The chairman of the largest Aboriginal land council told a court that violence against women is "not really terrible" according to Aboriginal law.
Wali Wunungmurra gave character evidence recently during a pre-sentence heraing for his nephew, John "Datjirri" Wunungmurra, who was imprisoned for causing serious injury to a woman relative during an aggravated assault.
Datjirri is an important artist and ceremonial leader of his Yolngu community. He pleaded guilty to aggravated assault of his sister-in-law Elaine Wunungmurra, who was repeatedly stabbed with a glass bottle an argument in September last year. Alcohol played a role in the argument.
He pleaded not guilty in causing his sister-in-law serious harm, but a jury found him guilty of that offense last month.
During the course of the pre-sentence hearing, a prosecutor asked Wali Wunungmurra how Yolngu law viewed violence against women. The latter replied, "The law as far as the Aboriginal law stands, violence on an Aboriginal woman is not really terrible but a mild one. You can work around it."
When pressed by the prosecutor to explain, Wunungmurra said, "It differs on the situation, how you interpret it." He told the court that Yolngu law made a distinction between acts of violence that involved alcohol and those that didn't. He did admit that the one on Elaine Wunungmurra was "not okay."
Then Wunungmurra went on to say that his comments during that pre-sentence hearing had been misunderstood. He said, "I would never condone such violence and am deeply upset by what has been reported in the media." Apparently he changed his mind after the media ran with the story.
Datjirri was sentenced to six years in prison for assaulting his sister-in-law, with no chance of parole for four years.