THE bitterness that underlies the affairs of central Australia's Warlpiri people is less of a mystery to the man assigned to defend AFL footballer Liam Jurrah, than it is to most Australians.
Darwin barrister Jon Tippett, QC, originally from Ballarat and who arrived in the Northern Territory via the Melbourne bar, has represented Warlpiri defendants for about 30 years, and also acted for many Aboriginal people at the 1991 Royal Commission on Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.
While he would not discuss Jurrah's case, which begins today in Alice Springs Magistrates Court, Mr Tippett said that his experience had revealed clear differences among Aboriginal peoples.
''The Warlpiri are one of the toughest groups of people I have come across. Their ability to withstand pain and to endure in the most extraordinary circumstances is breathtaking,'' Mr Tippett said.
''These groups have survived over millennia because they have been tough and hard. That's why differences between clan groups are so bitter and fought out for so long. They are tough and wild and determined to hold on to their customs and social systems, and some of that has caused them great internal dissension.''
Jurrah, an initiated Warlpiri man, and two other men face six charges at what is scheduled to be a three-day hearing to decide whether they are committed for trial in the Northern Territory Supreme Court.
Jurrah, 23, Christopher Walker, 23, and Josiah Fry, 21, are charged with unlawfully causing serious harm, being armed with an offensive weapon at night, and four counts of assault. The charges relate to an alleged confrontation in Alice Springs' Little Sisters town camp on March 7. Afterwards, one of the alleged victims, Jurrah's cousin Basil Jurrah, was hospitalised with a head wound that required six stitches.
Jurrah arrived in Alice Springs late yesterday on a flight from Darwin, accompanied by Melbourne Football Club officials. A car driven onto the tarmac enabled the group to evade journalists. Mr Tippett joined the Darwin bar in 1985 after several years with Aboriginal Legal Aid in Alice Springs.
He is ''absolutely fearless in defending his clients'' according to Melbourne barrister Dyson Hore-Lacy, SC.
Mr Hore-Lacy met Tippett when both were working for Aboriginal Legal Aid in Alice Springs. Several cases gave Tippett a national profile including defending, in the Supreme Court in Darwin, the Iraqi refugee accused of people smuggling - Ali al-Jenabi - whom Tippett described as the Oskar Schindler of his time. He also successfully defended in Dili District Court Angelita Pires, the woman accused of involvement in a plot to kill East Timorese then president Jose Ramos-Horta and prime minister Xanana Gusmao.