There’s a well known fable about villagers rescuing drowning babies from a river. There are a few different versions, but they all go something like this:

A villager working in a field by a river notices a baby floating downstream. She stops work to rescue the baby, and as she wades out, she notices another baby, then another, and another. She can’t save them all by herself, so she enlists the help of other villagers to rescue them. The babies continue coming, more and more of them, so many that before long most of the villagers are needed to pull the babies from the river.

After a time, the villagers are exhausted, and they don’t have time to sleep or eat or work their fields because they’re too busy rescuing babies. They can’t keep up and some of the babies slip past and drown.

Then someone asks, ‘Why are there so many babies in the river? Why don’t we go upstream and see who’s putting them there?’


The boys who told their stories on Four Corners (Australia’s Shame) on Monday night had been tossed into the river and left to drown. No one wanted to carry them ashore or give them a life jacket, let alone teach them to swim. It seems that instead of helping, the village turned its back, and while it wasn’t watching, there were some who kept pushing these children back under each time they came up for air.

That they have survived is a testament to their strength and resilience and courage.

Like many Australians, I was shocked and distressed by what I saw on Four Corners. To watch children being kneed and hit, held down, stripped naked, tear-gassed and hosed. To see them left crying, frightened and alone, in solitary confinement. To see them violated and dehumanised, stripped of dignity and rights, time and again. To hear the casual laughs and jeers of the warders.

Let’s hope this Royal Commission goes upstream, to the source—not just the warders of this institution, or the Department of Corrections of the Northern Territory, but the whole justice system, and the attitudes of a society that attacks its vulnerable and hidden. That strips kids of their dignity and rights. That humiliates and dehumanises. And then blames the kid when they fall off the rails.

These children aren’t to blame. We are. We know who and what is tossing the babies in the river and we know how to stop it—inclusion, empowerment, equality. Education, employment, housing, health. We can fix the problem—we just need to care enough.

Thank you, Four Corners. You rocked me to my core, but I needed it put in front of my face.

And, Dylan Voller, Ethan Austral, and Kenny Rogan—you don’t have to apologise to us. It’s we who bear the guilt.

#notourkids #icare #DonDale

For anyone who hasn’t seen the Four Corners episode, you’ll find it here.

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