A warning for readers this story contains details of domestic and family violence as well as the name of an Indigenous person who has died.
Nine months before she was fatally stabbed, Ms Yunupingu was removed from a government-funded program designed to protect her from her increasingly violent husband.
Over the course of their 13-year relationship, the Aboriginal woman from a remote NT community had 16 interactions with police involving domestic violence perpetrated by her husband, Neil Maraka.
Maraka had also spent almost six and a half years in and out of custody for assaulting her on multiple occasions before eventually killing the 29-year-old in October 2018.
“The level of constant abuse (Ms Yunupingu) suffered for 13 years of her life was nothing less than torture,” counsel assisting the coroner Peggy Dwyer told the inquest into her death in Darwin on Monday.
The NT Department of Families, Housing and Communities referred her to the Family Safety Framework (FSF) in October 2016, after a slew of interactions with police and multiple breaches of domestic violence orders.
The program, initially trialed in Alice Springs before being rolled out across the NT, is led by NT Police with input from the departments of health, education, families and housing, as well as Centrelink and not-for-profit organisations.
According to material provided to the court, the purpose of the FSF is to “provide an action-based integrated service response to individuals and families experiencing domestic and family violence who are at high risk of serious injury or death”.
Ms Yunupingu was referred to the program via an alert that was passed on to NT police which read: “This person is currently subject to an FSF and there is a high risk of serious harm or death as a result of domestic violence … appropriate action must be taken and priority given”.
She was removed from the framework in March 2018, three months before her husband was released from jail for assaulting her and nine months before he killed her in their kitchen with a steak knife.
He was subject to a five-year domestic violence order when he stabbed her in the heart, though he had broken multiple previous orders.
The inquest will hear from experts about how useful the framework was and why Ms Yunupingu was removed from it, Dr Dwyer said in her opening statement on Monday.
“Why did this beautiful and gentle woman suffer so much violence for over a decade leading up to her passing away,” she said.
“Who tried to help her and why were their efforts not enough to keep her safe?”
A chilling triple-zero call from a year before her death was also played to the court, in which police acknowledged the call-taker was “unnecessarily abrupt”.
“Please I need help, I’m at ski beach … I don’t know what I’m going to do,” Ms Yunupingu said in the recording.
“What’s happening?” the call-taker asked.
“He’s trying to kill me,” she said.
“Don’t shout at me, just say it calmly,” the call taker responded.
“You keep telling me to hurry up I am hurrying OK and the police will get there.”
Though Dr Dwyer said the call-taker “lacked compassion and sensitivity”, it was acknowledged police were dispatched quickly.
NT Police said they had since changed their practices are were undergoing a review of domestic violence and cultural training in emergency call centres.
The inquest is one of four deaths of Aboriginal women being investigated by NT Coroner Elisabeth Armitage in one of Australia’s biggest inquests into domestic violence.
NT chief forensic pathologist Marianne Tiemensma told the inquest when she examines victims’ bodies after death, she can see the long-term impacts of domestic violence.
“It’s not like they aren’t known in the system, sometimes when you read (the history) after someone has died you think ‘this has been waiting to happen, it was expected, how could you not have stopped this, anyone can see this coming’,” she said.
“Once you’ve presented (to hospital) twice you shouldn’t be presenting another 18 times because you’ve been assaulted by the same partner, it’s just a matter of time.”
13YARN 13 92 76
Aboriginal Counselling Services 0410 539 905
1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732)
Lifeline 13 11 14
Image Credit: Stefen Postles/AAP