Aboriginal artist wins race case

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The Independent Online
AN internationally-known Aboriginal artist who was evicted from her government-owned house last year after a campaign by white neighbours, several of them British immigrants, has won her claim of racial discrimination.

Homeswest, the West Aus-tralian state housing authority, forced Joan Martin, 56, to leave her small cottage for overcrowding it with 16 relatives.

Mrs Martin, whose mosaic floor at Perth's Curtin University established her international reputation, and whose case was reported in the Independent on Sunday, claimed that she was a victim of racial discrimination, since she was upholding Aboriginal tradition by taking in her homeless children and grandchildren. West Australia's Equal Opportunity Tribunal rejected her case, but last week the Perth Supreme Court ruled she had suffered indirect racial discrimination by Homeswest, and ordered it to pay Mrs Martin A$20,000 (pounds 8,400) damages.

Hannah McGlade, a human rights specialist at Murdoch University law school in Perth, described the judgement as a landmark in Australian law.

"It is an important recognition of cultural differences," she said.

"Nothing could compensate me for what this has cost me," said Mrs Martin. "One of my sons is dead, my grandchildren have suffered terribly. And I am still homeless, living where I can with relatives, moving round all the time."

The Martins were among the few Aboriginal families in the Perth suburb of Karrinyup, which has been gentrified. White neighbours lobbied politicians to demand their eviction, flooding the media and police with complaints about unruly behaviour by Mrs Martin's grandchildren. The Martins were regularly vilified on local radio and TV stations. Joan Martin's son Dean, 36, collapsed and died after discharging himself from hospital in a vain attempt to protect his family. A week after his funeral, the Martins were evicted, during the coldest West Australian winter on record.