The Outback Court Reporter, Jamelle Wells

Reviewed By
Karen Chisholm

It's worth taking a close look at the blurb of THE OUTBACK COURT REPORTER, and keeping the second paragraph in mind when you start to read:

Outback Court Reporter is a sometimes funny, sometimes tragic look at the comings and goings on inside the country courtrooms dotted across Australia.

Because emotional whiplash is certainly one way of reacting to the collections of stories here. Whether or not the juxtaposition works for readers is undoubtedly going to have a direct bearing on your experience - it certainly did for this reader who struggled a lot with the tonal shifts. From the (rather silly / funny) story, for example, of the woman who sued the CWA for defamation, to the godawful short snippets of day to day life in outback courts and the desperate situation that many people live in, to the dreadful tale of medical failures that lead to the death of the author's own father, the whiplash was pretty overpowering. Whilst it was clear that this is a curated list of the best, worst, and daftest of experiences in small courts, mostly in NSW, Queenland and the NT, it sails fairly quickly through examples of the experience of court staff and a couple of magistrates in particular. 

Whether or not this anecdotal style of novel would help really ram home the dire situation of country magistrates, massive caseloads and the limited resources available to address systemic crime, drug problems, abuse, destitution and desperation that lead to the case overload is another question altogether. On the one hand, it reinforces life in remoter / regional area, on the other, the whiplash effect kind of made the whole thing feel a bit too much "other worldly" for this reader.

Year of Publication

One of Australia's most experienced court reporters goes on a judicial road trip.

Outback Court Reporter is a sometimes funny, sometimes tragic look at the comings and goings on inside the country courtrooms dotted across Australia.

From the case of the stolen cat flap, to missing lollipops and exploding chocolate milk in a country supermarket, to a custody dispute over a camel - Jamelle has seen the lighter and quirky side of outback courts but has also witnessed the harsh, dark, and petty side of outback life - including the high rates of Indigenous incarceration, alcohol-related and domestic violence.

After spending almost twenty years in city courtrooms reporting for the ABC on some of the country's highest profile cases, in Outback Court Reporter, Jamelle Wells takes you into our country courtrooms, from the grand sandstone edifices of Cobar and Grafton to the repurposed community halls and police stations in outback Queensland the Northern Territory - introducing you to the court staff - the solicitors, prosecutors, magistrates, witnesses and the accused, in cases that shock, captivate and divide communities.

Outback Court Reporter is also a timely reminder of the need for reform as country magistrates struggle with massive caseloads and limited resources, the fall-out of failing regional health system and limited bail and sentencing options in a justice system that is under pressure and communities still disadvantaged by the vastness of our continent.

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