A lack of proper morgues in remote communities is causing grieving families to suffer more pain when it comes to burying their loved ones.
By
Hannah Hollis

12 May 2014 - 4:02 PM  UPDATED 13 May 2014 - 6:00 AM

The town of Wadeye in the Northern Territory has some of the toughest conditions in the country. The small township of 3,000 inhabitants, 300km southwest of Darwin, is inaccessible by road for half of the year due to the wet season. And it is partly due to this physical challenges of isolation, that one family has had to endure even more distress.

"We thought it was my brother, opened the body bag and I saw a different face. A woman’s body. Then I closed it up and put the body back in the freezer and we came out and stopped the funeral."

When Robin Nilco finally buried his brother last year, it ended a traumatic series of events for his family.

"I went in and checked the body but the body wasn't there, was missing" he said.

Robin's brother's body was mistakenly swapped with the body of a young woman, and buried far from home.

They took the body from here and took it to Plumpa to bury it on wrong country, wrong place. We was all upset about it. Even the whole community was all upset about the body, even the white fellas here working." he said.

The mix up went unnoticed for more than a week. It wasn't until the Nilco family held the funeral for Robin's brother, they realised what had happened.

"We thought it was my brother, opened the body bag and I saw a different face. A womans body. Then I closed it up and put the body back in the freezer and we came out and stopped the funeral."

The body was exhumed and returned to the family and rightful place.

According to the Northern Territory government, it doesn't take responsibility for a morgue unless it's attached to a hospital, but in remote communities there are no hospitals.

The family's lawyer, Francesca Ciantar from the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency says the poor treatment of bodies in remote community morgues is not uncommon in the Territory.

"There was another incident where a young man committed suicide and he was kept in the morgue and just by accident hot air was being blown on to the body instead of cold air, so by the time the boys mother made it to community to view the body he was extremely decomposed."

In 2012, the Territory Ombudsman revealed cases of bodies being stored in inappropriate rooms like court rooms, kitchens and sheds.

The Ombudsman recommended the Territory government legislate to regulate morgues. But almost two years later, it still hasn't acted.

The family says the lack of respect shown has exacerbated the pain of his passing and their lawyer is calling on the government to act.

"There needs to be an inquiry into why this happens and then adequate funding and training provided so the morgue can be run like all the other morgues in Australia, effectively.

Nothing can erase what happened to the Nilco family but they hope changes will occur, to prevent others from having to go through the trauma they've experienced.

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