo is old and in black and white.
Dr Fenton working on his plane from the open cockpit at the hangar near Katherine in about 1937. (Supplied: Library & Archives NT)

Every flight an adventure for larrikin of the sky

It was 1934 when Dr Fenton arrived in Katherine to establish an aerial medical service and it wasn’t long before his services became relied upon.



Northern Territory filmmaker Phil O’Brien shoots big-hearted feature in Nhulunbuy

Armed with a pawn shop camera, a cast of small town players and a heart bigger than Phar Lap, a Northern Territory director has proven you don’t need grants to shoot a feature film.

Or expensive equipment.

Or trained actors.

All director Phil O’Brien needed was a solid script and enough goodwill from a small northern township to see it through to a final cut.

“It was like climbing up Mount Everest in a pair of thongs,” said Mr O’Brien.

“Sometimes, every step you took it just got harder and harder.”

What finally emerged was an epic ode to a remote Australian coastal paradise, called The Boat With No Name, shot on location in East Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory.

A red carpet screening was held at the Gove Boat Club near the town of Nhulunbuy earlier this year, and garnered rave reviews from the locals – but the film nearly didn’t happen.

red carpet rolled out on grass near a beach
‘The Boat With No Name’ had its world premiere at the Gove Boat Club earlier this year.(Supplied: Rob Stewart)

Mr O’Brien, a fourth generation Territorian who is also an author, musician, former croc farmer and campfire raconteur, had his script ready to go, but no funding to back it up.

“I got knocked back by every grant body known to mankind,” he said.

“I got no money, no film crew, but I got the story, right?



Majority of NT Police Association members have no confidence in Commissioner Jamie Chalker, according to a survey

Northern Territory Police officers “do not have confidence” in Commissioner Jamie Chalker, have low morale and are lacking resources, according to a damning union survey.

The NT Police Association (NTPA), a union which represents officers, undertook a survey of its members after calls for a vote of no confidence in Commissioner Chalker.

1,044 officers took part in the survey out of 1,608 who were eligible, which the union said was the highest number of participants ever.

79.7 per cent said they did not have confidence in the commissioner.

The survey comes as concerns grow about crime in the Northern Territory, which has become a major issue in the upcoming by-election in the seat of Fannie Bay.

There has also been another jump in domestic violence cases.

Paul McCue stands at a press conference
Paul McCue said the results would be discussed at the union’s annual conference next week. (ABC News: Mitchell Woolnough)

Police force ‘in complete crisis’, union claims

In an internal email from union president Paul McCue, seen by the ABC, the key issues identified by the survey included low morale, pay freeze concerns and a lack of resources.



NT police searching for missing mum Laura Hinks and 5-year-old daughter Grace say pair may have left Darwin

Northern Territory police have renewed a call for information in the search for a mother and daughter from Darwin who have been missing for several days.

Laura Hinks, 34, and her daughter Grace Hughes, 5, were last seen during a parental visit around 1pm on Sunday, according to NT Police.

Ms Hinks took her daughter from an address on Hidden Valley Road in Berrimah at this time.

“We are investigating all possibilities, all leads, including the possibility they have left the Darwin area,” Senior Detective Sergeant Jon Beer said.

“Our team is working around the clock to locate them and make sure they are safe.

A woman and a young girl smile into the camera.  The photo is in black and white.
Police say Ms Hinks was previously living in the Palmerston suburb of Moulden.(Supplied: NT Police)

“We continue to appeal to the public for any information on their whereabouts.”

Detective Senior Sergeant Beer said Ms Hinks’ last known address was in the Palmerston suburb of Moulden but that she no longer appeared to be living there.

Grace is described as having a fair complexion, brown hair and brown eyes.

She was last seen wearing a short-sleeved white dress, white socks and black sneakers.

Ms Hughes is described as having a slim build with a fair complexion and dark hair and dark eyes.

She was last seen wearing a white and green floral-patterned ankle-length dress or skirt with a white/cream long-sleeved shirt over the top.

NT Police have asked anyone with information on the whereabouts of the pair to contact them on 131 444.



Suburbs struggling the most amid RBA’s interest rate hikes revealed

An estimated one in five mortgage holders – or 551,000 Australians – will struggle to pay back their mortgage if interest rates continue to rise as expected.

Comparison site Finder found a whopping 20 per cent of mortgage holders will be in serious mortgage distress if their home loan interest payments increase by three per cent. Home loans have already increased by 1.75 per cent since May.

It comes as separate data from S&P Global revealed which suburbs in Australia are most at risk of defaulting on their home loans.

The Northern Territory came out as the worst state, with the highest percentage of mortgage holders more than 30 days behind on payments.

A fringe suburb in Perth topped the list in terms of debt overdue to the bank, while Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide as well as some regional areas also received a poor rating.

Of even more concern was that the research was conducted before the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) starting increasing the cash rate, meaning these areas will be even more at risk of defaulting on their loans now.

For four consecutive months the RBA has hiked interest rates. Last week, after its August meeting, the central bank brought up the cash rate to 1.85 per cent.

The cash rate has already risen by 1.75 percentage points since May, following two years of interest rates sitting at a record low of 0.1 per cent.

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According to S&P Global, rising mortgage repayments have hit suburbs on the fringes of big cities the hardest.

Their research measured the weighted average of arrears more than 30 days past due on residential mortgage loans in publicly and privately rated Australian transactions.

The Perth suburb of Maddington, 20km from the city centre, topped the list of “Worst performing postcodes” in the report.

As of early April, 4.67 per cent of homeowners in Maddington are in arrears.

That was closely followed by Dolls Point, located in southern Sydney.

Of the mortgaged houses in that NSW suburb, 4.33 per cent are behind on payments.

In third place was another WA postcode, Byford, in Perth’s southeastern edge, with an arrears percentage of 4.16 per cent.

Western Australia had one more suburb on the list – Ballidu in the Central Midlands – while NSW had a total of four.

Bankstown and Castlereagh, from Sydney’s west and southwest, were also experiencing substantial pressure. Katoomba from the Blue Mountains, south of Sydney, also earned a spot in the report.

Victoria, Queensland and South Australia each had one suburb on the list – Broadmeadows in Melbourne’s north, Barkly in Queensland’s Mout Isa region and Hackham, an outer suburb of Adelaide.

A breakdown of each state showed that the Northern Territory was the most behind in its mortgage repayments, at a rate of 1.75 per cent.

Western Australia came in at 1.40 per cent, as of April this year, before interest rates started to be hiked.

Victoria received a score of 0.87 per cent while 0.85 per cent of NSW mortgage holders were also in mortgage arrears.

The ACT fared the best, with an arrears rate of only 0.33 per cent.

Overall, the national average was 0.71 per cent for Australia’s arrears rate, as of April.

“The swift pace of interest rate rises will create debt-serviceability pressures for households with less liquidity buffers and higher leverage,” the report noted, forecasting that sometime in the third quarter of this year a higher arrears rate would show up in new monthly date .

Finder also released a damning statistic about the state of Australia’s home loan debt.

A recent survey conducted last month concluded that more than half a million homeowners would be “on the brink” if interest rates rose by three per cent.

Of those, 145,000 Australis said they would consider selling their home if rates jumped because they would “struggle a lot” to repay them. That represents about five per cent of Australia’s mortgage holders.

The survey also found that 14 per cent of admitted respondents they might fall behind on their repayments or other bills.

Nearly half (48 per cent) would be able to manage, but would have to cut down on their spending, according to Finder.

Only a quarter of participants said a rate rise would not change their lifestyle or spending habits at all.



Northern Territory opposition calls for petroleum price inquiry, with prices per liter 30 cents higher than in other states

Pressure is growing on the Northern Territory government to take action on stubbornly high fuel prices, with calls for a fresh inquiry to quiz retailers on the reasons behind the rates.

Drivers in Darwin were paying around $1.95 a liter for petrol on Tuesday, despite the wholesale price sitting close to the average of interstate capitals of $1.59.

The average price per liter in New South Wales was $1.67, almost 30 cents a liter cheaper than the Northern Territory.

Opposition leader Lia Finocchiaro has called for a new parliamentary inquiry, which she said could potentially recommend a cap on profits or prices.

“Territories are paying [up to] 40 cents a liter more for their fuel compared to any other jurisdictions in the nation,” Ms Finocchiaro said.

“The power of an inquiry means that we can call fuel retailers and fuel companies to sit at the table and they have to explain to the public and the parliament why it is that territories are paying so much.”

Lia Finocchiaro talking to Ben Hosking in front of a sign reading 'Drive Down Fuel Prices'
Opposition leader Lia Finocchiaro (left) says retailers should explain their prices to parliament.(ABC News: Matt Garrick)

Petrol prices this year rose higher in the Northern Territory than in any other jurisdiction, according to the latest official data.

“Automotive fuel” was up by 6.2 per cent, well above the capital city average of 4.2 per cent.

The Northern Territory opposition is also proposing legislation that would force retailers to publish their profit margins.

In a statement, Chief Minister Natasha Fyles said the government “stood ready to take further action” if apparent profit margins remained high “without a reasonable explanation”.

Ms Fyles said she had written to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) and to fuel companies on the issue but did not say what she had told, or asked, them.

‘There would be higher’ at similar prices in Sydney or Melbourne