Monday, 3 July 2023

Jessica Tyrrell is an investigator in KordaMentha’s Forensic team who often works with Aboriginal people in her investigations.

This year NAIDOC week happens July 2-9, with the theme For our Elders. To mark this, we are sharing Jess’ story of her elders, their courage, resilience, and love of family. We celebrate Jess for her contribution to our firm and her community.

Jess Tyrrell - investigating trauma

Jess Tyrrell is an optimist. Perhaps not what you would expect from an ex-police officer who worked for so many years in what she describes as ‘the dark side of the world’, sex-based investigations.

She speaks briefly of the people she brought to justice in her 22 years on the force, like the mother who killed her 11-month-old baby, or the scout leader who victimised the boys in his care, but she gives greater weight to the many she met under horrific circumstances.

“You’re there when something traumatic has happened. They remember what happened on that day forever – their very worst day. I decided I would be the sunshine on their darkest day.”

As an Aboriginal woman working in this field, she saw the effects not just of a single event, but multi-generational trauma, often in the form of alcoholism and domestic violence.

Jess’ own family is peppered with strong women, something she attributes to her great grandmother. Melinda, ‘Mum Bell’, was taken from her family by ‘Government men’ at the age of eight to the Cootamundra Girls Home, where Aboriginal girls were trained for domestic service.

Cootamundra Girls Home circa 1911-1920

“They said they provided training for orphaned and neglected children, however this was not the case. The girls were removed from their families, often after being reported to the Aboriginal Protection Board by someone at the station or Police.

“Most girls spent a few months there before being sent to white families as servants. It was systemic racial discrimination with the aim of removing them from their cultural orientation.”

Melinda, however, knew the harm caused by cultural isolation and would sneak back to the home to tell stories to the girls and teach them about the dreamtime, culture, and language.

Melinda grew to have a family of her own and pass on the value of stories, culture and family. Jess’ own experience was very different from many of those she encountered in her work.

“When I was growing up, I was told we had special ways and special stories, and that not everyone would be able to see how special our people are. The traumatised people I met in my work had no one telling them positive stories or telling them they were special.”

‘Mum Bell’ and Poppy

Jess Tyrrell undertakes similar but at times different types of investigations today as a forensic investigations specialist at KordaMentha. Her day-to-day work now involves investigating all manner of factual investigations on behalf of our clients, from fraud, sexual assault and harassment matters and investigations involving indigenous people. Jess also educates our clients and staff on her unique experiences and techniques. But she draws on her police experience every day because the work, for her, is still about the victims.

Now she works with organisations to investigate the crimes and breaches, but also to prevent them.

And that brings sunshine to dark places.