More than 40 years ago, Mrs Tari walked into the bush to die.
- The inquests were held earlier this year to clear a backlog of missing persons files
- Coroner Evelyn Vicker has handed down her findings in 14 different cases
- The cases include a Japanese pearl diver, a senior law man from Broome, and an Aboriginal stockman from Fossil Downs
Warning: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should note this story contains names and images of people who have died.
Mrs Tari, whose first name has not been used for cultural reasons, had been unwell, and took three dogs with her when she left the Kalumburu Mission Settlement in the early hours of the morning on August 13, 1977.
When she did not return, searchers from the mission scoured the northern Australian bushland until they lost her tracks in grass country, about three miles from the camp.
When the dogs returned without Mrs Tari the searchers abandoned their efforts.
Mrs Tari’s case was just one examined in a series of inquests held earlier this year, with Western Australian Coroner Evelyn Vicker tasked with clearing a backlog of missing persons files into those who vanished from the Kimberley in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s.
Throughout the inquests, Ms Vicker unpacked testimony from Australian priests, pearl luggers, and station managers in order to deliver her findings, which were slowly been published throughout May and June.
To date, Ms Vicker has handed down her findings on over a dozen active cases including that of Broome man Wombat Williams, Aboriginal stockman Simon Marbin, and Japanese pearl diver Toshiyuki Hatakeyama.
No foul play in law man’s death
Wombat Williams was aged in his late 50s when he vanished into the bush during a wet season camping trip on the coast north of Broome.
A senior law man in his community, he was last seen by his family in Fitzroy Crossing before Christmas in 1987.
Despite an extensive search, he was never found.
At the time of the inquest in February, Mr Williams’ stepchildren Irene Jimbidie and her brother Ronnie said they believed he had fallen foul of cultural forces and had been targeted by other senior law men.
Mr Williams vanished from a sacred place “where Aboriginal people could disappear”, but Ms Vicker said she could not sustain this argument without fresh evidence, or remains.
In her findings, Ms Vicker said she was satisfied beyond all reasonable doubt Mr Williams had died somewhere in the Manari area.
She was unable to determine how he died and made it an open finding.
Death of ‘gentle’ stockman
Simon Marbin was an Aboriginal stockman at Fossil Downs Station when he disappeared on the way to the Muludja Community.
There was an extensive search to find Mr Marbin, but he was never found.
Despite an initial police report flagging that some local Aboriginal people believed the talented stockman had been murdered, Ms Vicker said she was unable to determine a cause of his death.
The finding said he had likely died during the five-day duration of his travels from the station to Muludja, but there was no further evidence to suggest what may have happened to him.
Pearl diver likely drowned
Japanese pearl diver Toshiyuki Hatakeyama was aboard the pearl lugger Kim when it hit rough seas off the Kimberley coast.
The coroner’s court heard Mr Hatakeyama was relieving himself off the side of the boat when a large wave hit and he fell overboard.
Witnesses recalled Mr Hatakeyama falling from the boat, but a search for the 20-year-old in the water was fruitless.
In her findings, Ms Vicker accepted the testimony of witnesses, and said it was likely Mr Hatakeyama was injured in his fall — meaning he could not call out for help when he fell into the water.
She said his death was due to misadventure.
‘Cause of death not determined’
While most cases resulted in an inconclusive finding, Ms Vicker was able to confidently pronounce all 14 people involved in the cases as deceased.
However, it was not without challenge.
In the case of Mrs Tari, Ms Vicker was confronted with new evidence from a New Norcia Benedictine father who visited the Kalumburu mission about four years after the woman going missing.
There, he claims to have met her.
There was no official record of her death from 1977, nor was there any record she had returned to the mission at all following her disappearance.
Nevertheless, the priest was adamant he met Mrs Tari and gave evidence that when he returned to the mission a year later she was no longer there.
Ms Vicker revised Mrs Tari’s likely date of death between late 1981 to early 1982.
How she died was declared an open finding.
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