Tonight, like many nights, I got on my scooter to go to Woolies to get food for dinner. I scoot down one of Katherine's roads with a steady flow of traffic, the Victoria Highway. Halfway there, near Dominos, the usually mundane trip looked different. I saw 2 big 4WDs stopped on the road in front of me. A split second later I saw why they were stationary...
Someone was sprawled flat in the middle of the road in front them. They were dark-skinned. Aboriginal, likely. I was still approaching. I heard one of the 4WDs beep. My brain kicked into instinctual assessment mode. What was this scene I was scooting towards?
My greatest fears: this person may be dead. It may have been a hit and run. Less bad: she was flat on the road as a victim of violence. Less bad again: she was out of it and relatively okay but a major hazard. Regardless of which scenario it was this woman needed assistance. Fast.
I was in instinct mode. I zoomed past the two 4WDs, parked my scooter near her and with zero hesitation, went to her. She was breathing. Thank god. She wasn’t obviously seriously injured. Again, thank god. The situation didn’t seem critical.
I was the first to go to her assistance. But I was, at best, the FIFTH person to see her. Knowing she was okay, I started to get mad. WHY WAS I THE FIRST PERSON TO ASSIST WHEN I WAS AT LEAST THE FIFTH TO ARRIVE??
An older white couple that I'd earlier noticed had seen the scene as I was arriving came over shortly after they'd seen me go to her. They were helpful and started calling an ambulance. An Aboriginal man in another 4WD drove AROUND the two 4WDs that were there before me and he got out, started helping me and also directed traffic. He seemed to be the only person apart from me who helped without hesitation.
The guy from the first 4WD (I assume the one that beeped when I was arriving, but I can't be sure) finally got out and told us that she fell. I was glad to learn it wasn’t a hit and run.
She started coming to. She seemed drunk. She said she wanted to harm herself. Police arrived not long after and helped her to the roadside.
I made sure I told the police that she was at risk of self-harm. Twice.
An ambulance was on its way and I felt okay to resume my trip to Woolies. An upsetting experience though. I hope the woman is being cared for properly.
I hope everyone who didn’t act as instinctively as I did is at home seriously reflecting on whether they should have acted with more compassion. Seriously. What the fuck. Who sits in a 4WD looking at a woman motionless in the middle of the road and beeps at them?
But all worked out relatively fine. However it also all reminded me of a much more intense incident that a friend was involved with in Darwin. She wrote about it very powerfully here: https://fieldnotesandfootnotes.wordpress.com/2014/04/13/a-fieldnote-from-home/
It's never possible to be sure about what role racism plays in incidents like these. And I don't know what was going on with the other people who were witness to all of this - there could well be good reasons why they didn't help as quickly as me. But I think the question my friend asks in her story, when she saw bystanders offering no assistance to an Aboriginal man who was drowning, is also relevant to the less-serious incident I helped with tonight:
"How has it come to this? How is it that Aboriginal people have become so dehumanised in the eyes and minds of white Australia?"