top of page


SJA is an organisation that advocates for sustainable justice in Australia. Its current project is the research for and publication of the books The Elephant's Tooth, Crime in Alice Springs and Crime in Rural Australia. Clear Mind Press is the publisher of both books. Crime in Rural Australia is still in development.

The Elephant's Tooth
Crime in Alice Springs

Between August 2020 and January 2023, independent research into the root causes of crime in Alice Springs was undertaken by Sustainable Justice Australia. Hundreds of people from all walks of life were consulted informally through conversation and story. From these conversations, a way forward emerged. An open model, the lychee model, is presented as one way toward sustainable justice. 

The study examines how we think about crime, problems within the law, and trauma in the community and lists the hurdles we have to overcome to solve this highly complex problem. 

The reader is invited to participate in several thought experiments that use stories about animals, trees and lifeless things in nature.

Animals and lifeless things were brought before courts of law on criminal charges in the distant and not-too-distant past. In ancient Greece, waves of the sea were punished with whip lashings after a storm had sunk a ship. Rocks and trees that had killed people appeared before a court and were trialled, convicted and stricken with hammers or axes as punishments.

As recently as 1916, circus elephant Mary was publicly hanged from a railroad crane in Tennessee as a punishment for murder. She had killed her handler after he had prodded her on the left cheek. The coroner who examined Mary after her death found that she had a severely infected tooth in the spot where her minder had prodded her.

We no longer put waves, rocks, trees, or animals on trial for reasons that are clear to all of us. We have come a long way. We have become so much more enlightened, but have we, really?

This is the question this book tries to answer. A just justice system should be crystal clear about the origins of human behaviour. Punishing people, especially young people, because they deserve it makes as little sense as punishing a wave, a rock, a tree, or an elephant. 

In Alice Springs, in October 2022, the Opera Olive Pink by Anne Boyd was performed at the botanical gardens in collaboration with the Central Australian Aboriginal Women’s Choir. The stage, under a gum tree, was positioned on the site where Olive Pink once lived in a tent. On the stage was a white house-shaped tent from which white smoke escaped. The night fell while the Opera was in progress. The moon was full, lighting up the white trunks of the gum trees. Olive’s white laundry on a line flapped in the wind, bringing us the scent of freshly burned gum leaves. It was an unforgettable night.*

Alice Springs, this red-hot broken heart of ours, is surprisingly resilient thanks to its community-driven collaborations. The town features truly iconic creative and sports events: the Parrtjima light festival, the Anaconda mountain-bike race, the Finke Desert Race, the Beanie Festival, the NT Writers Festival, the Bush Bands Bash, Desert Mob, Desert Song and the Desert Festival.

In the opera Olive Pink, the actor who plays the anthropologist Ted Strehlow sings: 

“The Northern Territory, where truth and justice are always just out of reach.”

The just-out-of-reach justice and truth in the Northern Territory is what this book is about. It is about the future and what it can be when we walk the path of sustainable justice and stay on track. Only sustainable justice solutions can mend our hot, wild, broken heart. For the sake of our community, we need to be clever, quick and sharp and not sluggish and dull. Our kids are burning down the town because they cannot feel its warmth. It will take a village….

Motions for unsustainable vigilante-like solutions, such as a privately financed mini-army with dogs, are struck down by concerned inhabitants, who show that the people of Alice Springs are ready for more intelligent and more modern approaches.

*At the Central Australian Desert Song Festival, created by Australian Composer and Music Educator Professor Emerita Anne Boyd AM. The Opera celebrates the life of Olive Pink, a woman ahead of her time as an outspoken advocate for Aboriginal rights. The Central Australian Aboriginal Women’s Choir joined Master Musicians and a local classical ensemble to tell a uniquely Central Australian story. 

bottom of page