Bettina Danganbarr is trusted by the women who live on Galiwin’ku.
“The ladies in my community see me as a helper, a strong person. That’s why they came to my house, looking for refuge,’ she said.
Ms. Danganbarr has worked as an Aboriginal Community Police Officer (APCO) for the past 15 years.
She has opened up her home to countless women fleeing domestic and family violence, but one incident quickly changed that.
“A woman ran into my house, chased by her partner,” she said.
“After he followed her into my house, he started being abusive. The partner was angry and started threatening us both.
“It was then that I decided that I couldn’t put myself or my children in that dangerous situation and decided to lobby for a hiding place on Galiwin’ku.”

Bettina Danganbarr with her grandchildren and children of friends. She wants other families to be kept safe on the island. Source: australiabusinessblog NewsAneeta Bhole

Ms. Danganbarr went on to play a leading role in the creation of the Yolŋu-led Galiwin’ku Women’s Space.

The service is a culturally appropriate community space that provides crisis and preventive support to women on the island, also known as Elcho Island – population 2,199.
“In the beginning there was a lot of confusion, some people were not happy, because of a lack of education and information about domestic violence,” she said.
“They thought we were here to just lock up all the men, that only men get in trouble, but soon people started to see what this space was really for.

“We manage to bring the ladies into our small office and talk to them and come up with a plan that’s culturally appropriate,” she said.

Mango tree next to the sea

The mango tree on Galiwin’ku where the women met. Source: australiabusinessblog NewsAneeta Bhole

The group started in 2012 in the shade of a colossal mango tree by the beach, where women met and talked about solutions to domestic violence.

Later they moved their business to a small shipping container in the middle of the city.
According to the latest data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the Northern Territory saw a 27 percent increase in family and domestic violence cases between 2019 and 2020.

In many serious cases of domestic violence on Galiwin’ku, women are often flown from the island to Nhulunbuy, 120 km away, or even further, to Darwin.

Two women sitting on chairs and two women sitting on the floor in a room

Members of the Galiwin’ku Women’s Group in their current meeting room. Source: australiabusinessblog NewsAneeta Bhole

Their children cannot come with them in most cases.

But with the dedicated work of the Galiwin’ku Women’s Space, that is about to change.
The first women’s shelter on the island will open later this year, giving women the opportunity to stay within the community.

“We just can’t wait for the shelter to open – I feel really blessed to be working with the ladies who are trying to make a difference,” said Ms Danganbarr.

Galiwin'ku women standing in front of a concrete slab

Work on the new Galiwin’ku women’s shelter has started. Source: australiabusinessblog NewsAneeta Bhole

“We are just waiting very anxiously for the space to open and we are open to anyone who wants to seek help from us.

“We want to work with people in a strong, positive way to make our community safer.”
Construction of the shelter has already started and it will be located near the police headquarters on the island.
“We’re not just bringing a patch solution to the problem, we’re trying to get to the root of the problem,” said Ms. Danganbarr.

“We are committed, we are strong ladies and we show up and we try to advocate for other women.

Bettina Danganbarr (right) talking to a woman holding a child

Bettina with one of the other women who works in the women’s area and her child. Source: australiabusinessblog NewsAneeta Bhole

“The most important thing is to do it our way, Yolŋu way, we work from our roots, our culture and that’s what empowers us.”

If you or someone you know has been affected by sexual assault, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit † In an emergency, call 000.

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