Research uncovers the legacies of Australia’s criminal justice system on Aboriginal communities

Research from the University of Liverpool has produced a series of documentary films offering a unique insight into Australia’s Indigenous communities by equipping young people with filmmaking skills.

This four-year research project, with the Universities of Liverpool, Leeds, Tasmania, and Liverpool John Moores, explored the history and legacy of Australia’s most vulnerable and disadvantaged Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), this research has informed a series of documentary films which offer a nuanced understanding of the complexities within these communities.

These films officially launched this week in Australia and the United States, aim to raise awareness of the lived experiences of indigenous prisoners, and the legacies left behind.

The films show that in Roebourne, Western Australia, challenges are starkly evident, with young people bearing the brunt of social disadvantages. Despite this, the Aboriginal community showed resilience, emphasising strong collective identities, a sense of hope, and a dedication to preserving culture and advancing education.

“These films are more than just stories; they are testaments to resilience, hope, and the enduring strength of Indigenous communities,” shares Professor Barry Godfrey from the University of Liverpool, who led the project. “By amplifying Indigenous voices and challenging stereotypes, we hope to spark meaningful dialogue and foster greater understanding and empathy.”

Professor Barry Godfrey and Dr Katherine Roscoe from the University of Liverpool, together with Professor of World Cinema, Paul Cooke, at University of Leeds, developed the project facilitated media training workshops at Roebourne High School. These workshops equipped Indigenous young people with invaluable filmmaking and storytelling skills.

Beyond raising awareness, the project empowered these children to shape their own narratives and forge deeper connections with their community and heritage.

A young person involved in the project who took part in the media training workshops said: “It was good, exciting actually, and it made me think positively about my future and what I could become.”

“Through our films, we show the often-overlooked histories of these Indigenous Australians within the criminal justice system. By showcasing real experiences of these individuals, we not only honour their heritage but also shed light on the complexities of systemic challenges,” said Professor Paul Cooke, University of Leeds.  “These workshops were crucial in broadening the horizons of these children, and also proved invaluable in equipping these young minds with the tools and skills to assist them in their development.”

“Throughout the last four years we have found it important not to do research on the community, but with the community, so that we can drive forward greater understanding together; the co-production of research and resources is central to everything that academics should be striving for.  This challenged community can speak for itself, but we have been glad to add our voices to theirs. We have been privileged to be welcomed by everyone in the communities of Roebourne and nearby city of Karratha and hope that our relationship, facilitated by AHRC, will continue to be productive in the future.”

You can find out more about the research project  here.