A memory of June

DOMINIQUE HANSEN is head of operations at the Women’s Legal Service of WA, who has shared this memory of former Fremantle councillor and Citizen of the Year, June Hutchinson, who died last month at the age of 96.

IT was 1993, I was in my last year at law school and had taken a part time community legal education job at the Community Legal and Advocacy Centre in Fremantle (now the Fremantle Community Legal Centre). 

It was the year after 17-year-old Joseph Dethridge had his jaw broken in the Fremantle Police lock-up by Senior Sergeant Desmond Smith.” 

The ABC news site recounts the incident caught on video: An outspoken teenager in the Fremantle Police Station is arguing with police. The duty Sergeant tells him to “shut his mouth” but the boy doesn’t. The Sergeant steps out from behind the desk, and then leads the boy out of the room, and out of sight of the surveillance cameras. There’s a loud thump, followed by a moan.

• June Hutchison celebrating one of her many birthdays with friend Helen Kirkbride.

Broken jaw

You can’t see it, but in that moment 38-year-old Sergeant Desmond John Smith broke the jaw of 17-year-old Joseph Dethridge. The assault took seconds, but it triggered such a crisis that senior police made an unqualified apology to the boy and his family to restore public confidence and stop morale plummeting within the force. The year was 1992 and it was the first time WA police felt the full force of public outrage because of police action captured on surveillance cameras.

It was my first community legal education campaign and I set up a public meeting for the Fremantle community: ‘How to Make a Police Complaint’, held at the council hall. 

The presentation highlighted the lack of legislative rights in police custody and put the case for law reform. 

The police tried to stop the event from happening and visited my boss, Annie Gray and me at the CLC before the event to try to dissuade us from proceeding. 

June was one of many community members who attended the meeting, and it was she who suggested that a community action group be formed. 

June, Julie Dethridge and about five other members of the community then attended regular weeknight meetings convened at the Community Legal Centre. 

The group came to be known as the Fremantle Community Justice Group (June’s suggestion). 

Although I was the group convenor, June was instrumental in guiding the development the terms of reference and a campaign agenda for the group, which operated on a consensus decision-making model. 

By then, a seasoned and strategic campaigner, she had a calm and convincing way about her. 

The first thing she suggested was that the group write to the Fremantle Police inspector instigating regular community visits of the lock-up. 

We followed up the letter with a call and June and I were delegated to represent the group at the first visit.

The Police Inspector was very imposing and tried to limit the tour, but June was not intimidated. 

I will never forget how she calmly but forcefully ensured we had a full and complete tour of the entire police lock-up making a point of asking if there was a prisoner phone, and then telling him that we would be back in month at the same time and that this would be a regular visit.

At our next visit, the Police Inspector showed us a phone at the front desk with “prisoner phone” written on it in black texta.

June congratulated him and, as soon as we left the building, she and I arranged for the local paper to photograph the local legal aid lawyer in the lock-up pointing at the new prisoner phone with an accompanying article, promoting that prisoners could now make a phone call to their lawyer.

Later, when our petitions for law reform went unheard, it was June who suggested that the group draft a private members bill. Again, she knew what to do and shared her knowledge.

I have a strong memory of June and me on the bus travelling to and from WA Parliament House where we had gone to lobby someone (I can’t recall who). 

The man we spoke to had been sexist, addressing all the conversation to me as the younger woman and ignoring June (although June was also still quite young at the time). 

Sexism

June explained to me that I would notice this type of sexism as I aged: a certain “invisibility” that women of a certain age develop in the eyes of most men, especially those in power. 

But she also laughed about it and pointed out how it had led the Police Inspector to seriously underestimate her!

I moved interstate when I was 24 and lost touch with June. 

But I returned in 2012 and saw her again at the Fremantle Primary School election booth some years ago when she was handing out for the ALP. 

She didn’t remember me, but she did remember my friend Anna Copeland who had replaced me as the convenor of the Fremantle Community Justice Group. 

Anna Copeland and I are still in contact and when I passed Anna the news of June’s passing, she recalled her as “a remarkable woman who gave so much”.

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