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TravelGuides – Electrocution death of Aboriginal boy due to failures of NT corporation, coroner finds | Indigenous Australians

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TravelGuides – Electrocution death of Aboriginal boy due to failures of NT corporation, coroner finds | Indigenous Australians

An 11-year-old Aboriginal boy died when he was electrocuted in a home that had not been properly maintained or inspected for more than 25 years by the Northern Territory government-owned corporation responsible, a coroner has found.

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Rory Wauchope-Dirdi was found dead by his family in October 2020 after he tried to climb into his uncle’s house through a gap between a metal mesh wall and the roof which was live with 240 volts caused by a faulty connection and no earthing.

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His aunty had dropped him off to collect his mobile phone which he’d left behind after playing video games with his uncle the night before, the coroner heard.

Investigators were initially unable to say what caused Rory’s death. But when his older brother tried to climb the mesh and received a strong shock, police organised for an electrician to inspect the house. The electrician found the metal roof had 240 volts running through it.

NT coroner Greg Cavanagh was scathing of the Power and Water Corporation’s maintenance regime for the house and other homes in the boy’s small community of Gunbalanya, 300km east of Darwin.

“It has no records of connecting the premises,” he found on Wednesday.

“The corporation does not have a certificate of compliance they say would have been provided to them before connecting the premises. They are unable to say when the electricity was connected or who connected it. They are unable to say whether anyone from their organisation or otherwise has returned to properly inspect the cables and the connection to the premises in the last 25 years.

“The Power and Water Corporation had no systems to check that the connection was completed to Australian standards or for the inspection and maintenance of the cables and connections to properties in remote communities.”

The coroner said such an inspection and maintenance regime would “likely” have prevented Rory’s death.

Cavanagh noted the Demed Aboriginal corporation was responsible for maintaining the house, including the electrical installation, and that the riser pole and roof weren’t earthed.

The Wauchope-Dirdi family told the court they believed Demed had accepted responsibility for its part in the death.

A photo provided to the coroner showing the place where Rory Wauchope-Dirdi was found in October 2020.
A photo provided to the coroner showing the place where Rory Wauchope-Dirdi was found in October 2020. Photograph: Kelvin Currie/Department of the Attorney-General and Justice

“Its staff and management team are also no doubt highly affected by this death,” they told the coroner. Rory’s uncle, who lived in the home, was working for Demed delivering supplies to an outstation community when the 11-year-old died.

Cavanagh said it was not an isolated incident and electrical hazards had been identified in other remote communities the corporation was responsible for. He cited the case of a home in Alice Springs where a dog was killed after it walked onto the concrete pad of a power pole. Its owners received electric shocks trying to save the dog.

During the inquest, Cavanagh received an anonymous letter from a person claiming to be a corporation employee, who provided photos and described four other incidents caused by a lack of inspection or maintenance.

The coroner recommended the corporation ensure regular inspection and maintenance and that it be recorded and audited.

The Power and Water corporation on Wednesday said it extended its heartfelt condolences to Rory’s family, friends and community. It said it was working through the detail of the coroner’s report and would “make further improvements in line with his recommendations”.

“Safety is an absolute fundamental of the service we provide customers across the Northern Territory and the entire Power and Water team has been devastated by this incident,” a spokesperson said.

The boy’s family said through their lawyer they were taking time to consider the coroner’s findings.

In statements to the court, they said Rory was the much-loved fifth child of Darlene Wauchope and Kingswood Dirdi.

“He was a much-loved member of his extended family and popular among his friends. As a young man, he was protective of his sisters and cared for his mother.

“He was a happy-go-lucky boy who was a very fast runner and good at sports. He loved basketball, football and bike riding and was a good hunter. He attended school every day and was said to be very bright.”

The family said Rory understood his kinship and cultural obligations and respected his elders.

“At the age of 11 he had already shown his prowess in hunting by spearing a Queenfish off the beach on Croker Island. His skin name was Bulany and he was buried with full ceremonial honours in accordance with his people’s ancient traditions.”

Lawyer Sean Bowden told the court the family wanted to see real change so such a tragedy did not happen again.

“One death of a child in circumstances such as this is enough. Darlene and her family are dealing with grief that will never leave them and their wish is that no other family ever loses a child in the terrible circumstances that they lost Rory,” Bowden said.

TravelGuides – Electrocution death of Aboriginal boy due to failures of NT corporation, coroner finds | Indigenous Australians

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