Indigenous water defender pleads not guilty

Caroline Kirk and Leah Ebsworth and supporters outside the Wilcannia Local Court. Photo: Earthling Studios P/L

Baakindji woman Leah Ebsworth from the far west NSW town of Wilcannia pleaded not guilty to several charges at the local Court on September 23. She will now appear at the District Court on October 21.

Ebsworth was charged with not obeying a move-on order, for being drunk and disorderly and for assaulting a public officer after 30 water activists and locals blockaded the Barrier Highway Bridge over the Darling River at Wilcannia on March 13. They were protesting the theft of water by agribusinesses upriver.

Police told activists to move off the bridge, but a group of Indigenous women continued to occupy it for another hour, until they were physically removed.

Ebsworth was charged along with Ngemba / Gomeroi woman Caroline Kirk, who pleaded not guilty at her hearing on July 22, claiming Indigenous sovereignty. Her charges were dropped.

Kirk went to Ebsworth’s hearing to show solidarity, as did water activists Barry Stone and Mark Merritt.

The prosecutor sought to have Ebsworth’s October hearing held in Broken Hill, however she insisted on being able to face the District Court in Wilcannia so as to be supported by the Baakindji people. The magistrate agreed.

Ebsworth also demanded that NSW Police make written statements, rather than give verbal accounts by video link, and that they be present at the hearing.

Kirk told Green Left that Ebsworth had told her that, as a child, older people had told her that one day the river water would be taken away.

Outside Kirk’s court hearing, Ebsworth told journalist Otis Filly of HomeLandings Media that: “I’m here for … my Baaka and the Baakindji … [that’s] what we are fighting for; we need water, we need food … they can’t take it when we all own it … I’m standing up for my community, the Darling. I’m 43 now [and] I’ve been here in this little town since I was two. I’m not going anywhere.”

Water activists will gather outside the Wilcannia Court to support Ebsworth on October 21.

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