Tanya Day was removed from a train for public drunkenness and taken into police custody, where she sustained injuries. She ended the day unconscious in hospital and never woke up.
Ms Day was on a health kick.
A youthful 55, she had joined a local gym and bought a hot pink gym shirt and matching sneakers.
She had glossy brown hair, a sparkle in her eye and proudly shared selfies with her new gym pass and of her lifting weights. She posted photos of the health food she loved to cook.
“Mum had struggles with drinking in the past and she had certainly gone through trauma,” her eldest daughter Belinda said.
“But she wanted to make her life better, so that started with eating well, looking after herself, being at the gym, but also doing training and trying to better herself as a person.”
Ms Day was a proud Yorta Yorta woman and on her Facebook page, alongside photos of family and friends, she expressed outrage at the treatment of Indigenous detainees.
“Where she thought there was any injustice, whether it was deaths in custody or just Aboriginal affairs, she felt the need to help others,” Belinda said.
Ms Day had been supporting the family of Tane Chatsfield, a young Indigenous man who died in police custody.
She was organising fundraising for the family and supporting them through the grief of losing a son.
The last news story she shared on her Facebook page was about his death.
This is the first time the story of what happened to Ms Day has been made public. It’s one her family knows she would have been outraged by.
“We are now one of those families that mum would have been advocating for,” her daughter Apryl said.
“That hurts knowing that she’s a death in custody and that’s what she was fighting for.”
A train ride ends in a Castlemaine cell
On December 5 last year, Ms Day got on a train from Bendigo to Melbourne.
It was a journey she had taken many times before. She had bought a ticket and organised to be picked up by her pregnant daughter, Kimberly, in Melbourne.
Her children said that at the time, their mum wasn’t drinking regularly.
That day, for reasons her family can’t understand, she had been drinking heavily before getting on the train. She was asleep lying on a seat.
Ms Day was woken by a conductor asking to see her ticket but was confused and couldn’t find it.
Her family was told by police she was disoriented and appeared intoxicated, but there was no suggestion she was aggressive.
The ticket inspector called the police, who detained her at Castlemaine Train Station for public drunkenness.
Ms Day was placed in a cell to sober up at Castlemaine police station. Officers tried to contact family and local community members to pick her up.
By the end of the day, she was unconscious in hospital. Seventeen days after she was first detained, she died.
What happened will be investigated by a coronial process due to begin in Melbourne today.
‘She had tubes and she was strapped down’
Ms Day’s son Warren was on his way to pick his mum up when he called police.
They told him his mother had a “small knock to the noggin”, but that she was fine.
The family was later told she had a fall in her cell and had hit her head.
Ms Day was taken by ambulance to Bendigo hospital. The sight confronting her children when they arrived was shocking.
“She was on the bed, she had tubes and she was strapped down,” Apryl said.
“But it was the bruise that was on her head that was the most noticeable, because I thought to myself for it to be that big and that black, she must have really hurt herself.
“I just remember when I left that room I was so scared because I thought, ‘I am actually about to lose my mother’.”
The coronial inquiry will investigate whether Ms Day was monitored properly while in custody, how she was injured that day and whether her death could have been prevented.
In a statement to the ABC, Victoria Police said it would be inappropriate to provide comment as the matter is before the coroner.
Apryl believes she should never have been taken to the cell.
“If they were concerned about how intoxicated she was, I believe she should have been taken straight to emergency and not left in an unsafe situation in a cell.”
‘Systematic failure’ of public drunkenness laws
Abolishing the crime of public drunkenness was one of the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody in 1991, which found the offence disproportionately affects Indigenous people.
Tanya is the second member of the Day family to die in custody. Her late uncle Harrison Day’s death was examined by the 1991 royal commission. He died after being arrested for not paying a fine for public drunkenness.
Almost 30 years later, it’s still illegal to be drunk in public in Queensland and Victoria, something Apryl’s sister Belinda wants to see changed.
“Had the recommendation that public intoxication or drunkenness been removed as an offence, Mum wouldn’t have been in the situation that she was in,” she said.
“She certainly wasn’t hurting anyone, she wasn’t aggressive, so it seems to be a systematic failure to implement the recommendations.”
Ms Day’s family often comes to the banks of the Murray River at Echuca to reflect.
Her son, Warren, explained the connection to the land for his mum.
“As a Yorta Yorta woman our tradition is river people. We are born on the river,” he said.
“This is a significant place for my mother.
“I would sit down with her here often. She wouldn’t say much, in fact she wouldn’t speak — she would sit here and have her own quiet time,” he said.
The Murray River where Ms Day found solitude lies on the border of Victoria and New South Wales.
It’s not lost on her family that if their mother had been picked up north of the river, in Moama where public drunkenness has been decriminalised, it’s unlikely she would have ended up in a police cell.
Ambulance Victoria, which attended Ms Day in custody and transported her to hospital, expressed their condolences to the Day family, and said they are conducting an investigation into the case.
The Victorian Attorney-General said she will look at any recommendations the Coroner may make in the inquest.
Ms Day’s family are now hoping the inquest process will uncover the truth behind their mother’s death and finally lead to changes to the law.
“We buried our mum without knowing what happened to her. We want answers and we want people held accountable for what they did or didn’t do,” Apryl said.
“We don’t want to see another family go through what we have and I don’t want to see any more grandkids grieving for their nan, because that’s heartbreaking.
“There has to be a point where enough is enough.”