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Shirleen has lost 3 close family members to violence. If this happened anywhere else, it would be a national emergency.

Warning: This post deals with domestic violence and could be triggering for some readers. 

Shirleen Campbell has, unfortunately, a lot of experience with domestic violence.

She has lost two aunties to family violence in 2014 and 2015 and her mother was killed in 2003 after a fight broke out in the car she was driving.

For Shirleen, this all culminated in a rude wake-up call, and she’s determined to make sure the next generation don’t have to experience that same pain.

We lose one woman every week in Australia to domestic violence, but that’s just the tip of a very grim iceberg. Post continues below video.

Video via Mamamia

The 38-year-old Warlpiri and Arrernte woman, a mother-of-five, is a co-coordinator of the Tangentyere Womens Family Safety Group (TWFSG), developed by passionate Aboriginal women who identified a need for a voice and action on family and domestic violence issues. Its core focus is early intervention and primary prevention.

She said it was her personal experiences with violence that inspired her to create the TWFSG group, with the support of her elders and mentoring from Aboriginal rights campaigner Barbara Shaw.

“After losing women in my family to family domestic violence, to me it was like a wake-up call,” she said.

“It started with losing my mum, I felt like my hope was not there and knowing for my own kids I needed to do something, especially for my four sons. I was thinking at the time, I should change the system we’re living in at the moment and starting with our young ones.

“I wanted to do something to make our families and communities a safer place. I didn’t want my children to think violence is normalised in our community.”

not just numbers
Shirleen's partner Chris and daughter. Image: Supplied/SBS.
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Intent on igniting the conversation Australia-wide, Shirleen created a one-hour documentary Not Just Numbers to show the work the TWFSG is doing.

Airing on NITV and SBS On Demand as part of the Karla Grant Presents series, Shirleen told Mamamia she was excited to show it on national television and hoped it would lead to change.

"For me, developing this documentary, I'm hoping it will reach the parliaments in and around Australia, because that's where it needs to be in order to change policies and the system."

Shirleen advocates for a more 'ground up' approach to family violence, where Indigenous communities are empowered to make change, instead of the current top down approach from government.

"Things that are happening from a top down approach just create more problems, and we're all running around scratching our heads like 'Hang on, this isn't working'," she said.

"We are owners of this land, we know what's best for our people, we know how to work with our mob so we need to get [policy makers] to starting listening and working alongside our women as well."

The documentary follows Shirleen and women from her community as they travel to Canberra after leading a 300-strong, anti-violence march, fighting for Indigenous victims of family violence to be respected and seen as more than just statistics. Throughout the film, we see the practical ways in which they're making change in their community through initiatives like the Mums Can, Dads Can Project, which challenges gender roles and stereotypes in the home.

not just numbers
Image: Supplied/SBS.
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"We've been crying out for 200 years and no one has been listening, and finally people are starting to hear the good work that we're doing. It's grassroots, you know, town camp women coming from the 16 camps of Alice Spring," Shirleen explained.

Not Just Numbers also documented a visit to the community by Studio 10 co-host Kerri-Anne Kennerley, who faced strong criticism after she made comments on-air about Invasion Day protesters that made headlines on January 26.

Following her comments, Shirleen and the TWFSG wrote an open letter to Kerri-Anne, inviting her to come and see the grassroots effort they were championing in their communities. Kerri-Anne took them up on the offer.

Shirleen told Mamamia the visit was "daunting", but she felt it was important to educate the TV host and have her walk in their footsteps.

Kerri-Anne Kennerley was invited to visit Alice Springs by Shirleen, who showed her the work the TWFSG is doing. Image: Supplied/SBS.

"At the end of the day, it's not about bringing people down. We're here to lift each other up and support each other," Shirleen said.

"We're here as women, mothers, aunties, grandmothers, sisters and nieces wanting to make that change, so we showed her the activities we'd developed, the programs that we've made, Mums and Dads camps, which switch the gender roles within the household and I guess, it was just telling her we're not lazy.

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"I've heard some good feedback, I haven't heard any negatives and I hope it changed her perspective and thinking about our mob."

At the end of the day, Shirleen's mission is to ensure a safer society for the younger generation.

"We don't want our future generations having to ask the same questions and deal with the same traumas that we're dealing with today," she said. "I'm doing the same job as my mum and my grandmother used to do, so hopefully in this society we break this cycle and move together and walk together alongside each other."

not just numbers
Image: Supplied/SBS.

And she needs the help of all Australians.

"Start small, even if it's just in your home," she said, explaining how we can all fight violence in society.

"It doesn't have to be just women. It can involve males as well, having that conversation with your partners and sons as well, because you're giving them that confidence to stand up and be the voice when they see something happening as well."

"It's not a shameful thing. Family domestic violence is not racist, it's everybody's business and everybody needs to talk about it and get it out in the open."

Not Just Numbers is available to watch on SBS On Demand.

If this post brings up any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service. It doesn’t matter where you live, they will take your call and, if need be, refer you to a service closer to home. 

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