Trouble: On Trial in Central Australia
By Kieran Finnane
Review by Sally Bothroyd
Alcohol, violence – and the interconnectedness of the two – are at the heart of this unflinching portrait of Alice Springs, told via a number of criminal trials.
As a journalist, Kieran Finnane has no doubt spent hundreds of hours in courtrooms, watching the mundane bureaucracy of the justice system, alongside the stories of utter tragedy.
In Trouble, she focuses on half a dozen trials, some of which attracted national attention, giving a detailed rendition of court proceedings.
But hers is not a dry news report. As a long-term resident of Alice Springs – her children born and raised there – Finnane’s depiction of a culture of drinking and violence cut deep, as she tries to describe how the Northern Territory’s justice system deals with the people caught up in the maelstrom of destruction.
In one section she tells of sitting with the weeping family of a deceased man on one side of her, while the parents of the young men accused of causing his death are on the other, also weeping. This trial of five white men accused of killing an Aboriginal man put Alice Springs into the national spotlight, as the judicial system was asked to untangle whether racism was at play.
Finnane doesn’t shrink away from these accusations, but seeks to reveal the complexities of cultural relations in Alice Springs to the degree that she, as a non-Aboriginal woman, understands it.
But time and again, the stories revealed in the courtroom are of such senseless violence that they almost defy comprehension – except to say that alcohol is a major player in every single one.
Finnane’s book is not an easy read at times – focussing on aspects of our society that we’d sooner not see. But that’s also why it’s an important book to read.