Murder, rape of Albert Namatjira's great-granddaughter makes belated news

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Monday, April 3, 2006

Sometime during the night of Friday, January 28, 15 year-old Jenissa Ryan was assaulted and raped in Alice Springs. She was discovered near the entrance of Centralian Senior Secondary College around 10:30 a.m., and a college employee called an ambulance. The attack was not reported in the mainstream national media until this week, when it became known that the victim was the great-granddaughter of famous indigenous artist Albert Namatjira.

In an article published in Saturdays Sydney Morning Herald, Russell Skelton said that the fact that she was an Aborigine, and the location of her bashing, contributed to her death. "If Jenissa had been white, she might be alive today, though the scars of her brutal bashing and rape could never be erased. If she had been bashed and left for dead almost anywhere else, assistance would have been immediate and the outrage strident." He also said that if her connection to Namatjira had been known, Jenissa's death would have been a "national scandal."

Assault and rape

Police believe that she was attacked by a number of youths her own age while walking home. She continued to walk home, but collapsed unconscious near the entrance to the college. Here, according to police, she was found by three teenage boys, who dragged her out of view and raped her.

Jenissa was still alive when found. Skelton considered it likely that people had seen her during the morning but done nothing. "That means a number of residents of middle-class Grevillea Drive probably noticed. The white T-shirt and striped tracksuit pants were hard to miss," he said.

She was taken to Alice Springs Hospital, and then flown to Adelaide's Women and Children's Hospital.


On February 13 Northern Territory Police charged a 16 year-old male and a 15 year-old female with assaulting Jenissa Ryan. Three other males, aged 14, 15, and 16, have been charged with having unlawful sexual intercourse with Jenissa Ryan. Police expressed gratitude for the assistance they had received from members of the public.


Father Asaeli Raass said that both indigenous and non-indigenous people were in denial about the incident. "Yes, it's a painful thing, but people are sweeping it under the carpet when they should be confronting the big issues Jenissa's death raises," he said. He also said that the initial wave of publicity "never travelled outside Alice Springs."

Jenissa's mother, Carmel Ryan, said that her daughter wanted to be a painter, like her great-grandfather. "She wanted to be like him, to make a creative contribution we would all be proud of. Tragically that can never be, but I feel nothing but sorrow for the parents of the children involved in this terrible event," she said.