Palm Island death – 4 years on

November 19 marks four years since the notorious wrongful arrest and death in police custody of Mulrunji Doomadgee on Palm Island.

Many Aboriginal men have been arrested, charged, exiled from their homes and jailed in the four years since.  Meanwhile, investigations into allegations regarding actions and investigations by police have yet to be completed and no disciplinary action of any sort against police has occurred.

As this article from the National Indigenous Times makes clear, even for some Aboriginal people who were cleared of any charges, the consequences still continue.  For anyone wanting to get an idea of the wider situation beyond the headlines, it is well worth a read.

All four men were acquitted, but while Blackman may have beaten the charge, he says he hasn’t beaten the system. He now describes himself as a “marked man” in the eyes of Queensland Police.

And on Monday – the very next business day after the final Palm Island ‘riot’ matter was dealt with – Blackman was back in the Townsville Court defending himself from fresh charges involving local police.

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  1. We are a long, long way from a civilised society. The events depicted in the story are horrifying. Someone must find & publish the full story of the Palm Island “death in Custody” (the dictionary has a simpler word for it). The ABC obviously has the material but are scared to publish or broadcast it.
    The story is merely the tip of the iceberg. As regard police and “the law” we should always remember Actons words “Power tends to corrupt, absolute power corrupts absolutely.” The Queensland police need a little retraining! And someone should tell both magistrate and politician that secrecy is a manifestation of corruption.

  2. I think if the aboriginal peoples integrated with the rest of the society, these problems would be much less likely to occur.

    I think it’s hard to run a civilised society in remote locations such as Palm Island, especially if there is nothing much to do other than ruminate or drink alcohol.

  3. Has anyone read “The Tall Man” – Chloe Hooper’s book about the death in custody?…I’m picking it up tomorrow and hoping it contains alot of the facts.

  4. LORIKEET – “I think it’s hard to run a civilised society in remote locations such as Palm Island” I suggest you find out more. Palm Island was meant to remain remote, as aboriginal people who needed to be ‘kept in check’ were sent there.
    The Deaths in Custody Report, as with the Bringing Them Home, and The Little Children Are Sacred Reports are all online.
    SMH Oct 26 Copy of General Certificate of Exemption – it entitled the owner, Joseph Edwards,NO.705 to “Leave the reservation or mission at which they live-to go to work” Additional benefits include: walk freely through town without being arrested(Note:curfews apply) Enter a shop or hotel(You may or may not be served-at proprietor’s discretion).
    Special conditions apply;Speaking in native language-Prohibited
    Engaging in dance, rituals, native customs-Prohibited
    Associating with fellow indigenous people(including family)-Prohibited. NOTE- Strctly segregated housing areas.
    This is your chance to be free of the Ab.Protection Act and live like a white man???
    Dated 10th March 1951″

    Could provide more reasons for living in remote areas? Watch First Australians – – most enligihtening!

  5. Thanks Andrew – I’ll check it out. I stayed at Palm Island a few months after the death in custody. Wasn’t paying to much attention at the time but thinking I might have to go back. It really is a beautiful place. But the treatment by Police there is very very wrong.

  6. Naomi:

    I don’t think your information dating back to1951 is relevant to the modern society. That’s 57 years ago.

    I think it’s hard to run a civilised society in ANY remote location, and much harder to provide services there as well.

    It’s hard to get doctors, nurses and teachers to go there; and even harder to keep them. Those they do get are mostly young, single and inexperienced; when people closer to the other end of the scale are needed.

  7. Andrew.
    What is your problem with free speech?
    I have somethng to say germane to this thread.
    Strengthening rights? Yes?
    Well let me have my say.

  8. Andrew,

    Thanks so much for the recommendation of that book by Jeff Waters. It was well researched and explained every issue (besides what is still suppressed by court order) to do with the death and the following inquests etc. How shocking that very little has changed since this tragedy occurred. Thanks again, I found your blog randomly doing a search for Palm Island but will keep checking back.

  9. LORIKEET – I used that example to illustrate, that aboriginal people were treated in a horrific manner in our life time – not some distant past. When people are treated like this, with the resentment, loss of hope, shame at being treated like this, it carries over to the next??generations. It wasn’t that long ago, that a white person could complain about an aboriginal child at their child’s school – the aboriginal child would be refused to remain at school. People were sent to Palm Island as a means of ‘keeping them in line’. It still is used as such! It’s almost impossible to have meaningful relationships if people aren’t treated equally.

    If you looked at SBS First Australians, you’d know the history of aboriginal communites and what was done to remove them from their lands. It was horrific! Aboriginal people in remote areas are out of sight out of mind. I’ve read, where the NT Govt has only spent a minute amount of monies set aside by the Fed govt. This is a disgrace! It was on Crikey and the Indigenous newspaper in Canberra.

    Today’s news item – A judge has set aside the original outcome of the Coroner’s report, and ordered a new Inquest. A journalist from Qld said there should be a Royal Commission in order to get to the truth – the only avenue to find the real truth! We’ll see!

    LORIKEET “It’s hard to get doctors, nurses and teachers to go there; and even harder to keep them.” Not if aboriginal people from those areas are trained! Why not do what Fred Hollows did for his simple operations that restored sight. Train people with definite tasks. Start with midwives etc. It’s working in other countries in relation to indigenous communities. The Flying Doctor Service is still flying ‘old’ planes, that are limited in the number of people they can carry, which frequently means, that a sick child is hundreds of kilometers away from family, including parents, in a strange place alone, and unable to speak english in many cases.

  10. Naomi:

    I think what you say lends itself as an excellent argument for integration. According to one of my social worker friends, aboriginal peoples who have been trained as social workers cannot do the job effectively once they return to their communities.

    According to a teacher who returned from a predominantly aboriginal community 12 months ago, most of the children don’t receive a proper education because they aren’t sent to school on a regular basis. Although their behaviour was excellent, their attendance was poor. The teacher told me that aboriginal truancy officers weren’t getting anywhere with the problem either.

    You have to have a good “grass roots” education before you can move on to higher studies.

    In schools in 2008, everyone is accepted as equal, regardless of their race, religion, gender etc. My adopted Korean niece has only ever complained to me once about name-calling at school and that was a few years ago now.

  11. Lorikeet: have you considered that one of the two other factors, or maybe both, may be at fault? You say that Indigenous social workers are unable to do this work in communities. Could it be that the system in which they must work, or the training they get are responsible for their failure? It is ever the case that non-Indigenous social workers struggle to get the system to work for thier clients? I think you will find the answer is yes.

    I wonder if you have ever thought of patenting your statistics collection model and offering it to the Aust Bureau of Stats? If they knew that they’d only have to interview one chld from one school in one state to establish the status of racism in the nation’s schools I’m sure they’d be interested. Don’t forget to tell them about your other model – the one hairdressing salon at one time of one day in one town in one state model. The cost of data collection would nosedive. The national accounts would look very rosy.

  12. Dolphins:

    I think you would be wise to show greater respect for other posters, if you expect them to do the same for you.

    Anecdotal evidence is valued to some extent by researchers, and I make no apology for supporting a lack of discrimination based on race or gender.

    I cannot answer your questions relating to system failure, since I don’t live in an aboriginal community.

    I don’t your question regarding data collection is worthy of an answer.

    If I were to patent an actual statistics collection model, I think it might be better than the poorly-inclusive rubbish used by various organisations now.

    And yes, I think the national accounts would be in better shape also, because some of the problems might actually be solved.

  13. LORIKEET – “In schools in 2008, everyone is accepted as equal, regardless of their race, religion, gender etc.” How do you come to this conclusion? You’re amazing! You give an example, and upon that expect us all to believe it as fact. Do you ever read anything? Have you read any biographies of aboriginal people? At what point did racism disappear from the society? I’m sure a black person, or a ??? one either, wouldn’t agree with you. I believe that too many aboriginal people have to cope with the injustice of racism as a matter of daily fact.

    In many communities there can be 5-20 aboriginal people sharing a 3 roomed house, (not 3 bedrooms)without adequate facilities or means of privacy, kids have to take their turn to sleep. A high number of chn have serious ear problems etc, this doesn’t make school a great and exciting place to be. There are a myriad of reasons why school attendance can be low. Sadly, govts choose to ignore them, decade after decade. I don’t buy the nonsense about being remote. Many farms are remote, and those kids are either home educated or are at boarding schools. No one even hints at those farmers having their farms removed or any meagre service cancelled. In short, there are circumstances (housing, education and health needs) in remote communities, that wouldn’t be tolerated in the towns and cities. The problem is the will to spend the time & money. The Howard govt used funds set aside for aboriginal services etc fighting against indigenous native title claims?

    “I think what you say lends itself as an excellent argument for integration.” Yes, that was used once – it’s called ‘forced’ assimilation! It’s gross arrogance to insist (from ‘above’)that one group mix with another, regardless of their wishes. It hasn’t worked in the past, and it won’t work now. Why should I live, work, socialize with people who think I’m inferior? Who resent me? Who think my ‘blackness’ is a sign of being ‘unclean’? Paternalism/patriarchy doesn’t work?

  14. Lorikeet – I have had quite a bit to do with aboriginal communities and I wouldn’t presume to know everything, or even very much about them. nevertheless, given that social workers everywhere are struggling with the aftermath of the dislocation and destruction of aboriginal communities, I’m not at all surprised that young indigenous social workers would have difficulties. I wondered what your point was — that they are personally inadequate? If not, it surely must the the system you are condemning?

    As for anecdotes being part of research .. they can be, that’s true. I suppose what I object to is your smug assumption that all your friends at the hairdressers represent any kind of representative cross section who ought to be taken as indicators of how the rest of the community feels about anything other than the cost of going to the hairdressers.

    There are shops in the town closest to where I live that won’t employ indigenous kids .. not even on work experience. “I can’t have them putting clothes out on display, the customers won’t buy them if they’ve been handled by them .” Is this not as valid an anecdote as the non-discrimination faced by your korean-born relative?

  15. Dolphins:

    Yes, your anecdote is valid like any other, but I think the shopowners’ attitude is disgusting. They should stick up for the rights of their employees.

    In regard to the aboriginal social workers and truancy officers, I think the aboriginal people in the communities believe they are having the white man’s rules and values forced on them by their own people i.e. once they receive the white man’s education, they become “pseudo-whites”.

    I think it is a THEM vs US scenario. White teachers and social workers seem to think aboriginal government officers DON’T do their work, but I think it could be more the case that they CAN’T do it.

    To my knowledge, social workers of ANY colour are in short supply throughout the system and in any location.

  16. The shop owners won’t make them employees in the first place- the proprietors are the worst racists – they have power in their tin pot little shops which exploit aboriginal people in every creative way they can think of and they won’t let them have work experience for a week – and people wonder why aboriginal kids see no point in education.

  17. Dolphins:

    Yes, that’s a good point and it’s truly horrible for the shopowners to do that. From what I’ve been told, it’s the parents who see no point in education, but I hasten to add that it isn’t all of them.

    I’m sure there’s a complex list of causes for various problems in remote communities.

  18. Adding on to Dolphin’s comments on shop owners in remote locations, I heard they are extremely nasty even towards outback travellers of any colour or nationality.

    Everywhere my daughter-in-law’s friends stopped for fuel or food, they were treated like garbage and the attitude of shop owners towards the aboriginal peoples was atrocious.

    In very remote places, the aboriginal people just sat around waiting for something to happen, because there was absolutely nothing for them to do.

    My daughter-in-law’s friends couldn’t go onto the missions because they didn’t have the required permits, so they couldn’t tell her anything about what they found there.

    I think aboriginal peoples might be better off moving to the cities, where people of any race, colour or nationality are treated far better.

    I know that aged care centres employ ABSOLUTELY EVERYBODY – Asians, Africans, Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islanders and Europeans.

  19. LORIKEET – I don’t know why you’d think that aboriginal people would be better off in the cities, nor do I think that they’d be treated any better. There are racists in cities too; aboriginal people know when they go in any of the major stores, that it won’t take long before security is alerted. Not because they have any criminal intent, or aren’t dressed ‘correctly’ but just because they’re black! I recall a friend of mine telling me about life for aboriginal women years ago, how a white friend would have to try on clothes for them, as they either weren’t allowed in such places, or were ignored if they entered. Sadly, from what’s been said here, life hasn’t moved on very much in 40 yrs in many areas. Education is the key! Education about the truth of how this country was ‘settled’ in order to get rid of the lies, myths and outright hatred. It seems to me, that stories, untrue and damaging racist stories are passed down from one racist set of people to the next.What has saddened me since Feb 13 last yr, was the absolute racist lies being peddled by some young people on places like YouTube! I thought the younger generations were being exposed to the historical truths as part of their education?

    I’m heartened to learn of the state schools in NSW that are teaching kids, all kids, the indigenous language of that area. Apparently, it’s a huge success, and the relationship between indigenous and non-indigenous kids has improved markedly. There’s a sharing, respect and kids natural eagerness to learn new things that is making a marked difference. I think this is encouraging and I’d like to visit one of these schools in action. Maybe this generation will make the difference! (They’re only in primary school, but?)
    Redfern, is not far away from the middle of Sydney, but I wouldn’t say the aboriginal people living there are or have been treated that well. What progress that has been made is testament to the elders and other hard working indigenous workers.

  20. Naomi:

    I live in Brisbane where people of all nationalities, colours and races are accepted as workers and customers in shops, hospitals, nursing homes and elsewhere. According to relatives, the same is true in Canberra.

    It doesn’t do anyone any good to keep talking up racial prejudices. Tales of the past aren’t much use to us in 2009. We move forward with acceptance and inclusion of all Australian citizens.

  21. LORIKEET – And how many aboriginal people do you socialize with? How many do you sit down with and ask about their day to day life. The very fact that there is a need for an Anti-Discrimination Act; newspapers and other periodicals that are owned/operated/editied and run by and for indigenous people; Aboriginal portfolios in every state, territory and the national government should be testament to even a moderately intelligent person, that all peoples, particularly the original inhabitants are not treated equally -perhaps in your world, and your circle of interests and activities it may be, but if you broaden your circle or start to listen and read, you may find, that sadly, as the death in question re this blog, is not as you glibly assert.

    Unless we truly understand the past, accept the discrimination, bloodletting and oppression; resolve to change it, we’ll never move on with a positive attitude. How many books have you read about the political movement/s of aboriginal people for over 200 years. Did you watch First Australians, or are you content to go by “Australia” and its made for movie, short attempts at showing just SOME of the history (in the context of the needs for the story, of course).

    I’ll go to the magnificent group of people who are at the Aboriginal Centre, about a half hours drive from me; where I went to watch the Sorry speech last Feb 13. I’m sure they’d be only too willing to let me know when it’s time to stop educating people about the past; coping with and supporting programs at present, and the need for a different attitude in order to ensure a positive future. Judging by comments here, on YouTube and the racism still present in the community through ignorance, hatred and fear, the time has not yet come!
    I look forward to being educated by reading The Struggle for Aboriginal Rights, first published in 1999, which contains reference material from every archive, major library, newspapers, in every state of the country,

  22. It contains positive comments from Charles Perkins, Gough Whitlam, Ruby Lanford Givibi, Malcolm Fraser, Robert Tichner and Fred Chaney – all of these people are qualified to give an opinion of the contents of this book.
    Charles Perkins wrote;
    “This collection of the writings of Aboriginal people engaged in the campaign for basic human, and therefore political, rights adds a great deal to the understanding of the history of Aboriginal Australians. It helps us all, regardless of our race, to remember how much each generation of Aboriginal peoples owes to those who went before”.

    Malcolm Fraser;
    “Fear of the unknown, lack of knowledge and understanding, are barriers to reconciliation between Aboriginals and other Australians. This book should dispel some of the mystery, and make understanding easier. I wiish it every success”

    LORIKEET who are the “we” you refer to? All Australians, all Queenslanders, I don’t think so! If this country is as you assert, the trauma and racism would not have existed in Palm Island, a man would not be dead, at least 2 others involved have committed suicide, family members still mourning, another given a jail sentence, and aboriginal people still have to push for justice and the truth. The QLd government would not have tried to cover it up and have to resort to an Inquiry to at least look like it supported justice. A man was killed for being drunk, singing and mostly because he was black. Do you honestly believe, there’d be similar treatment if the roles were reversed? Of course not! Not in this country – yet!

    I don’t know of another book (Bain Attwodd and Andrew Marcus) that has done so much research, together with archival documents, photos etc, covering over 150 years! I have no connection to anyone who was even remotely involved with this book!

  23. “I live in Brisbane where people of all nationalities, colours and races are accepted as workers and customers in shops, hospitals, nursing homes and elsewhere.”

    Hmmm – I’ve lived in several states, including Queensland, and never felt less welcome than when I was in Brisbane (I’m not an indigenie, but an Anglo from that remote & exotic city, Adelaide).

    Of all the friends I made while I lived there, just one was born in Queensland (who was something of a social pariah due to being vegetarian: I do not know of any other capital city in which one might consistently lose partners as a consequence of ethical food choices). The locals exhibited an extraordinarily acute suspicion of anyone who could in any way be perceived as being an “outsider”.

    Sorry Lorikeet, but tolerance & inclusiveness is not on the agenda in much of Brisbane. Furthermore. employment opportunities in menial jobs do not necessarily equate to social acceptability. I’m not talking tales of the past here: it’s tales of the present that are standing in the way of moving forward to an acceptance and inclusion of all in Australia, regardless of whether or not they hold citizenship.

  24. Feral:

    I think the people in Brisbane have turned hard in the last 10 years due to negative societal influences (Me Syndrome), including lots of people coming here from the “harder” more populous capitals of Sydney and Melbourne. I think the bigger the city, the more uncaring people become.

    I think Ken comes from Adelaide and one of my scientist friends lives there. From all accounts, Adelaide is more “provincial” (smaller) than the eastern capitals and I think the social atmosphere is therefore better.

    At the nursing home, some of the highly qualified nurses are from south-east Asia. There are also young women from Nepal studying for a similar qualification which will earn them higher wages.

    I don’t understand why your friend lost partners due to food choices (too much proselytising?). I once went out with a macrobiotic. He was significantly harder to feed than a vegetarian, but we parted company because I found out he did drugs and we had nothing in common. That was in 1972.

    These days lots of people are very fussy eaters, regardless of being an omnivore or vegetarian.

    I like people who come from other places. They generally have some things of uncommon interest to talk about.

    If there is a problem with friends and differences in diet (due to choices or allergies – even hypochondria), I’ve found that just about everybody can eat at Sizzler. They have a new non-meat sauce that goes with the corn chips, vegetable soups, plenty of salads, fresh fruits and pasta. I think one of the pasta sauces would suit a vegan.

    What you said about being treated as an “outsider” is of significant concern.

    I think people have become more “peopleist” than “racist”. Workchoices has made the problem much worse. When people have too much work to do, they can get nasty and/or resentful, and more mistakes are made – adding fuel to the fire.

    If people have too much money, they become more insular, because they don’t need anyone or anything.

  25. they need to be allowed to live off their land and their way……the have been disregarded from the get go…..they were successful, healthy before white man, his policies, his ways and his illnesses took over!

    Allow them to live off their land and stop this exploiting them in total mistruths to take over their land….. such exploitation was the “National Emergency Response” in 2007 in NT due to apparent paedophilia and child abuse…..over 7000 children were investigated and of that ONLY 4 were found to be “possible” child abuse…… What a disgrace our governments are!! What investigating did they do??? Something that never should have happened…..

    Watch Our Generation – can be found on youtube. Very insightful !

    Why can’t they live off the land……why do they have to live to our culture….respect would be us learning theirs would it not??!!

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