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Aboriginal deaths in custody - Royal Commission (Hon. E.F. Johnston, QC) - Reports - Regional report of inquiry in - Queensland (Commissioner L.F. Wyvill, QC

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©Commonwealth of Australia 1991 ISBN 0 644 14114 X

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Sec retary : John Gavin Ass istant Secretary: J ill Sheppard


30 March 1991

His Excellency the Honourable William George Hayden, AC Governor-General and Commander-in-Chief of Australia Government House CANBERRA ACT 2600

Your Excellency

45 Flinders Street ADELAIDE SA 5000

GPO Box 1005 ADELAIDE SA 5001

Telephone: (08) 223 6222 Fax: (08) 223 7825

In accordance with Letters Patent issued to me on 27 April1989 and subsequently varied, I have the honour to present to you the report of Commissioner L.F. Wyvill, QC, of the overall findings of his inquiry in Queensland.

The same report is being provided to His Excellency the Governor of Queensland in accordance with Letters Patent issued by him.

Yours sincerely

Elliott Johnston -------­


Secretary : John Gavin i\ssistull Srcrrta ry : Jill Sheppard


30 March 1991

45 Flinders Street ADELAIDE SA )000

GPO Box 1005 ADELAIDE SA 5001

Telephone: (08) 223 6222 Fax: (08) 223 7825

His Excellency the Honourable Sir Walter Benjamin Campbell, AC, QC Governor of Queensland Government House


Your Excellency

In accordance with Letters Patent issued to me on 29 June 1989 and subsequently varied, I have the honour to present to you the report of Commissioner L.F. Wyvill, QC, of the overall findings of his inquiry in Queensland.

The same report is being provided to His Excellency the Governor-General in accordance with Letters Patent issued by him.

Yours sincerely

Elliott Johnston COMMISSIONER



30 November 1990

The Honourable Elliott Johnston QC Commissioner 2nd Floor Flinders House 45 Flinders Street


Dear Commissioner Johnston

7th Fluo r House

157 Ann Strel'l BRISBANE 400\t

PO Bo x 11 7 NORTH QUAY QLD -l UO:.!

Telephone: t07 1 7tl11

Fax: t07l 22!l 4558

In accordance with Letters Patent issued to me by His Excellency the Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia and by His Excellency the Governor of Queensland, I have the honour to present to you a Queensland Regional Report for consideration by you and for furnishing by you to Their Excellencies.

Yours sincerely



Page No.

INTRODUCTION ......................................................... 1

SYNOPSIS ............. .. ................................................. 5



1.1.1 Deaths in Custody ..................................... 11

1.1.2 Self-Inflicted Deaths ................................. 15

1.2 The Avoidability of Death .... .... .. ............................. 20

1.2.1 Unavoidable Deaths ............. .. .... ... ..... .... ... 20

1.2.2 Deaths that should be avoided now ................ 19

1.2. 3 Preventable Deaths ........ ............................ 27


2.1 Personal Characteristics and Social Environments of the Deceased ................................................... 39

2.1 .1 The Communities in which the Deceased Lived ... 39 The Artificiality of the Ex-reserve Communities .. ... .. ................................ 43

Authoritarian and Paternalistic Administration ..... ........ . . ... .................. . 45

2.1 .2 Domestic Environment and Family Structure ..... .46 2.1 . 3 Education and Employment Opportunities and Achievements ....... .................... ........... 50

Education ........................................... 50

Employment ........................... ..... ... . ... 53

2.1'.4 Conflict with the Criminal Justice System ......... 56 2.1.5 Physical and Psychological Health .................. 60

2.2 Summary: History, Marginalisation and Disempowermcnt ..... .. ............ .. ..... .............. ........ . 66

The Legacy of History ..... ... .. ... ... ... .. . ................. 67

Social Forces and Contemporary Environments .......... 70 Self-Management and Rc-empowermcnt .. ... .... . ... . .... 71


Chapter 3 POST-DEATH INVESTIGATIONS .................................. 7

3.1.1 The Ideal Investigation ............................... 7

3.1.2 Police Investigations in Queensland ................ 8

3.1.3 What I Found .......................................... 8

3.2 Post-Mortem Examinations ..................................... 8:

3.2.1 The Ideal Forensic Pathology System .............. 8:

3.2.2 The Forensic Pathology System in Queensland ... 3.2.3 What I Found ..........................................

3.3 Coronia! Investigations .......................................... 9(

Appendix 1(a)

Appendix 1(b)

Appendix 2

3.3.1 The Ideal Coronia! System ........................... 9(

3.3.2 What I Found ..........................................


THE ABORIGINALS IN COLONIAL SOCIETY, 1840-1897 by Professor Henry Reynolds ................................. 103

RACE RELATIONS IN QUEENSLAND 1897-1971 by Dr Dawn May ................................................ 123

QUEENSLAND ABORIGINAL CULTURES AND THE DEATHS IN CUSTODY VICTIMS by Dr Paul Memmott ............................................ 171



The Letters Patent issued to me by His Excellency the Governor-General

of Australia on 6 May 1988 and His Excellency the Governor of Queensland on

2 June 1988 (both of which were subsequently amended) required me, among

other things, to inquire into and furnish reports of my findings in relation to

(a) the deaths of Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders in custody in

Queensland between 1 January 1980 and 31 May 1989; and

(b) any subsequent action taken in respect of each of those deaths including

the conduct of coronia!, police and other inquiries and any other things

that were not done but ought to have been done.

At the first public hearing of the Commission in Brisbane, on 10 June

1988, when my Tenns of Reference were read, I stated my understanding of the

nature of the task that I had been commissioned to carry out. In so doing I

echoed statements made by Commissioner Muirhead in his opening remarks in

Canberra on 11 November 1987 .

... the Commission is not concerned only with the question of how Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders in custody die - that is, with the physical cause of death- but also with the question of why they die. It is vital that I should know the background of the deceased people, that I should see and understand the environment

in which they lived and should, in most cases at least, inspect the places where they died.

/fit is not to be a barren exercise, my inquiry cannot be limited to simply seeking ' an answer to the question, 'How?' I must endeavour to find out 'Why?' as well. Many questions will arise, not only concerning the physical cause of death and the actions

taken subsequent to death but also the background of the deceased, the adequacy or other of surveillance in custodial areas, the efficacy of systems and methods, the adequacy of investigations and steps taken to prevent recurrences.

Apart from the investigations into the immediate facts of each death and questions of individual responsibility arising in relation


thereto, which will be the focus of the Commission's formal hearings, the Commission will seek to gain a broader understanding of the deaths of Aboriginal people in custody as a social phenomenon, and of the underlying issues. This involves seeking some knowledge of the social context in which the deaths . occurred and of the communities in which they occurred or from which the deceased persons came.

As my inquiries proceeded the Queensland Government of the day

became increasingly uneasy about my detennination to inquire into underlying

issues and at every turn I met with objection and frustration. Eventually I was

forced to bring the matter to a head and I did so in a ruling delivered on

13 November 1989 in relation to a submission by NAILSS1 on underlying

issues having a bearing on the death of the young man who died at Wujal Wujal.

The Government objected to my receiving that submission. The major ground

on which the Government based its case was that only the National

Commissioner had authority to investigate underlying issues. Support for this

argument was alleged to lie in the fact that the following paragraph appears in the

National Commissioner's Letters Patent and not in mine:

AND We further declare that,for the purpose of reporting on any underlying issues associated with those deaths, you are authorised to take account of social, cultural and legal factors which in your judgement, appear to have a bearing on those deaths ...

In ruling against the Queensland Government's objection I said:

The error in this reasoning is that the paragraph relates to the National Commissioner's reporting authority and not to his inquisitorial power. There are no corresponding words in those parts of the Letters Patent that relate to his power to inquire. The powers of inquiry conferred originally on Commissioner Muirhead

and now on Commissioner Johnston are expressed in essentially the same terms as the powers of inquiry conferred on me by my Letters Patent. Insofar as a death is within our Terms of Reference the scope of inquiry is expressed in exactly the same words. The power (and the duty) conferred on me to inquire into deaths that are

within jurisdiction is broad. It is not restricted so as to exclude the

Research Study No I Like a Crane standing on One Leg on a Little Island. An investigation of factors affecting the lifestyle of the Wujalwujal Community, North Queensland, prepared by Mr Christopher Anderson and Miss Suzette Coates for the National Aboriginal and Islander Legal Services Secretariat.


social, cultural and legal factors that appear to have a bearing on those deaths.

Following my ruling the Government commenced proceedings to have it

reviewed in the Federal Court of Australia. However, the change of government

consequent upon the December 1989 elections brought a complete change of

attitude towards the Royal Commission; the court proceedings were

discontinued; and, where previously there had been frustration and hindrance, I

received the utmost cooperation.

I have now completed such inquiries as I was able to make in the time

specified in my amended Letters Patent and have furnished reports in relation to

the 27 deaths in Queensland investigated by me. This report is made in

compliance with a requirement in my Letters Patent to furnish a report of any

other findings of my inquiries and such recommendations (if any) as I consider


I have not included recommendations in this report other than on purely

local issues. Other Commissioners in corresponding reports are doing likewise.

It was felt by Commissioners that conflicting recommendations (which might

well be justified by different conditions in different regions) and similar

recommendations, but inevitably differently expressed by different

Commissioners, would lead to confusion. Pursuant to the Letters Patent,

Commissioner Johnston will be consulting with all other Commissioners as to

the final report of the Commission. This report will contain recommendations

and where they are different for different parts of the country will explain the

basis for such differences.

Unless the context otherwise indicates, in this report the term Aboriginal

will also include Torres Strait Islanders.

I should also observe that until 1987 the Queensland Government

declined to release any information on the race of people in custody or of

children subject to orders under the Children's Services Act. Furthermore, since

1987 no distinction has been made in statistical infonnation coming from the

Queensland Government between Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders who

are or have been in custody or who are or have been subject to orders under the

Children's Services Act.



In some respects this report may provide an easily accessible summary

of the more important findings of my individual inquiries, but it is intended to do

more than provide a digest of what was revealed in the individual cases. It is an

attempt to draw on the totality of the information gained and my experience as a

Royal Commissioner and to set out and examine the systemic deficiencies that

are demonstrated by the comparison of what was revealed by my inquiries into

each of the deaths and a review of the great volume of information that came to

light in the course of my inquiries.

What immediately follows this synopsis is some statistical information

relating to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population in Queensland

with three maps showing their distribution.

Chapter 1 provides an analysis of the deaths which were the subject of

my inquiries, and examination of the causes of those deaths and a discussion of

the central issue of the avoidability of those deaths. In the first section of that

chapter I describe the immediate facts and circumstances of those deaths and

present my findings as to the immediate causes of those deaths. In the second

section I identify and discuss the eleven self-inflicted deaths. In the following

sections I discuss the avoidability of death in custody and identify eight deaths

that were unavoidable, those which should be avoided now and I find that a

number of the deaths were preventable.

Chapter 2 proVides a general summation of the personal and social

characteristics of each of the deceased. That chapter recognises that an adequate

examination of the deaths that occurred in Queensland must consider not only the

immediate facts and circumstances surrounding those deaths but the social

environments in which the deceased lived, and in a number of cases died. Thus,

Chapter 2 provides an overview of the communities in which the deceased lived,


the domestic environments and family structures in which they were raised, their

education and employment opportunities and achievements, their conflict with

the criminal justice system and their physical and psychological health. The

chapter also identifies specific connections between the history of relations

between Aboriginal and White people in Queensland, the contemporary

marginalisation and disempowerment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander

people generally and the life circumstances of those who died in custody in


In Chapter 3 I examine the adequacy of previous investigations into the

deaths. I identify the principles which should guide the conduct of police

investigations, briefly survey the conduct of the police investigations into the

deaths in Queensland and present my findings as to the general conduct of those

investigations. In the second section of the chapter I consider the conduct of

post-mortem examinations, and in the third section I consider the operation of an

ideal coronia! system, and the short comings of the Queensland coronia! system

disclosed by my inquiries.

The appendices contain three research papers I commissioned in the

course of my investigations into the phenomena of Aboriginal deaths in custody

in Queensland. In appendix 1 a research paper concerning the relations between

Aboriginal and White people in Queensland from 1840 to 1897, prepared by

Professor Henry Reynolds is reproduced along with a research paper

considering relations in Queensland from 1897 to 1971 prepared by Dr Dawn

May. In Appendix 2 a research paper prepared by Dr Paul Memmott entitled

Queensland Abori&inal Cultures and the Deaths in Custody Victims. Those

papers have been included as they provide a description of very many important

historical and social factors having a direct bearing on Aboriginal deaths in

custody in Queensland.




The Aboriginal population of Queensland is 48,098 and represents 23%

of the total Aboriginal population of Australia, while the Torres Strait Islander

population of Queensland is 13,170 and represents 61% of the total Torres Strait

Islander population of Australia.

The following maps show the distribution of the Aboriginal and Torres

Strait Islander population of Queensland.

This information and the following three maps are based on the

Australian Bureau of Statistics, 1986 Census figures as detailed in the

Department of Community Services, Queensland, Annual Report of 1988-89

(pages 4-7).


Populations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Communities in Queensland (Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics, 1986 Ctnsus)

I -Combined data for Bamaga, Ne.,.. Mapoon, lnjinoo, Seisia and Umagico 2- Combined data for Coconut and Sue Islands 3-Combined data for Hammond and Horn Islands 4-Combined data for Kubin and St. Paul \ Moa Island


V ale 729

W ujal Wujal 255

Yarrabah 1 504

·.-. l

Palm Is. 1 790

Aboriginal Population by Statistical Division in Queensland As a Proportion of Total Aboriginal Population in Queensland 30 June 1986 (Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics, 1986 Ceosus)



Torres Strait Islander Population by Statistical Division As a Proportion of Total Torres Strait Islander Population in Queensland 30 June 1986 (Source: Allstralian Bureau of Statistics, 1986 Census)



Chapter 1



1.1 The deaths of 27 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in Queensland between 1 January 1980 and 31 May 1989 came within my Terms of Reference

and were investigated by me. Table 1.1 lists the deaths in the order in which

they occurred with information showing where each death occurred, the sex and

age of the deceased, whether the deceased was an Aboriginal or Torres Strait

Islander and the immediate cause of death.

1.1.1 Deaths in Custody

Table 1.1: Deaths in Custody




Karen Lee 11 .02.80 Rockhampton Base Female Fatal bums

O'Rourke Hospital after removal 14 received in

from Birralee Children's Aboriginal security room Home on 11.2.80 fire.

The Man 04.12.80 Brisbane Prison Male Asphyxia by

who died in 42 hanging.

Brisbane Aboriginal


NikiraMau 03.01.81 Brisbane City Male Heart attack.

Watchhouse 55

Torres Strait Islander





Walter James 22.02.81 Townsville Prison Male Haemoptysis

Barney 40 (haemorrhaging

Abori_g!_nal inlunm

Daniel 16.05.81 En route to Townsville Male Gunshot

Raymond General Hospital after 31 wound while

Joseph removal from Townsville Aboriginal attempting to

Lorrawav Prison on 16.05.81

Gregory 02.08.84 Cherbourg Watchhouse Male Asphyxia by

Michael 30 hanging.

Dunrobin Abori_g!_nal

Charlie Kulla 12.08.84 Coen Watchhouse Male Lobar

Kulla 40 pneumonia.


Patrine Misi 14.03.85 Townsville Watchhouse Male Broncho-

40 pneumonia.

Torres Strait Islander

Vincent Roy 30.03.85 Townsville Prison Male Heart attack.

Ryan 39


Barbara 14.04.86 Royal Brisbane Hospital Female Hypoglycaemia

Denise Y arrie after removal from 29 and chronic

Brisbane City Aboriginal pancreatitis.

Watchhouse on 31.01.86

Bemard 07.06.86 Townsville Prison Male Heart attack.

Matthew 41

Johnson Abori_ginal

Perry Daniel 04.12.86 Yarrabah Watchhouse Male Asphyxia by

Noble 20 hanging.


Richard Frank 18.12.86 Yarrabah Watchhouse Male Asphyxia by

(Charlie) 42 hanging.

Hyde Aboriginal

John 25.01.87 Brisbane City Male Epileptic fit

Raymond Watchhouse 33 during a period

Pilot Aboriginal of alcohol






Alistair 13.03.87 Doomadgee Watchhouse Male Asphyxia by

Albert 34 hanging.

Riversleigh Aboriginal

David Mark 14.03.87 Cairns Base Hospital Male Pneumonia

Koowootha after removal from 19 following

Yarrabah Watchhouse on Aboriginal coma as a 18.02.87 consequence of

attempted hanging.

The Young 29.03.87 Wujal Wujal Watchhouse Male Asphyxia by

Man who died 22 hanging.

at Wujal Aboriginal


The Young 11.04.87 Aurukun Watchhouse Male Inhalation of

Man who died 18 blood

at Aurukun Aboriginal following

injury received in attempted hanging.

Daniel Alfred 11.06.87 Brisbane Prison Male Heart attack.

Lacey 40


Monty 21.06.87 Back of police vehicle en Male Lobar

Charles Salt route from Laura to 39 pneumonia.

Cooktown Hospital Aboriginal

Edwdrd 09.07.87 Cherbourg Watchhouse Male Vasovagal

Stanley West 18 reflex caused

Aboriginal by hanging.

Darren Steven 15.11.87 Brisbane City Male Asphyxia by

Wouters Watchhouse 17 hanging.


Patrick 15.11.88 Rockhampton Prison Male Asphyxia by

Thomas 17 hanging.

Booth Aboriginal

Fay Lena 15.12.88 Royal Brisbane Hospital Female Battered to

Yarrie after removal from 29 death in cell by

Brisbane City Aboriginal fellow inmate.

Watchhouse on 15.12.88.





Barbara Ruth 01.02.89 Rockhampton Female Haemonhage

Tiers Watchhouse 37 from an

Aboriginal ovarian cyst with rupture consistent upon a bleeding tendency occasioned by advanced liver disease.

Muriel 11.03.89 Townsville General Female Pneumonia.

Gwenda Hospital after removal 38

Catheryn from Innisfail Aboriginal

Binks Watchhouse on 23.02.89

Deidre 24.03.89 Lockhart River Female Heart attack.

Abigail Short Watchhouse 30


Two of the deceased, Nikira Mau and Patrine Misi, were from islands in

the Torres Strait. Each died of natural causes. Nikira Mau at the age of 55 was

by many years the oldest of all of those whose deaths were the subject of

investigation by me.

Six of the deceased, Karen Lee O'Rourke, Denise Barbara Yarrie, her

sister Fay Lena Yarrie, Barbara Ruth Tiers, Muriel Gwenda Catheryn Binks and

Deidre Abigail Short were Aboriginal women. Karen O'Rourke at 14 years of

age was the youngest and Muriel Binks at 38 the eldest.

Nineteen deaths occurred while the deceased was in police custody or

after removal to hospital from either the Brisbane City Watchhouse (five), the

Townsville Watchhouse (one), the Rockhampton Watchhouse (one) or the

Innisfail Watchhouse (one). Monty Salt died in police custody in the back of a

police motor vehicle while being transported from Laura Police Station to the

Cooktown Hospital.


Karen Lee O'Rourke who was the only child2 who died in custody was

fatally burned while detained in the security room of what was the Birralee

Children's home.

In all, eight of the deceased died while in prison custody. Seven of the

deceased died in prison or after removal to a hospital, following an injury or

sudden illness. Daniel Lorraway died in an ambulance on the way to the

Townsville Hospital after being shot in the Townsville Prison.

None of the deaths that occurred in custody in Queensland was caused

by foul play by which I mean any criminal act or omission which led or should

have led to a criminal prosecution.

1.1.2 Self-inflicted Deaths

Table 1.2 is a list of the 11 Aboriginal men who killed themselves while

in police or prison custody. In each case the method of bringing about death was

by hanging either by an article of clothing (five) or a piece of bedding material.

Eight of those deaths occurred on Aboriginal communities constituted under the

Community Services (Aborigines) Act 1984 or the Local Government

(Aboriginal Lands) Act 1978.

2 A person under or apparently under the age of 17 years. cf. the definition of 'child' in s.8 of the Children's Services Act 1965 (as amended).


Table 1.2



The Man who died in 04.12.80 Brisbane Prison 42

Brisbane Prison

Gregory Michael 02.08.84 Cherbourg W atchhouse 30


Perry Daniel Noble 04.12.86 Yarrabah Watchhouse 20

Richard Frank 18.12.86 Yarrabah Watchhouse 42

(Charlie) Hyde

Alistair Albert 13.03.87 Doomadgee Watchhouse 34


DavidMarlc 14.03.87 Cairns Base Hospital 19

Koowootha after removal from

Y arrabah Watchhouse on 18 .02.87.

The Young Man who 29.03.87 Wujal Wujal Watchhouse 22

died at Wujal Wujal3

The Young Man who 11.04.87 Aurukun Watchhouse 18

died at Aurukun3

Edward Stanley West 09 .07.87 Cherbourg Watchhouse 18

Darren Steven 15.11.87 Brisbane City 17

Wouters Watchhouse

Patrick Thomas Booth 15.11.88 Rockhampton Prison 17

3 For the sake of brevity, unless the context otherwise requires, I shall refer to these two young men by reference to the places where they died: 'Wujal Wujal' and 'Aurukun'.


The tenn 'suicide' is used by social scientists and in everyday speech to

refer to self-inflicted deaths regardless of whether or not the person had fonned a

definite intention of dying by his/her own hand and the tenn has been so used in

research papers published by the Royal Commission.4 Because of the historical

consequences of a coronia! finding of suicide, lawyers are reluctant to refer to a

death as suicide unless satisfied that in doing what he did, the deceased intended

to end his life.

In the deaths investigated by me I maintained the lawyer's approach and

stated, where I could, what I found the deceased's intention to be.

I had no hesitation in finding that the man who died in Brisbane Prison

on 4 December 1980 was 'detennined and deliberate in the taking of his own

life'. He had experienced great tragedy in his personal life. His first two sons

had died soon after they were born. In July 1970, his de facto wife died of

pneumonia shortly after giving birth to their third son who then died leaving the

deceased and his 14 month old daughter as the only surviving members of the

family. In November 1980 the deceased was arrested and charged with serious

sexual offences involving his then 11 year old daughter. He had been on remand

in the Brisbane Prison for a month and obviously his perception of his future

was nothing but bleak. Before hanging himself with a rope made of bed

sheeting the deceased wrote a note to his sister and another to his daughter which

clearly indicated that he no longer had the desire to live.

When 17 year old Darren Steven Wouters hanged himself in the

Brisbane City Watchhouse with a strip of blanket material, he too left a note

which provided some' evidence of his state of mind. Using toilet paper he spelt

out the words 'LIFE SUX' on the floor of his cell. At least twice in the months

before his death, Darren had given thought to killing himself. In looks he was

distinctly Caucasian and it was not until he was 16 that he discovered his

4 Aemming J, McDonald D, Biles D (1990) Self-Inflicted Harm in Custody Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, Canberra (RCIADIC Criminological Research Unit Research Paper No. 16)


Aboriginal ancestry. Darren had essentially assumed the role of a 'loner'.

Institutionalised for most of his life, he had been struggling with the traumatic

process of self-realisation. His personality had been permanently scarred as a

result of numerous episodes of interpersonal rejections. On the night of his

death Darren was alone in his cell for less than an hour; he had shown obvious

signs of being upset at the time of his incarceration; and he was quite clearly

affected by liquor.

While the words 'LIFE SUX' may have expressed Darren's despair, his

determination to end his life is confirmed by the manner in which he went about

it. First, he fashioned a rope out of torn bed sheeting which he tied to a piece of

electrical conduit attached to the ceiling of his cell. When that rope broke he

fashioned another one out of stronger blanket material which he tied to the same

piece of conduit and then hanged himself.

The intention of 17 year old Patrick Thomas Booth who died in

Rockhampton Prison exactly one year after Darren is not so easy to discern.

Patrick was not affected by liquor at all and in the note he wrote before he died

he implied that he might not die. His words were, 'This is to say that if I die it is

because of the fucked up cheif [sic] of this place'. Patrick died before 9.00 am

in the morning when other prisoners were about and were able to approach his

cell. There was every chance that another prisoner might see what he was doing

and raise the alarm. As it turned out a prisoner who did see him hanging called

on him twice to 'stop mucking about' before he realised that something was

wrong and raised the alarm.

It was obvious that Patrick had stood on the toilet pedestal to tie the rope

made of sheet material to the cell window. When he was found, one of his feet

was inside the bowl and the other on the outside. He may have well have

slipped into that position and not been able to recover his footing; on the other

hand he may not have tried to recover.


The remaining eight self-inflicted deaths occurred in watchhouses on

Aboriginal communities. All of the deceased were at the time considerably

affected by liquor and each one of them would have been feeling angry and/or


The first death was that of 30 year old Gregory Michael Dunrobin in the

Cherbourg Watchhouse on 2 August 1984. He had been afflicted with

alcoholism for some years. On four occasions in the seven weeks before his

death Dunrobin had been admitted to the Cherbourg Hospital for alcohol related

illnesses. Each time he discharged himself against medical advice before

treatment was complete. Early on the night he died he was drunk and sought to

be re-admitted to the hospital but was turned away. When he refused to leave the

police were called. He was found walking along a street and was arrested for

being drunk. Locked alone in his cell he later hanged himself with his belt.

The next death was that of 20 year old Perry Daniel Noble in the

Yarrabah Watchhouse two and a quarter years later, on 4 December 1986.

Within less than eight months another six Aboriginal men killed themselves in

watchhouses in Aboriginal communities; the last being 18 year old Edward

Stanley West who died in the Cherbourg Watchhouse. With the exception of

West, the others had been locked up in one case, with the approval of, and in

four cases at the actual request of, close family members.

In the search for intention in the actions of these deceased it is too

simplistic to consider, in isolation from cultural and social circumstances, only

the natural and probable consequences of what each did and draw conclusions

from that. The individual purposes of the deceased cannot be known. In the

circumstances the ultimate outcome of their actions may have been neither

appreciated nor desired by any of the deceased.

In my report of my inquiries into the deaths that occurred at Yarrabah

and Doomadgee, I have referred to what has been called the 'copy cat' syndrome

and its possible operation in the light of the 'clustering' of the deaths in time and


place. There is a body of psychiatric opinion to support the existence of this

syndrome with respect to suicides by Whites. Assuming both the validity of the

theory and its cross-cultural application to Aboriginals, as I pointed out in my

report into my inquiries into the three deaths at Yarrabah, it is of limited

usefulness in explaining suicidal behaviour. The causes of a self-inflicted death

cannot be located within the framework of the factors of suggestion, imitation or

modelling; these are best regarded as mediating the causal process. While not

discounting the possibility that the deaths of Hyde, Koowootha and Riversleigh

and later the two deaths at Aurukun and Wujal Wujal, were influenced by the

earlier death and deaths, respectively, the actual predisposing and causal factors

must be sought in their psychological and social circumstances.


In some of my reports of my inquires into particular deaths that occurred

in Queensland I discussed the issue of the preventability of that death. In this

part I shall discuss the notion of preventability in relation to all of the deaths

investigated by me. In doing this I hope to discern in what has happened some

useful guides which, if followed, should prevent the recurrence of such deaths.

1.2.1 Unavoidable Deaths

Eight of the deaths could not have been prevented although two of them

should not have occurred in police custody. Of those eight, five died of a

sudden heart attack; one died of a sudden haemorrhage in the lungs; and two

died of pneumonia, one (Monty Salt) died while the police were doing all that

they could be expected to do to get him medical treatment; the other (Charlie

Kulla Kulla) died when the police were indifferent to his welfare.

Kulla Kulla was one of those who should not have died in custody. He

was ill, in the advanced stages of septic shock and pneumonia, lying on a trolley

in the Coen Hospital when he was arrested for being drunk in a public place.

Had he been left there he would have died because his condition had not been

correctly diagnosed and, being in Coen, he was too far from the specialist


treatment he needed to have any chance of survival. Because the nursing sister

thought that he was drunk she called the police. I place no blame on the sergeant

for accepting the sister's assessment and for taking Kulla Kulla from the

hospital. But there was an alternative to arrest and, as I said in my report, in the

small township of Coen it would have been easier for the sergeant to find people

who were prepared to look after Kulla Kulla than it would have been to take him

to the watchhouse and do the necessary work associated with his incarceration.

Imprisonment, as the Interim ReportS recommended, 'should be seen as

a sanction of last resort'. So also should the exercise of the power of arrest be

seen as a process of last resort. The decision to arrest should not be made

simply because an opportunity presents itself.

The other person whose death was not preventable but who should not

have died in police custody, was Deidre Short. She died of a heart attack while

in the Lockhart River watchhouse. When Deidre first experienced chest pains

there was no one supervising the watchhouse and her fellow inmates were

unable to summon medical assistance. Had they been able to summon help

Deidre would nevertheless have died because Lockhart River is too far from an

intensive care unit where her only chance of survival lay.

1.2.2 Deaths that should be avoided now

In making Australia wide inquiries into Aboriginal deaths in custody,

this Royal Commission has subjected the standards of custodial care that

prevailed through the 1980s in watchhouses and prisons to intense critical

analysis. The fact that such analysis took place and received considerable media

attention has gone some way towards effecting beneficial change. The

responsibility for ensuring that such changes are more than cosmetic will be a

function of senior police and prison authorities. In the light of the inquiries made

5 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody (1989) Interim Report; Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra.


by this Commission many of the deaths that occurred in Queensland in the 1980s

which were not preventable then should be regarded as avoidable now.

Judged by the standards of custodial care that were accepted as

appropriate at the time, eight of the deaths which were self-inflicted were not

preventable. I have some reservations about placing all of those deaths in that

category for reasons that when Gregory Dunrobin hanged himself in Cherbourg

on 2 August 1984, his sister wrote to the Commissioner for Community

Relations, (Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission), in Canberra

expressing deep concern that her brother had been locked up and left unattended

while he was depressed. She alleged that he was neglected. Had her concerns

received the attention they deserved deficiencies in the system of supervision of

prisoners in watchhouse may have been detected before it became necessary to

establish this Royal Commission. A copy of Dunrobin's sister's letter was sent

to senior police officers who investigated the death but the issue of the adequacy

of his supervision following his incarceration in the watchhouse was not

addressed. Despite the intervention of the Police Commissioner who drew the

Regional Superintendent's attention to the need to investigate 'the matter of the

police properly attending to the prisoner confined in the watchhouse', the issue

was not adequately investigated. No senior officer involved in the investigation

of that death or in any of the investigations that were reviewed by me showed a

full understanding of the duty that the General Instructions in the Queensland

Policeman's Manuat6 imposed on police officers in relation to the supervision of


In the report of my inquiry into the death of John Raymond Pilot I set

out the duties that the General Instructions in the Manual imposed in relation to

the care of prisoners on whoever is at any time in charge of a watchhouse in the

following tenns:

6 Hereinafter also referred to as 'the Policeman's Manual' or 'the Manual'; wherever the letters 'GI' or the expression 'General Instructions' appear reference is intended to the General Instructions in the Manual.


'Visit prisoners in cells frequently, at irregular intervals, by day and

night, and iii no case leave any prisoner without supervision for a longer

interval than 1 hour.' (GI 9.464(a))

Before taking over charge of a watchhouse 'carefully inspect all persons

held therein and report immediately any untoward circumstances to the

Officer in Charge of the station'. (Gl9.465(a))

'Ascertain if any person held in the watchhouse ... requires special

attention for any reason, and ensure that any necessary attention is

provided or obtained during his tour of duty.' (GI 9.465(b))

At page 48 of that report I made what I thought was a very obvious point

when I said that the duty cast on a watchhouse keeper by GI 9.464(a) obliged

him to observe each prisoner and reflect upon his condition and make a

judgement as to the frequency with which he ought to visit that prisoner. The

requirements of the General Instructions go beyond the mere assessment of the

frequency of visits and include a requirement to assess what attention is needed

and ensure that it is provided. When Dunrobin died the investigating police

officers did not direct attention to the need to establish the screening procedures

implied in the General Instructions as necessary for the identification of 'at risk'


Following Dunrobin's death police watchhouse procedures, although

expressed in the Manual in the terms referred to above, in practice remained

narrowly focused on ensuring that prisoners were denied the mechanical means

of hanging themselves by taking away their belts, ties and bootlaces. Attention

was not directed to a study of the nature of the personal individual supervision

that on occasions was required. The futility of this narrowing of focus was

highlighted in the self-inflicted deaths that followed. Stripped of their belts and

similar articles, if any, the deceased used sheets, mattress covers and other

articles of clothing. Carried to its logical end the procedure of denying prisoners

the mechanical means of inflicting harm on themselves would mean stripping


them of all but the flimsiest of clothing and denying them bed sheets, blankets

and a covered mattress. This was the course adopted by the senior sergeant in

charge of the Murgon Watchhouse on 10 July 1987 when he caused two male

Aboriginal children to be stripped to a pair of shorts and left in a cell overnight

without sheets or blankets; and on the night of 15 August 1987 when he caused

three Aboriginal girls aged 13, 14 and 16 respectively to be stripped of all their

clothing with the exception of a bra and pants in two cases and a bra and short

skirt in the case of the eldest girl and left in the cell with no bedding other than a

mattress each.

When Perry Noble hanged himself with a sheet in the Yarrabah

Watchhouse on 4 December 1986 concern was once more focused on the

prevention of a recurrence by denying prisoners the mechanical means of

inflicting death. Attention was given to the architecture of the cells but limited to

the prevention of access to window bars. However, the work of fixing mesh

over the exposed bars was not done until Charlie Hyde hanged himself in the

same watchhouse exactly two weeks later using a mattress cover. The work was

then so poorly done that two months later David Koowootha was able to lift one

comer of the mesh and tie the sleeve of his jacket to an exposed bar to hang


The clearest case of a self-inflicted death in an Aboriginal community

watchhouse that, with the proper training of Aboriginal police, might have been

avoided was that of Alistair Riversleigh at Doomadgee on 13 March 1987, less

than a month after the third hanging in the Yarrabah Watchhouse. Before being

arrested shortly before 5.15 pm that day Riversleigh had threatened to hang


He had displayed an apparent intention to hang himself with a garden

hose. When that was taken from him he climbed a tree and hung upside down

by his legs from a branch still threatening to kill himself. The threats and the

attempted hanging were witnessed by people, including members of the family,

who regarded them so seriously that the police were called and asked to lock him


up. The police were made aware of Riversleigh's threats and the attempted

hanging and in their presence Riversleigh was crying and talking about his wife

who had left him. Those who had witnessed Riversleigh's conduct asserted that

he should be locked up for his own protection. The police accepted this,

conveyed him to the watchhouse, charged him with 'being drunk and for

protection' and then left him unsupervised in the watchhouse.

Two Aboriginal policemen who arrested and incarcerated Riversleigh

had been policemen for 18 months and 12 months respectively. The more senior

of the two had received no formal training during that period. He had never seen

a copy of the Council's by-laws under which the police were purportedly acting

when they made the arrests. His knowledge of what was an offence and what he

could arrest people for came from what he had been told by the Council

Chairman. The only formal training the more junior of the two had received was

a course in first aid conducted by an ambulance officer. On occasions when he

was working with members of the Queensland police who were rostered for duty

at Doomadgee from Burketown he would be told how to do things as the police

were going about their duties.

It should have been readily apparent to a trained police officer that a

person in Riversleigh's emotional state who had already threatened to commit

suicide was at risk of harming himself. The possibility of this potential being

realised should have been even more apparent following the publicity given to

three hangings in the Yarrabah Watchhouse in the three and half months

immediately preceding Riversleigh's death. The fact that the two Aboriginal

policemen did not appreciate that Riversleigh was at risk of harming himself can

in no way be regarded as a personal criticism of them but rather as an indictment

on the system which allowed untrained and unsupervised Aboriginal policemen

to perform police duties. Had the police at Doomadgee been properly trained and

supervised, Riversleigh's death should not have occurred.

While, according to the standards of the time, the deaths of the man who

died in the Brisbane Prison on 4 December 1980 and Patrick Booth in


Rockhampton Prison on 15 November 1988 may not have been avoided,

lessons should be learned from those cases. I have briefly set out the facts and

circumstances relating to the man who died in the Brisbane Prison earlier in this

chapter. A more sensitive assessment and screening process at the time of his

induction might have been able to detect the likely onset of depression in a man

for whom the future looked so obviously bleak and allow for the intervention of

counselling and close supervision.

Patrick Booth first exhibited possible suicidal behaviour in August 1986,

when police took him to the Royal Canberra Hospital for treatment for an injured

left wrist. Doctors noted that the injury was 'the result of a deliberate attempt

with a deodorant bottle'. Suicidal tendencies were again noticed in August 1987

when he was held at the Westbrook Training Centre. He again displayed a

suicidal inclination in the Rockhampton Watchhouse on 1 July 1988, when he

threatened to kill himself if he could not have a shower.

If the prison authorities had been aware of the concerns held for Patrick

by the Department of Children's Services officers when he was at Westbrook or

if Rockhampton police had told them of Patrick's threat to kill himself in the

watchhouse rather than dismissing it as trivial, it is possible that Patrick's death

may have been averted. Moreover, as I noted in my report of my inquiries into

his death, the confrontationalist approach of the prison officer to Patrick and his

misbehaviour was completely destructive. Instead of responding as he did, the

prison officer should have seen the need for immediate counselling. Further, in

the mood he was manifesting, Patrick should never have been locked alone in his

cell to brood on whatever emotional need he had or whatever injustice he felt had

been done to him. With counselling, his anger may have subsided but locked

alone in his cell it was left on the boil and his mood worsened. In that situation

and in those circumstances he was unnecessarily at risk.


1.2.3 Preventable Deaths

Five of the deaths I investigated were preventable in that they would not

have occurred if the custodial authorities had adequately attended to their

responsibilities. In particular the failings were -

a lack of a thorough understanding of the duty of care owed to a person

in custody;

a failure on the part of one or more individuals to perform their custodial


entrenched habits of non-compliance by police with General Instructions;

inadequacies within the system of supervising people in custody;

• a failure to give sufficient attention or appropriate priority to the assessment of the condition of a detainee before placing that person in a particular cell;

a failure to provide safe equipment or a safe custodial environment; and

• a failure to record information which was relevant to the performance of

custodial duties.

Those deaths in which I found one or more of those failings to be

demonstrated were -

Karen Lee O'Rourke- When Karen was placed in the security room at the

Birralee Children's Home she had a box of matches with her. Had she been

properly searched there would have been no fire.

Apart from the fact that a proper search would have prevented Karen's

death, her death may have been prevented if suggestions made in a 1976 South

Australian report which had been passed on to the Department of Children's

Services had been complied with. Nearly four years before Karen's death a


youth had been fatally burned at a training centre for young offenders in South

Australia. A report following an investigation into his death suggested a number

of preventative actions, three of which were:

• reduce the possibility of a fire being started (in Karen's case a proper

search was all that was necessary);

• improved visual supervision;

• reduce the level of flammability of bedding and other material.

The matron at Birralee had drawn the Department's attention to the fact

that the observation window in the security room door was too high for the

average person to observe fully the activities of any ininate when attempting

surveillance. She had also requested two fire resistant mattress as described in

the South Australian report for use in the security room. Had the

recommendations been adopted and put into effect, at least in the form of fire

resistant bedding, Karen's death might have been avoided.

John Raymond Pilot- Pilot's body was found lying face down in a pool of

blood in a cell in the Brisbane City Watchhouse at about 6.00 am on 25 January

1987. He had died of asphyxia following or during the course of an epileptic

seizure when his airways became blocked by his tongue. Prior to his death Pilot

had apparently injured himself and was bleeding from a laceration over the left

eye. According to medical evidence he had been bleeding for 'some considerable

time, perhaps hours before his death'. In the course of that period he moved

about his cell and caused blood stains to be scattered around his cell over the

floor, walls, door, bed, toilet bowl and hand basin. He used numerous lengths

of toilet paper (no less than 12 could be seen in the police photographs of his

cell) in attempting to stem the flow of blood or wipe it from his head and face. A

bloodied liquid substance had flowed from the cell door along a drain outside the

cell for some two or three metres.


Had someone capable of rendering first aid been present at the beginning

or during the early stages when Pilot began to experience epileptic seizures, his

death from asphyxia could have been prevented.

Four months prior to his death Pilot had suffered a fit in the watchhouse

but there was no system for recording such information. Even at that time Pilot

was known to the police at the watchhouse as an alcoholic and it was inevitable

that at some time in the near future he would once again be in their custody and

they would be responsible for his welfare. The information that was not

recorded was important for his custodians to have because it was relevant to the

questions of what was, for him, appropriate supervision and what was for them

appropriate to do in compliance with the duty of care they owed him.

The prison hospital records also showed that on two previous occasions

he had suffered fits while in prison. Unfortunately, the fact that Pilot had

suffered a fit in the watchhouse on 7 September 1986 was not recorded

anywhere where it might have been accessed by a member of the watchhouse

staff. Furthermore, the watchhouse staff had no means whereby they could

access information held by either the Police Department or the Prisons'

Department concerning Pilot's medical condition.

Although the watchhouse lacked information about Pilot's medical

condition, during a routine inspection of the cells about six hours before he was

found dead, the watchhouse keeper and the duty inspector had seen him and

observed blood on the floor, bed and door of his cell as well as a cut above his

left eye. However, that did not alert either of them to the need for a careful

watch to be kept on his condition. Furthermore, in the light of the information

gained on that routine inspection, the watchhouse keeper failed to visit Pilot in

his cell in accordance with General Instruction 9.464(a)7 with the frequency that

his condition required.

7 See p.20 above.


In addition, it was well known to police authorities that Pilot was an

alcoholic and as such was at risk of experiencing an epileptic seizure during a

period of withdrawal from alcohol.

Darren Steven Wouters- Shortly before 2.00 am on Sunday, 15 November

1987 Wouters was found hanging by a strip of blanket from an electrical conduit

fixed to the ceiling of his cell in the Brisbane City Watchhouse. He had been

placed in the cell shortly after 1.00 am and the time was affected by alcohol

and was visibly upset. His death should not have occurred for the following


• if General Instruction 9.464(a) in the Queensland Policeman's Manual

had been followed his condition should have been checked very shortly

after he was placed in the cell and at short intervals thereafter until it was

apparent that he had settled down.

Wouters could have been placed in the holding cell on the ground floor

pending the return of the two constables who had been involved in his

arrest and who had left to obtain warrants that they had discovered were

outstanding for his arrest;

• if the electrical conduit had not been exposed (as it no longer is) the

means by which Wouters took his life would not have been available;

if there had been permanent watchhouse staff placed on the first floor

whose duty it was actively to patrol the cells, Wouters' death would have

been prevented. The need for such supervision of prisoners in the cells

on the first floor of the Brisbane City Watchhouse should have been

apparent following the death there of John Raymond Pilot, 11 months

earlier as a result of an epileptic seizure.

Fay Lena Yarrie -Fay Yarrie was taken unconscious to the Royal Brisbane

Hospital from cell 11 of the Brisbane City Watchhouse at about 4.40 pm on

15 December 1988. She died at 7.00 pm that evening of injuries she had


received in a murderous assault upon her by a fellow inmate while they were

both being held in the cell usually used to hold women charged with


In conforming with the duty of care her custodians owed her, relevant

watchhouse staff should have observed the aggressive conduct of Fay Yarrie's

assailant when they, with other people who had been arrested for drunkenness,

were held together in a holding cell within view of the watchhouse staff while

they were being processed before being taken to cell 11 . The aggressive action

ofYarrie's assailant should have resulted in that person's being held separately

from the others. Had that been done Fay Yarrie's death would not have


Muriel Gwenda Catheryn Binks - Muriel Binks was transferred from the

Innisfail Watchhouse to the Innisfail Hospital at about 5.00 pm on 23 February

1989; then, eventually, to the Intensive Care Unit of the Townsville General

Hospital where she died on 11 March 1989 of multiple organ failure due to

systemic sepsis due in tum to pneumonia. She had been taken into custody by

the Innis fail police at about 7.25 pm on 22 February 1989 when she was found

drunk in a public place. The pneumonia which was ultimately to cause her death

was contracted either shortly before her arrest or later on that same evening. She

received no medical attention until4.40 pm the next day. In relation to her time

in custody in the Innisfail Watchhouse I found :

• that there were no adequate screening and reception procedures for the

identification of 'at risk' prisoners at the Innisfail Watchhouse,

notwithstanding the prior identification of the need for such procedures

in this Commission's Report in December 1988.

• that the supervision of Mrs Binks in the watchhouse was infrequent,

neglectful and insensitive, notwithstanding the emphasis given to

supervision in this Commission's Interim Report.


• that the Police Commissioner's general instructions in respect of the

supervision of prisoners were never observed at Innisfail in respect of

Mrs Binks and that in all probability this failure was not unique to her


that inadequate training of police officers contributed to but does not

excuse the inadequacy of Mrs Binks' supervision.

that even allowing for her intoxication the previous evening,

Mrs Binks' need for such urgent medical assessment was manifest

from at least breakfast time (7.30 am) on 23 February 1989.

• that, given her degree of intoxication, Mrs Binks should have received a

medical assessment prior to any detention.

that had Mrs Binks received medical treatment either at the time of her

arrest or as late as breakfast time on 23 February 1989 it is more likely

than not that she would not have died.

Two other deaths, those of Barbara Denise Yarrie and Barbara Ruth

Tiers shared some of the characteristics of preventable deaths.

Barbara Denise Yarrie - Barbara, after being apprehended by police charged

with being drunk in a public place, was lodged in a cell in the Brisbane City

Watchhouse at about 1.20 pm on 31 January 1986. She was then in a state of

near unconsciousness, unable to walk, communicate or comprehend her

environment. She was placed in a cell where at some time during the afternoon

she lapsed into unconsciousness. She would have been deeply unconscious by

at least 4.00 pm. Despite allegedly frequent checks made by the watchhouse

staff and the possibility that earlier in the afternoon certain officers had attempted

to rouse her without success, Barbara's serious condition was not brought to the

attention of any medically trained person until after 7.18 pm when an ambulance

was called and she was taken to the Royal Brisbane Hospital where she was

diagnosed as suffering from profound hypoglycaemia, probably induced by


alcohol. Barbara did not regain consciousness and died in hospital some ten

weeks later.

Had the watchhouse staff realised before 4.00 pm that Barbara's

condition was not the result of acute alcohol intoxication and had they then

sought treatment for her, death would not have occurred.

Barbara Ruth Tiers - Barbara died from a combination of a ruptured ovarian

cyst and the effects of alcohol abuse including alcohol cirrhosis and acute

intoxication. At about 6.55 am on the day that she died Barbara was found

sitting on a footpath in South Rockhampton and was arrested for being drunk in

a public place. Her condition at the time was such that her knees buckled as she

was being put in the police car and she fell down and had to be carried to the car.

She was so incapable of walking that she had to be carried from the police car to

a watchhouse cell where she was laid on a blanket. She was mumbling

incoherently when the police left her there. During the course of the day when

the police looked at her from time to time she was seen to be lying on the floor

apparently asleep. Once she was heard to be mumbling incoherently in what the

police officers regarded as a typical drunken fashion. At approximately 11.30

am it was noticed that she was incontinent and had defecated on her blanket. The

police say that she declined a cup of tea and lunch shortly after 12.30 pm. She

was found dead two hours later. Her blood alcohol concentration then was

0.31 %. It is probable that her intoxication at the time of her arrest masked the

pain which the ruptured cyst would otherwise have caused. The police officers

responsible for Barbara's supervision in the Rockhampton watchhouse did not

have the training to enable them to distinguish intoxication from more threatening

conditions and in their supervision of Barbara acted in accordance with

established practices. Their failure to detect that she was gravely ill does not

reflect on them individually but reflects adversely on the system that required

untrained police officers to assess the condition of people like Barbara in order to

determine the nature and quality of the supervision she should receive. Had

Barbara been taken to a facility suitable for the treatment of intoxicated persons


her medical condition should have been recognised and death may have been


The cases of Muriel Binks and Barbara Tiers are of special significance

in that they present as illustrations of the inertia that will confront reformers

seeking to effect changes in Queensland watchhouse practices and procedures.

The Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody was

established in October 1987 with the Honourable J. H. Muirhead as the sole

Commissioner. In April 1988, the year before Binks and Tiers died, the

Criminology Research Unit within the Commission at the request of

Commissioner Muirhead published a paper entitled Draft Guidelines for the

Prevention of Abori2inal Deaths in Custody. The purpose of the paper was to:

... identify the basic principles that are to be addressed in the development of detailed policy directives which should guide police and prison officers in fulfilling their duties without significant risk of death or serious injury occurring to persons in

their care, Aboriginal or not.

Six of the 19 deaths that occurred either in police watchhouses, or

shortly after removal to a hospital, occurred in consequence of an illness when

the need for medical attention was not recognised by the police or not recognised

in sufficient time to allow for survival. Draft Guideline No. 6 was directed

toward the prevention of such deaths. It advised that:

... all persons who are received into custody should be assessed by an officer with appropriate training as a routine part of the reception process. Documented evidence of such assessment is to be retained.

The Draft Guidelines were circulated to various State Government

departments which were asked to make comments on their applicability and

relevance to existing procedures. The response of the Queensland Police

Department made on 5 August 1988 in relation to Guideline No.6 in particular,


Although officers are not yet specifically trained for this purpose, that is the detection of persons at risk, all officers are expected to


consider this question and following Genera/Instructions are applicable.

Genera/Instruction 9.467(h):

A member of the Force required to perform the duties of a watchhouse keeper, in addition to complying with all other General Instructions relating to such duties, will-When any person in his custody is apparently seriously ill, whether from indulgence in alcoholic liquor or from any

other cause, or is otherwise apparently in need of medical attention, report the matter at once to the Officer in Charge of the Station or other officer supervising the watchhouse. Particular care must always be taken to distinguish between drunkenness and the symptoms of some other disease or state, such as diabetes, epilepsy, bodily injury, stroke, high blood pressure, and the like, and if it is suspected that a prisoner's condition may be due, wholly or in part, to

anything of that nature, medical aid must be obtained without delay (See also G.I././0/).

In December 1988 the Interim Report of the Royal Commission was

published. That report made a number of recommendations relating to the

assessment of the medical condition of detainees. The recommendations were

largely an expansion of the principles expressed in the Draft Guidelines.

Recommendation No. 12 was:

In no case should a person be transported by police to a lock-up or watchhouse when that person is either unconscious or not easily roused. Such persons must, if found on a patrol, be immediately taken to a hospital or medical practitioner or, if neither facility is available, to a nurse or other person qualified to assess their health.

How then did it come to pass that on 1 February 1989 Barbara Tiers,

who had to be carried to her cell, was left to lie in the Rockhampton

Watchhouse, and, that three weeks later Muriel Binks should be locked up in the

lnnisfail Watchhouse when her condition was such that she could not give her

name when first arrested?

There are two answers each of which raises questions which demand

constructive responses.


The first lies in our society's attitude to people who drink alcohol to

excess. The point was well made by pathologist, Dr Gwynne, when giving

evidence before me during the course of my inquiries into the death of Muriel

Binks. He said:

.. . if this person was thought by the police to be under the influence of phenobarbitone or a tricyclic antidepressant because they'd taken an overdose, they would no more take them to the watch-house than fly. They'd take them to a hospital and yet we

treat alcohol which is just as dangerous and just as poisonous and just as damaging to the person's brain - we put them in a watchhouse because we think it's alcohol and not some drug . I mean if you thought that she was under the influence of heroin ,for

example, or any other agent that does this to a person and makes them stagger around the place, the police would not take them to the watch-house, would they? They would take them to a hospital and the hospital would accept them as an acute medical emergency.

The second is to be found in the Police Department's response to the

Draft Guidelines. There it is made plain that police officers 'are not yet

specifically trained for this purpose, that is the detection of persons at risk'. Yet

as General Instruction 9.467(h) states police officers are expected to be able to

'distinguish between drunkenness and the symptoms of some other disease or


What more signs of apparent serious illness can a person display than an

inability to walk or speak? How is an untrained police officer expected to

distinguish between gross intoxication through the consumption of liquor and

'the symptoms of some other disease or state'?

It is apparent that the Police Department's response to the Draft

Guidelines was inadequate. What was required was an amendment to the

General Instructions to ensure that the responsibility for making the distinction

that General Instruction 9.467(h) casts upon untrained police officers is made by

someone with the necessary medical training and skill to make the distinction.


Chapter 2



The previous section seeks to provide an overview of the circumstances

in which the 27 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people who have been the

subject of my inquiries died in custody. As I stated in the introduction to this

report, at the first public hearing of the Commission at which my Letters Patent

were read I made it clear that an examination of relevant deaths that was restricted

to a consideration of how the deceased died in custody would be superficial and

inadequate and that it was necessary to examine also why those people died. An

adequate examination of why those people died in custody demanded an

understanding and consideration of both:

• the individual life experience, personal background and upbringing of

each of the deceased; and,

the experience of the whole Aboriginal and Islander community in terms

of both their historical experience and contemporary circumstances.

Thereafter in the course of my inquiries into the individual deaths it was

my practice to investigate and to report generally on the personal history,

background and of the deceased in the context of the impact of various

historical and social forces on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people in


This section seeks to provide a summation of those characteristics as

described in some detail in my individual reports and seeks to identify two

crucial links which must be appreciated if a thorough understanding of deaths in


custody in Queensland is to be achieved. First, there is a connection between the

history of relations between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people and White

people and the present social condition and predicament of Aboriginal and Torres

Strait Islander people. The history of relations since White contact in

Queensland is not merely of academic interest but has a continuing relevance to

the understanding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander behaviour and White

behaviour. Second, there is an important connection between the general social

conditions under which Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people live and their

disproportionate representation and death in custody. Numerous social forces to . .

which all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people are subject must be

considered and ultimately confronted if the disproportionate incidence of conflict

with the law, incarceration and death in custody is to be understood and reduced.

This section therefore summarises the personal and environmental

characteristics of the deceased collectively, identifies the contribution of historical

forces to shaping those characteristics and identifies the relation of contemporary

social forces to those characteristics. To report on those historical and social

factors is not my present purpose here. Those factors, to the extent that they

may be considered social, cultural and legal factors having a bearing on deaths in

custody or issues underlying deaths in custody are the subject of the National

Report. Rather my purpose here is to briefly identify certain historical and social

connections in the overview of the characteristics of those whose deaths I

investigated on the basis of my experience gained in the course of my inquiries

and to indicate the need for sustained research into the nature and implication of

those particular connections. The need for such research is, particularly in the

Queensland context, very great indeed. I have commissioned certain research

projects which have resulted in the production of discussion papers which have

been distributed to interested parties for their consideration and comment. Those

discussion papers together with any responses might provide a useful starting

point for the thorough and systematic investigation of the range of social and

historical factors which have contributed to the complex phenomenon of deaths


in custody. This report could not await the outcome of that discussion which

may be reflected in the National Report.



It was my practice in my reports of my inquiries into the deaths that

occurred in Queensland to describe and comment at some length upon the social

environment in which each of the deceased lived and, in many cases, died. This

was done in the belief that the presence of the deceased in custody, in the

psychological or physical condition in which they were, could not be explained

without reference to their personal and social background and lifestyle.

Similarly, the disproportionate representation of Aboriginal people in custody

throughout Queensland cannot be explained without reference to the social

conditions in which Aboriginal people in Queensland live.

It is not suggested that the 27 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander

people who died in custody in the period subject to inquiry constitute a

representative sample of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people. It may well

be invalid to draw too many deductions even from a careful consideration of their

cases alone. Nevertheless, those people were very clearly subject to, among

other things, the social conditions and historical forces that characterise the lives

of Aboriginal people generally. This section seeks to specify the most significant

of those social conditions and historical forces as revealed by the characteristics

of the lifestyles of those who died so that an assessment of the status and

predicament of all Aboriginal people in Queensland (which this report

recommends and throJJgh its distribution of certain discussion papers goes some

way towards commencing) might be constructively informed by the lessons of

deaths in custody.

2 .1.1 The Communities in which the Deceased Lived

As I have observed above, a thorough understanding of why the

deceased died in custody requires a consideration of the social environment into


which each was born, grew up and lived. This section attempts to provide a

brief characterisation of the different types of communities in which the deceased

lived or to which they had a significant and influential attachment.

The most important single social environment responsible for the

socialisation of those who died in custody in Queensland has been the ex-reserve

Aboriginal community. These communities, whether established as missions by

religious organisations or as settlements by the Queensland Government on

reserves specifically set aside for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people, are

now defined and regulated pursuant to the Community Services (Aborigines) Act

1984-1986 or the Community Services (Torres Strait) Act 1984-1986.8 The

creation and regulation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in

Queensland was originally provided for in the Aboriginals Protection and

Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act 1897 and has continued through a series of

acts and amendments. The effects and implications of that history of legislative

regulation is referred to at the end of this section.

Of the 27 people whose deaths have been the subject of my inquiries in

Queensland no less than 16 were born on the ex-reserve communities of

Queensland. All but one of those people, Barbara Yarrie, were raised on those

communities. Another, John Pilot, although born in Western Queensland spent

his formative years at Cherbourg. Only one of the deceased, Nikira Mau, was

born in a Torres Strait Islander community, although Patrine Misi who identified

as a Torres Strait Islander was born on Thursday Island. Two others, Monty

Salt and Charlie Kulla Kulla, although not born on former reserves were born

and lived out their lives on the Cape York Peninsula. Each had strong

attachments and connections with certain ex-reserve communities. Two of the

Aboriginal women who died in custody, Fay Yarrie and Muriel Binks, had

immediate family who had lived on ex-reserve communities and it is highly

probable that their socialisation was influenced by those attachments.

8 In the cases of Aurukun and Mornington Island the corresponding legislation is the Local Government (Aboriginal Lands) Actl978.


It can be seen then that of the 25 people who were born in Queensland9

and who are the subject of my inquiries no less than 22 were born on an ex­

reserve community, were raised on such a community or maintained a significant

attachment to an ex-reserve community. The historical and contemporary social

conditions and structures prevailing on the ex-reserve communities are clearly

directly relevant in the consideration of the social environments in which the

deceased lived. Before turning to an examination of those conditions and

structures certain qualifications must be made. On the basis of this brief analysis

it might be observed that people with a significant life experience of ex-reserve

communities are disproportionately represented amongst those who died in

custody in Queensland given that, as at the 1986 census, Aboriginal and Torres

Strait Islander ex-reserve community residents constituted only 23.8% of the

total Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population of Queensland. The

assertion of such a disproportion can only be accepted with two important

qualifications in mind: first, the proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait

Islander people resident on ex-reserve communities has declined, at least since

the 1981 census; and, second, it is likely that a high proportion of Aboriginal and

Torres Strait Islander people not resident on ex-reserve communities retain

significant and influential attachments to those communities.

Notwithstanding those qualifications it is notable that only three of the

deceased, the man who died at Brisbane Prison, Darren Wouters and Daniel

Lorraway, had no significant experience of ex-reserve community life.

While a majority of the deceased were long time residents of an ex­

reserve community many of their life experiences exhibit a rate of mobility which

would be assessed according to White criteria as being very high. In general

terms, those patterns of mobility are typically of three kinds: first, some of the

deceased, such as Vincent Ryan, moved between different ex-reserve

communities; second, some, such as Daniel Lacey, moved quite regularly

9 As two of the deceased, Karen Lee O'Rourke and Patrick Thomas Booth, were born in New South Wales their early socialisation is not referred to here.


between an ex-reserve community and a relatively nearby town or city; and third,

many, such as Barbara Tiers, moved throughout a particular district.

A further and most significant qualification, which must be made prior to

any consideration of the social conditions and structures characteristic of

Queensland ' s ex-reserve communities, concerns the diversity of those

communities. Although they do share certain common features which must be

recognised each has a unique history and a particular contemporary form. This

diversity is further complicated by the patterns of mobility noted above.

As a consequence of my recognition of the central importance of the

social conditions and environment of the ex-reserve communities as places in

which a considerable number of the deceased were socialised and in recognition

of the complexity and qualifications referred to briefly here, I commissioned a

specialist anthropologist, Dr Paul Memmott, to conduct research into these and

related matters. Because of the complexity of these matters my observations

below should be considered only in the light of his and related research. 1 0

A thorough and systematic analysis and consideration of the social

conditions characteristic of the ex-reserve communities in Queensland is beyond

the scope of this report. However, some observations as to the connections

between those social conditions and the life circumstances of those who died in

custody is necessary.

The essence of the social conditions which have been prevalent on ex­

reserve communities in Queensland is derived from the fact that those

communities were established and, in many senses, continue to operate as

artificial social environments, and the fact that throughout their history those

communities have been administered principally by non-Aboriginal people in an

authoritarian and paternalistic fashion.

10 See Appendix 2 Memmott, P. (1990) Queensland Aboriginal Cultures and the Deaths in Custody Victims. Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, Brisbane


The Artificiality of the Ex-reserve Communities

Consistent with the prevailing philosophy, Aboriginal settlements and

missions in Queensland were established on reserves by or with the express

consent of the Queensland Government in order to isolate and segregate

Aboriginals from the exploitation of White settlers, to protect them from

exposure to vice and corruption, to prevent miscegenation and to allow them to

die out with some 'dignity'. Although the land on which the reserves were

established was gazetted pursuant to section 190 of the Lands Act 1897, reserves

and missions were administered according to the provisions of the Aboriginals

Protection and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act of 1897 and subsequent

legislation. Whilst it is apparent that at certain places and at certain times

Aboriginal people 'moved in' to the reserves and missions voluntarily, whether

under their own desire or under the inducements of the missionaries or

government appointed protectors, a systematic and ruthless practice of enforced

removal was responsible for the establishment and growth of many reserve and

mission populations. The power of enforced removal was used by Queensland

Governments both for the relocation of large groups of Aboriginal people and

the enforcement of punitive rules and regulations to which reserve settlement and

mission residents were subject. The processes of enforced removal to which

very many Aboriginal people in Queensland were subjected are detailed in the

commissioned history papers reproduced in Appendix I.

The result of the policy of removal was the settlement of different and

often traditionally antagonistic Aboriginal groups in the one place. For example,

by 1934 members of28 different linguistic groups were living on the Cherbourg

Aboriginal settlement. In my report of my inquiry into the death of Eddie West I

noted that

Such a policy is testimony to the Government's insensitivity to the differences between Aboriginal people and its ignorance of


crucial kinship ,family, language and territorial ties, and the role those factors play in the maintenance of a cohesive society. 11

Similarly, at Wujal Wujal the mission centralised disparate groups such

that people with different territorial, language, clan, kinship and old camp

residence ties were brought together in close proximity for the first time. The

artificiality of the ex-reserve communities and the incompatibility of the groups

settled there contributes in many cases to the levels of contemporary conflict and

violence experienced on those communities.

The design, layout and provision of infrastructure in the communities

also contributes to their artificiality. Aurukun for example has been designed and

constructed as if it were any country town in Queensland, with houses designed

and positioned according to White concepts of suburban living. The close

settlement of people in such places has further exacerbated conflict by reducing

the extent to which people may resort to a traditional device of defusing conflict,

by moving away from the scene of conflict.

The ex-reserve community environments are also artificial in the sense that the

vast majority of residents are not living on their traditional country and, for

various reasons their access to their traditional country is often severely

restricted. For example, at Wujal Wujal it was submitted to me that a

fundamental ingredient of the frustrations felt by many of the residents was that

they lived in a confined and enclosed environment without access to or effective

control over traditional lands to which many of them have a deep spiritual

attachment. These issues, of tremendous significance to very many Aboriginal

people of Far North Queensland, are considered in greater detail at the end of this


11 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody (1990) Report of the Inquiry into the Death of Edward Stanley West; by L.F.Wyvill QC, Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra . Page 5.


Authoritarian and Paternalistic Administration

The manner in which Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who

have lived on the communities in Queensland have been directed and regulated

by White governments can only be described as authoritarian and paternalistic.

Whilst the development of the administration of Aboriginal people both on and

off the communities is considered in some detail in the history papers in

Appendix 1, the extent to which the everyday activities of community residents

were controlled by non-Aboriginal authority must be recognised. Under the

legislation the superintendent of a settlement on a reserve exercised enormous

powers derivative of the ultimate authority of the Director of Native Affairs.

Residents were forced to comply with the strictest codes of behaviour; could be

forced to perform work at the direction of the superintendent; and were

compelled to seek the permission of the superintendent to exercise even the most

basic rights. Obedience was enforced under threat of punishment, committal to

the infamous dormitory system or, on occasion, forced removal to another

community. Discipline and indoctrination in non-Aboriginal values was further

effected through the education system.

The authoritarianism and paternalism which characterised the

communities is not simply of historical interest. Elements of paternalism persist

in the present legislation which governs the administration of the contemporary

communities. Moreover, the persistence of the paternalistic authority of reserve

superintendents and managers has affected the development of individual

initiative and self esteem in many Aboriginal people and their families. In my

report of my inquiry into the death of Eddie West I noted that:


The reserve system bred generations of people poorly equipped to deal with life and its demands and that was the legacy that was passed on to their children.l2

ibid. Pages 6-7.


The deaths which I have investigated indicate, however, that paternalistic

administration has not been the only significant social force which has

conditioned the family environments in which many of the deceased were raised.

2.1.2 Domestic Environment and Family Structure

In the cases investigated by me the family background and environment

of many of the deceased was clearly an important issue. A significant number of

the deceased endured a family environment and early socialisation experience

characterised by considerable disruption and intervention. Before those factors

are considered and briefly assessed the need for considerable care in the

interpretation of these phenomena in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island settings

must be recognised.

Evidence of disruption or intervention, particularly when that evidence is

derived from government files and reports, must be evaluated in the light of

important cultural differences between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal family

structures, practices and expectations. For example, while in a White setting the

regular movement of a family unit might be considered necessarily disruptive,

the potentially positive function of a high rate of family mobility in Aboriginal

settings must be appreciated. Further, evidence that an Aboriginal or Torres

Strait Island child grew up with guardians other than their actual parents and

siblings must be considered in light of the strong, complex and extensive kinship

structures and concomitant obligations which are often central to Aboriginal and

Torres Strait Island families and child rearing practices. The importance of

family environments, and of the historical and contemporary role of the child

welfare and juvenile justice systems in Queensland, combined with the

complexity and sensitivity of the qualifications referred to above caused me to

commission the research of a specialist in the field. The following observations

should be read in conjunction with that research undertaken by Dr Ian O'Connor.


The results of that research have been released by me in the fonn of a discussion


In each of the cases subject to my investigations I inquired into the

family history, background and upbringing as far as was possible. Much of that

evidence was difficult to acquire and all of it was difficult to evaluate. The cases

reveal that significant family intervention or disruption was a characteristic of

many of the early life experiences of the deceased and that that disruption or

intervention was caused by a number of different factors:

the enforced removal of a family group from traditional country to

another place, often a settlement or mission;

the enforced or voluntary removal of particular members of a family to

another place, often a settlement or mission, leading to the separation of

children from either or both parents or one, some or all siblings;

• the committal of a child or youth to a donnitory established on either their home or another settlement or mission;

the committal of a child to an institution away from a settlement, mission

or their community consequential upon the intervention of a government

department placing the child under what is now known as a care and

control or care and protection order.

Those factors do not, of course, exhaust the causes of family disruption

and intervention. However, they appear particularly significant in many of the

lives under my investigation, and, as the result of deliberate government policy at

various times, have been and should continue to be amenable to committed

government refonn.

13 O'Connor, I. (1990) The Impact of Queensland's Family and Child Welfare and Juvenile Justice Legislation, Policy and Practice on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Families and Children. Brisbane, Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. (RCIADIC Queensland Discussion Paper)


Of the 27 people whose deaths in custody in Queensland were

investigated by me no less than 12 appeared to be the subject of significant

family disruption or intervention caused by agencies outside the family or

immediate community. The lives of six of the deceased were touched in a very

direct way by the exercise of the government's removal power. The families of

at least two of those, Charlie Kulla Kulla and John Pilot, were removed from

their traditional country to a settlement or mission. The family of two of the

deceased, Barbara and Fay Yarrie, experienced removal to an Aboriginal

settlement. Further, at least another two of the deceased, Vincent Ryan and

Barbara Tiers, were compulsorily removed to an Aboriginal settlement as a

punitive measure.

A number of the deceased while resident as children or juveniles on a

community were committed to a donnitory. While evidence was submitted to me

that Daniel Lacey, John Pilot and Vincent Ryan were all at various times

committed to the donnitory system, I am confident that a number of the other

deceased suffered a similar fate during their early lives.

At least ten of the deceased - the young man who died at Aurukun, ·

Patrick Booth, Daniel Lacey, Perry Noble, Karen O'Rourke, Vincent Ryan,

Barbara Tiers, Eddie West and Barbara and Fay Yarrie - were subject to the

direct intervention of the State Children's Department by way of being placed

under care and protection, care and control or equivalent orders. The vast

majority of those people were committed for varying periods of time to juvenile

welfare or correctional institutions. Some such as Daniel Lacey, Vincent Ryan

and Eddie West had a considerable history of juvenile institutionalisation.

The effects of disruption, intervention and institutionalisation on

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island children and families demand critical

consideration at some length. Not only has disruption, intervention and

institutionalisation contributed to the setting of many of the deceased on a course

which was to end in further institutionalisation as adults, but it has, over time,


seriously affected the capacities and the functioning of a most valuable and

essential Aboriginal resource - the family and kinship structures.

I have referred in a number of cases to the severe problems associated

with the care and control of children and juvenile justice on the communities. In

my report of my inquiry into the death of Eddie West I noted the very strong

expression of concern by senior members of the Cherbourg community as to the

care and control of community children. I noted there the undeniable virtue in

placing a child who, for whatever reason, cannot remain with his/her natural

parents, within the extended kinship structure of the community. I observed that

such structures must receive adequate support so as not to become over-stressed

and that in the alternative the development of well resourced, Aboriginal

administered and community based extended homes must be pursued.

In a number of cases I have noted the prevalence and severity of the

problem of juvenile justice particularly on the communities. Evidence presented

to me at Aurukun indicated severe problems associated with juvenile crime, the

apparent lack of respect among young people for their elders and the persistent

difficulties encountered by parents and elder kin attempting to control their

children. As that evidence indicated, juvenile offending must be appreciated in

the broader context of the prevailing social conditions on communities. I have

observed that in particular communities those social conditions have greatly

marginalised young people, particularly, it would seem, young men, and

rendered their status and role problematic.

In my report of my inquiries into the deaths at Yarrabah I recognised the

difficult plight of juveniles and noted that the juvenile justice system and White

child care agencies have, to date, featured prominently in responses to the

juvenile justice problem and that that system and those agencies have performed

poorly. By contrast, the initiatives inspired by the communities at Cherbourg

and Yarrabah provide a constructive, meaningful and culturally sensitive

response to the problems. Community based programs organised, designed and

administered by Aboriginal people in the community clearly provide the most


promising long term solutions. Those programs and initiatives must be

respected and supported by government.

The history of disruption, intervention and institutionalisation to which

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island families and children have been subject has

left many of those families confronting severe difficulties in securing the

adequate care and control of their children; has seen juvenile crime develop into a

major social problem; and has seen Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island juveniles

grossly over represented at all levels of the child welfare and juvenile justice

systems in Queensland. The experiences of those who have died in custody is

testimony to the tragedy of that historical legacy and is illustrative of processes

and problems throughout Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island Queensland. As

the research of Dr Ian O'Connor suggests, if those problems are to be

constructively confronted, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island families, kinship

structures and communities must be given the power and the opportunity to

control and assist their own families and children and governments must not only

respect those ambitions but ensure their realisation.

2.1.3 Education and Employment Opportunities and


In the course of my inquiries into the 27 Queensland deaths I received

evidence as to the educational attendance and attainment and, where possible the

employment participation of each of the deceased. Formal educational

participation can clearly be important in a young person's personal development

as well as providing the opportunity to develop skills by which employment in

later life might be gained. Again, the evaluation of educational achievement and

employment status according to White assumptions and standards raises many

complex issues and requires careful qualification at the outset.


Formal White educational curicula, institutions and opportunities which

have historically been imposed on the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people


of Queensland are, in many senses, spectacularly inappropriate given the cultural

realities of the lifestyles of many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people.

This is particularly so with respect to people living on Aboriginal communities in

relatively remote settings. High rates of non-attendance at many community

schools is, at one level, a reflection of the fundamental inappropriateness and

irrelevance of both the form and content of orthodox non-Aboriginal schooling.

Evidence placed before me at Aurukun, for example, indicates that on occasions

attendance at the school there can be as low as l/4 of those enroled. At Lockhart

River I also received evidence that at the time of my hearings there the estimated

attendance rate was only 50%. The development, in recent times, of more

flexible and culturally appropriate curicula and educational methods has been

slow and difficult. Such progress which is not just informed by Aboriginal

community consultation, but which is directed by and involves the direct

participation of Aboriginal community members, must be encouraged.

On the other hand, the desire of Aboriginal people that their children also

receive the full benefits of a formal education equivalent to that received by non­

Aboriginal children must be recognised and accommodated. Presently, the

opportunity for children living on remote communities to receive formal

secondary education is itself conditioned by special difficulties. In my report of

my inquiry into the death of the young man at Wujal Wujal, for example, I noted


The option of leaving the community and travelling to schools far away to the south is a particularly unattractive one for many. The development of practical and satisfying vocational skills and opportunities within the community must be a foremost priority.14

Ultimately, the great diversity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island

cultures and circumstances throughout Queensland must be recognised in the

14 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody (1990) Report of the Inquiry into the Death of the Young Man who died at Wujal Wujal by L.F.Wyvill QC, Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra. Page 27.


consideration of these issues. What is appropriate and desired by Aboriginal

people in a remote northern community will, in all likelihood, differ greatly from

that which might be appropriate and desired by people in urban Brisbane.

Nevertheless, these debates and evaluations must always recognise the enormous

actual and potential contribution to the education of Aboriginal children and

juveniles made by very many profoundly knowledgeable Aboriginal people. The

importance of that knowledge, particularly that possessed by the elders of many

communities must never be underestimated.

Notwithstanding these qualifications and recognitions of complexity

certain generalisations as to the educational attendance and achievement of those

who died in custody may be made.

Generally, the level of educational achievement of the deceased in

Queensland measured according to formal White criteria was very low. Of the

27 people who died in custody only two, Charlie Kulla Kulla and Monty Salt,

received no formal education whatsoever. The other 25 received at least some

primary education through their lives and it appears that 11 of those people went

on to some secondary education. Only one, Muriel Binks, completed any non­

manual tertiary training.

This very superficial examination of the educational profiles of the

deceased must be qualified by reference to the unreliability of certain records and

the absence of others. Moreover, evidence was presented to me to suggest that

in very many cases the school attendance of the deceased was very poor. In

some cases, for example those of Patrick Booth and Perry Noble, it appears that

an early identification with and commitment to schooling gave way in later years

to poor attendance. These and other cases suggest, amongst other things, that

White educational curicula may be failing; not only failing to be initially

attractive and engaging for many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island children,

but failing also in its capacity to encourage those who might be positively

predisposed to educational achievement.


While the educational attainment of the deceased under investigation can

be seen to be low, the standard of educational attainment of Aboriginal and

Torres Strait Island people generally throughout Queensland should be

considered. For example, whereas in 1986 17.4% of Aboriginal people aged

15-24 years were still participating in education, 45.2% of the total Queensland

population in that age group were still participating. As a result only 6.4% of

Aboriginal people had achieved post-secondary qualifications compared with

33.9% of non-Aboriginal people. The low level of educational achievement of

those who died in custody may be seen as illustrative of the comparatively low

level of educational achievement recorded by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island

people generally.


The task of evaluating the employment status of those who died in

custody in Queensland also needs to be undertaken with great care. White

concepts of permanent employment and White assumptions as to the virtues of

permanent participation in the formal labour market may not always be

meaningful for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people. For example,

participation in formal paid employment will normally require rigorous adherence

to the established routine of the working day. In cultural conditions where

specific Aboriginal obligations (particularly to kin) are expected to prevail over

other obligations, tensions and difficulties will inevitably arise. Involvement in

the status hierarchies which accompany most formal employment can also place

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people in conflict with other obligations they

owe to their people.

Again, recognition of the diversity of Aboriginal social settings demands

that approaches to problems concerning training, employment and economic

development must be developed according to the specific cultural and social

conditions of the community.


With those qualifications in mind, certain observations as to the

employment status of those who died in custody can be made. Of the

27 deceased only seven, Muriel Binks, Bernard Johnson, Patrine Misi, John

Pilot, Monty Salt, the young man who died at Wujal Wujal and Darren Wouters,

could be regarded as having enjoyed what could be regarded as relatively lengthy

periods of steady employment throughout their working lives. All, with the

exception of Binks who worked for extended periods as a clerk, were employed

in manual jobs either as labourers or stockmen. A number of others of the

deceased enjoyed periods of employment before lapsing into chronic

unemployment . There is evidence that a further three of the deceased, the young

man who died at Aurukun, Alistair Riversleigh and Deidre Short, were employed

for significant periods of time under the Community Development Employment

Projects scheme operating in various Aboriginal communities. Given the menial

nature of work performed by these people under that scheme such employment

cannot readily be characterised as especially gainful. In any event, for at least 16

of those who died in custody unemployment was or became the most striking feature of their status.

While it might be asserted that many of those deceased who were

chronically unemployed had little interest in ever gaining employment the paucity

of employment opportunities available to those people in the conditions under

which they lived must be emphasized. In particular the lack of employment

opportunities for people living on the remote communities is a most critical factor

which, as I recognised in my report of my inquiry into the death of the young

man at Wujal Wujal, impinges on young men to make them especially

vulnerable. In a number of cases the deceased faced the difficult dilemma of

accepting a life of dependence on government welfare and family assistance or

facing the necessity of leaving kin and community to seek outside employment.

The evidence presented to me in the cases suggests that the pursuit of either

option is accompanied by significant stresses. The cases demonstrate that the

consequences of the lack of meaningful employment opportunities on the

communities are often disastrous. Deprived of such opportunities it appears that


young people, particularly young males, often become involved in a cycle of

drinking and criminal offending. In some cases this can be seen to compound

the low self esteem which may be felt as a consequence of such a marginalised

employment status. For example, both Perry Noble and, to a lesser extent,

David Koowootha became preoccupied with their lack of work and prior to their

deaths both were trying to come to terms with the prospect of leaving their

community to find work and, in Noble's case, to change his lifestyle.

Evidence placed before me suggests that the problem of employment is

particularly pronounced on the remote Aboriginal communities and is

exacerbated by the relative lack of significant economic opportunities in those

places. The rate of practical unemployment on Queensland's Aboriginal

communities is most alarming. For example at Lockhart River 15% of the

people of employable age work either for the council or the Department of

Family Services and Aboriginal and Island Affairs, 47% are employed under the

CDEP scheme, 8% receive no income whatsoever and the remainder live on

social security payments of one kind or another. The relatively high proportion

of White employees on this and other communities understandably generates

considerable frustration and disenchantment in community residents.

My observations here, which relate in the main to the employment

prospects and circumstances on the remote communities in accordance with the

bulk of the evidence presented to me and my own observations in the course of

my inquiries, should not be taken to suggest that the employment predicament of

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people in other parts of the state is not serious

and deserving of concerted attention and action. The employment status and

labour market status-of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people throughout

Queensland as well as the special conditions which apply on the communities is a

most complex issue deserving of detailed attention. I commissioned the work of


a specialist in these matters, Dr Paul Boreham, and the results of his research

have been released by me in the form of a Discussion Paper.15

2 .1.4 Conflict with the Criminal Justice System

In the course of my inquiries into the Queensland deaths it was necessary

to examine the extent of each individual's interaction with the criminal justice

system prior to his/her final apprehension and detention in custody. Such an

examination revealed a diversity of experience. Criminal records had to be

reconstructed from what were very often incomplete and imprecise records held

by police and prison authorities. Very many of the deceased had on numerous

occasions been detained for drunkenness under either State law or community

by-laws and very often, even if records of those detentions had been made, they

were, by the time of my investigations, unable to be found.

Despite these limitations, a picture was presented of the patterns of

criminal offending by the deceased. While an overview of those criminal records

reveals that the vast majority of the deceased had a history of extensive conflict

with the law, in particular the police, relatively few had what might be termed a

serious criminal record. Only five of the deceased, Patrick Booth, Bernard

Johnson, Daniel Lacey, Vincent Ryan and Daniel Lorraway had ever been

convicted of serious criminal offences. Two other young men who died in

custody, Eddie West and the young man who died at Aurukun, had committed

serious offences as juveniles. Darren Wouters and, it appears, Karen O'Rourke

committed relatively minor offences as juveniles. Of the remaining 18 people

who died in custody in Queensland only three, Muriel Binks, Charlie Kulla

Kulla and the man who died at Brisbane Prison, avoided regular conflict with the

law and contact with the police.

15 Labour and Industry Research Unit (1990) The Employment Conditions of Aboriginals in Queensland. Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, Brisbane. (RCIADIC Queensland Discussion Paper).


The most significant point is that the remaining 15 people who died in

custody had extensive contact with the police and were regularly in conflict with

the law yet only ever committed minor offences. Virtually all the offences

committed by those 15 throughout their lives were alcohol related offences of a

minor nature. Overwhelmingly, the most common offence committed was

drunkenness. The available records indicate that while some such as David

Koowootha and Deidre Short were relatively infrequently arrested for

drunkenness or minor alcohol offences, others such as Walter Barney and Fay

Yarrie, were arrested and detained for drunkenness on, literally, hundreds of


All of these 15 people and their addiction to alcohol were well known to

police. With what, in many cases, can only be described as outrageous

monotony these people were simply locked up.

Aside from the central fact that virtually all these people died while

incarcerated for drunkenness or an alcohol related offence or offences, the

frequency with which they were arrested and detained for such offences

throughout their lives calls into question the wisdom of imprisoning people for

drunkenness or for minor offences committed under the influence of alcohol.

The Interim Report recommended, and I have supported, the decriminalisation of

public drunkenness and the diversion of people presently regarded as offenders

away from police and prison cells to more humane and constructive

environments. Certainly, as an overview of the lives and deaths of those subject

to my investigation reveals regular incarceration achieves very little for those

subjected to it.

While drunkenness, arrest and incarceration is a relatively common

experience for urban dwelling Aboriginal people as it was for John Pilot and Fay

Yarrie and others, it borders on an almost inevitable experience for many

residents of Aboriginal communities. In my report of my inquiry into the death

of the young man at Aurukun I observed that alcohol consumption dominates life

there and that as young men of the community mature there is a transition from


occasional to regular and heavy drinking which is almost universal. I also

observed that of young men at Aurukun of similar age to that of the deceased in

that case, almost half had come into conflict with the law. The cycle of

unemployment, criminal activity and punishment to which the deceased in that

case and many others like it fell victim is accompanied by the cycle of heavy

drinking, fighting and incarceration which, tragically, has become such a

regular, even institutionalised, part of life on Queensland Aboriginal


I appreciate the complexities associated with an analysis of excessive

alcohol use, alcohol related crime and violence and the associated social control

problems which characterise the communities and to which I shall refer at the end

of this section; however, I recognise here that the present practices of

Queensland and Aboriginal police intervention, apprehension and incarceration

have failed, must change and must be accompanied by fundamental refonn of the

administration of the communities.

In recognition of the complexity of the issues which I have touched on

here, of the diversity of the experiences of the deceased in encountering conflict

with the law and the need for the profound refonn of the practices of police, the

correctional services system and the entire criminal justice system in relation to

Aboriginal crime and alcohol related behaviour I commissioned the research of a

specialist in criminal justice, Dr Mark Finnane. Other research undertaken for

the commission has identified the extent of the disproportionate representation of

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people in police and prison custody

throughout Australia; Dr Finnane 's research details the extent and nature of that

disproportionate representation in Queensland and identifies areas demanding of

immediate attention and refonn. The discussion paper which is the result of his


research has been released by me to Government Departments and interested


There are other matters which have emerged from my consideration of

the conflict with the law experienced by those who died in custody in

Queensland which I must note here. As I have suggested above in relation to the

apparent frequency of the offence of drunkenness, the evidence placed before me

suggests that present criminal justice practices do little to deter offenders from

repeating offences. While there are numerous dimensions to the issue of

recidivism, many of which are touched on by the research of Dr Finnane, I shall

identify two which have emerged most strongly from my consideration of the

lives of those who died in custody in Queensland.

First, the present juvenile justice system in Queensland, to which I have

made critical reference above, appears to contribute to the reproduction of

juvenile offenders as adult offenders. In my report of my inquiry into the death

of Eddie West I noted that the State Children's Department made no significant

effort to help or rehabilitate Eddie, but merely reacted to his misbehaviour from

time to time. Such ineffective practices do nothing to avoid the graduation of

those such as Daniel Lacey from serious juvenile crime to serious adult crime.

The disproportionate representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island

children and youths in the juvenile justice system as identified by Dr O'Connor,

is mirrored in the disproportionate representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait

Island adults in the criminal justice system identified by Dr Finnane and, in itself,

points to an alarming growth rate in future candidates for custody.

Second, during the period effectively under my review the correctional

services system in Queensland demonstrated an alarming inability to facilitate the

social reintegration of the Aboriginal prisoners with whom it dealt. In my report

of my inquiry into the death of Daniel Lacey I noted that failure and that the

16 Finnane, M (1990) Criminal Justice for Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders in Queensland. Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, Brisbane. (RCIADIC Queensland Discussion Paper).


rudimentary opportunities for education and self-help available in the custodial

institutions Lacey frequented and the limited range of non-custodial sentencing

options available to the courts made little difference to Lacey.

While there is in Queensland now a spirit of reform in the criminal justice

area associated with the establishment of the Queensland Corrective Services

Commission and the Criminal Justice Commission, the research conducted by

Dr Finnane indicates that there is much, particularly within the fields of

responsibility of the Queensland Police Service, that still needs to be

satisfactorily addressed.

2 .1.5 Physical and Psychological Health

In Table 1.2 of Chapter 1 of this report I listed the immediate cause of

death of each of the 27 people who died in custody. In this section I recognise

the connections between the health histories and standard of health of each of the

deceased, the cause of their deaths and the standard of health of Aboriginal and

Torres Strait Island people in Queensland generally.

Of the 27 who died in custody 14 died as a result of what might be

termed an unnatural intervention. 11 of those deaths were as a result of hanging.

I have dealt with the question of suicide and associated issues Chapter 1. With

respect to the other three deaths, Karen O'Rourke died as a result of burns

sustained in a fire apparently started by herself, Daniel Lorraway died as a result

of a gunshot wound sustained while attempting to escape from prison and Fay

Y arrie died as a result of injuries inflicted by a fellow inmate while in police

custody. Those 11 deaths which were self-inflicted, whether or not the fatal

consequence was intended, raise many complex questions associated with the

psychological health of each of the deceased and the stressful or depressing

circumstance of their lives and predicaments.

Thirteen of those who died in custody died owing to what is sometimes

referred to as 'natural causes'. Five of those people- Nikira Mau, Vincent

Ryan, Bernard Johnson, Daniel Lacey and Deidre Short - died of a heart attack.


Four people - Muriel Binks, Charlie Kulla Kulla, Monty Salt and Patrine Misi -died as a result of-developing some form of pneumonia. The other four- Walter

Barney, Barbara Yarrie, John Pilot and Barbara Tiers- died as a result of illness

or injury caused principally through a combination of their general poor health

and chronic alcoholism.

Those 13 deaths might fairly be considered as occurring due to natural

causes but with two important qualifications. First, it can be seen that a number

were contributed to by the neglect demonstrated by others or the deceased

themselves. This fact raises issues of avoidability and prevention which I have

dealt with in Chapter 1, and the degree of self-help exhibited by those who have

become committed to difficult and/or depressing social circumstances. Second,

in one sense, each of those 13 people died prematurely in that each died at an age

younger, and often considerably younger than the age of average death for all

people in Queensland.17 This raises issues concerning the standard of health of

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people generally throughout Queensland.

An overview of the medical histories of the 27 people who died in

custody in Queensland suggests the relatively large number who had extensive

medical histories. There is evidence that only eight of the deceased could be

described as having enjoyed generally good health throughom their lives, and it

must be noted that six of those people, David Koowootha, Patrick Booth, Darren

Wouters, the young men who died at Wujal Wujal and Aurukun and Eddie West,

all died very young men. It is of some significance that the remaining two,

Charlie Kulla Kulla and Monty Salt, lived, at times in their lives, a comparatively

traditional lifestyle. Evidence as to the medical histories of the deceased indicate

that the health of no' less than 16 of them was significantly affected by their

excessive alcohol use. For some, such as Charlie Hyde their excessive alcohol

use led to injury and illness while, for others such as John Pilot, increasing

excessive alcohol use substantially contributed to a severe decline in their general

17 Moreover each died at an age younger than the average age of death for all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Queensland.


health. In certain other cases alcohol use appears to be implicated in the mental

health of the individual. For Perry Noble, for example, who died as a result of

hanging, excessive alcohol use appears to be associated with his propensity for

self-mutilation. Research conducted by Dr Joseph Reser18 has indicated what

appears to be a significant correlation between heavy alcohol use and a

propensity to attempt suicide.19

The evidence presented to me in the investigation of the Queensland

deaths indicates the complexity and importance of the relations between social

conditions, particularly those prevailing on the Aboriginal communities,

excessive alcohol use, violence, depression and low self-esteem and the

propensity for self-harm and self-inflicted death. If support be needed for the

preliminary findings of Dr Reser and his associates then it may be found in the

fact that the majority of those who died in custody by their own hand were heavy

drinkers. 20

In my report of the inquiry into the death of the young man at Aurukun I

noted that the intoxication of the deceased was a crucial factor accounting for the

depressed emotional state he experienced while in the lock-up. I have also noted

that while intoxication can exacerbate social conflict and impair the capacity of

protagonists and others to deal with that conflict it can also have serious

emotional and psychological consequences, and alcohol dependence can have

serious health implications. Evidence presented by Senior Psychiatrist John

Spencer noted that alcohol contributes to depression and suicidal behaviour in

two ways:




J.P. Reser et al Alcohol Consumption Patterns and Consequences in North Queensland: A Report of Preliminary Findings concerning the Association between Alcohol Use and Attempted Suicide in Aboriginal Communities in North Queensland. Paper delivered to the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander studies conference, July 1990. In Dr Reser's paper and in this context 'suicide' refers to self-inflicted death whether the person actually intended to terminate his/her life or not Gregory Dunrobin, Perry Noble, Charlie Hyde, Alistair Riversleigh, the Young Men who died at Wujal Wujal and Aurukun, Eddie West and Patrick Booth.


In the first way, the effect of persistent alcohol use on neuro­ chemical systems can lead to feelings of misery, pessimism and depression which may lead to suicidal thinking and urges. In the second way, a dependent drinker placed in isolation may in a very short period of time, experience a "frightening psychotic delirium state ... from which the only escape is to kill oneseif.21

In my report of my inquiries into the deaths of the young men at

Yarrabah I noted the potential role of alcoholism in predisposing a person to

suicide as well as the disinhibiting effect of alcohol which might be said to

'facilitate' a suicide.22

The evidence presented to me in the course of my inquiries indicates

something as to the causes as well as the consequences of excessive alcohol use.

It appears that depression, frustration, boredom and a perception of

powerlessness are at the heart of explanations as to why so many people living

in Aboriginal communities resort to alcohol abuse.

Those feelings are most clearly related to the social conditions under

which many Aboriginal people live. In hearings held by me in Coen

Anthropologist, Professor Bruce Rigsby highlighted the role of those conditions

in contributing to excessive alcohol use:


22 23

I think the reason why Aboriginals drink in settings such as the institutional settlements .. . is they drink out of a sense of powerlessness ,frustration with their life, a recognition that their lives really are out of their control. They can't hope to have

employment, in many cases they can't get out of the communities to fish and hunt and when they want to they're frustrated, and to be quite blunt about it, these places are shitty places to live in and they are just boring as can be. There's not much to do , short of sitting and talking with other people, and if you can do it with

grog, it makes it that much more pleasant and takes you away from the harsh realities of the daily life. 23

RCIADIC Report of the Inquiry into the Death of the Young Man who died at Aurukun, p.l9. RCIADIC Report of the Inquiry into the Deaths at Y arrabah, pp.135-136. Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody (1990) Report of the Inquiry into the Death of the Young Man at Aurukun.; by L.F. Wyvill QC,

Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra. P.40.


In considering the health status of those who died in custody the

connections between social conditions, feelings of powerlessness, excessive

drinking and poor physical and/or psychological health must be recognised. The

relatively poor standard of health of many of those who died in custody in

Queensland is both illustrative of the poor standard of health of the Aboriginal

and Torres Strait Island population in general and can be directly related to the

health and social conditions that prevail on the Aboriginal communities.

Research conducted for the Commission by Dr Neil Thomson of the

Australian Institute of Health reveals that the overall health status of

Queensland's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island population is well below that of

other Queenslanders. Health conditions appear to be worst on the Queensland

ex-reserve communities. Based on data collected from those communities from

1987 to 1989 Dr Thomson observes that the death rate of males was about 3

times that of the total Australian male population and that of females was more

than 4 times that of all Australian females. For Aboriginal males living in the

Queensland ex-reserve communities the expectation of life at birth was 56.8

years, about 17 years less than that of the total male population of Queensland in

1988, 73.9 years. For Aboriginal females, the expectation of life at birth was

60.0 years, almost 20 years less than that of the total female population of

Queensland in 1988, 79.5 years. Although the infant mortality rate on

Aboriginal communities in Queensland declined significantly throughout the

1970s there has apparently been much less improvement in the 1980s such that

from 1986 to 1988 the rate for Aboriginal people living in Queensland's ex­

reserve communities was still almost 2.5 times that of the total Australian


In my report of my inquiry into the death of Deidre Short I received

evidence as to the prevailing health conditions at the Lockhart River community.

I reported that in Lockhart River one is 288 times more likely to suffer from

diabetes than the average Queenslander, six times more likely to die of cardiac

disease, and ten times more likely to die of respiratory problems. It will be

recalled that Deidre Short died of a heart attack in the Lockhart River watchhouse


in March 1989 at just 30 years of age. The detailed submission of the Aboriginal

Co-ordinating Council (ACC) provides further data as to health conditions on

Queensland Aboriginal communities. That data confirms very high morbidity

and mortality rates and identifies violence as a most alarming and relatively

common cause of death on the communities.

The question of the widespread incidence of violence on the ex-reserve

communities in Queensland is clearly a most complex and sensitive one. While I

note that the issue will be dealt with in the National Report, brief reference to

certain of the evidence which has come to my attention must be made here.

The submission of the ACC emphasises the historical dimension of

contemporary violence. They have submitted that the 'pain and bitterness' of

memories of frontier violence and the institutionalised violence of twentieth

century Queensland combined with feelings of powerlessness 'leads Aboriginal

people to turn their violence against other Aborigines rather than against White

Australia' .24 Further, the submission recognises that this violence is very often

turned inwards in the form of self-mutilation and suicide or family violence.

Other evidence before me suggests connections between this history of

marginalisation, contemporary social conditions and the general health, and

physical and mental well-being of Queensland's Aboriginal and Torres Strait

Island people.

Social conditions characterised by overcrowding, restriction of access to

traditional country, economic and financial marginalisation and widespread

violence contribute to stress related illness, disease and death in many


I have also received evidence as to the possible effects of distinctively

non-Aboriginal diets on Aboriginal people. Evidence provided to me by Dr Bett

and Dr Buchanan during my hearing into the death of Daniel Lacey indicate that

24 ACC Submission to Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody p. 24.


premature deaths of Aboriginal people such as Daniel Lacey may be linked to

specific vulnerabilities associated with the detrimental effects of western diets

and may lead prematurely and disproportionately to the narrowing of the arteries,

atheroma and diabetes.

In his analysis of Queensland health, Dr Thomson refers to the

conclusion of the Health Targets and Implementation (Health for All) Committee

that the social and economic disadvantages experienced by Aboriginal people

were of central importance in the explanation of poor general health. Dr

Thomson argues that these social and economic disadvantages are directly related

to Aboriginal dispossession and are characterised by poverty and powerlessness,

and are reflected in measures of education, employment, income and housing.

While this section of the report has assessed the evidence of the impact

of those measures on the lives of those who died in custody, it is to links

between Aboriginal dispossession and powerlessness to which I now tum.


As the evidence reviewed in this section of the report demonstrates the

phenomenon of deaths in custody in Queensland is very closely related to the

social conditions under which Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people in

Queensland live generally and the prevailing social conditions on the Aboriginal

communities in particular.

While the issue of the social conditions prevailing on the ex-reserve

communities is of major concern, the relationship between social conditions and

Aboriginal death in custody in settings outside ex-reserve communities must also

be recognised. I recognised at the outset of this section that these social

conditions, in the context of deaths in custody, have both historical as well as

social dimensions. In their examination of the background social factors

impacting on the lives of Barbara and Fay Yarrie, Turrell, Western and Williams

observed that the Yarrie's:


Social trajectory, which was characterised by drunkenness, domestic violence, itinerancy, criminal activity and subsequent death, wa$ in part a consequence of the historical and social forces which preceded and impacted upon their life-course.25

The social conditions that characterise life on the communities reveal a

profound problem of social control. The evidence before me indicates that the

ex-reserve communities in Queensland are marked by alarming and escalating

levels of uncontrolled violence and social disorder. Aboriginal people are

experiencing extreme difficulties in attempting to effectively improve their social

conditions and, more importantly, control the apparent behavioural consequences

of those conditions.

The Legacy of History

While a systematic analysis of the historical development of relations

between Aboriginal and White people in Queensland is left to the papers

reproduced at Appendix 1, certain connections between contemporary social

conditions and significant historical forces must be noted here.

Since first contact Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people in

Queensland have been subjected to White violence, authority and management.

The research paper provided by Professor Reynolds details the violence and

exploitation which accompanied the extension of the White frontier, the

annihilation of Aboriginal people and the dispossession of their land as well as

certain of the philosophies which underpinned this violent expansionism. The

paper provided by Dr May details the isolation and 'protection' of Aboriginal

people through their forced removal and confinement on artificial communities

and the development of ideas and practices of assimilation which sought to

25 Turrell. G, Western. J and Williams. N. Violent and Self-Destructive Behaviour among Aborigines: The Cases of Barbara and Fay Yarrie (1990) Department of Anthropology and Sociology, the University of Queensland. p. 18


destroy Aboriginal culture and identity and replace it with White

authoritarianism, discipline and extreme paternalism.

In my report of my inquiry into the death of John Pilot26 I referred to

this history when I recognised that until very recently Aboriginal people were

'managed' in a total sense by government. I identified one of the most

significant legacies of that history when in my report of my inquiries into the

deaths at Y arrabah when I noted that:

The underlying causes of the uncontrolled violence on Aboriginal communities today must be understood in the context of the historical forces and structural violence against Aboriginals which have shaped existing social conditions.21

The relevance of history in the construction of the present is not, of

course, restricted to the life experience of only Aboriginal ex-reserve community

residents. In my investigations into the deaths of Barbara and Fay Yarrie I

commissioned the research of a number of sociologists and anthropologists who

in an examination of the background factors having a bearing on those deaths

identified particularly relevant historical and social forces. Those researchers

identified European expansionism, the decimation of the Aboriginal population,

ethnocentrism and racial stereotyping, dependence and powerlessness and

segregation and institutionalisation as significant historical forces.28

While certain historical forces such as the practice of removal to

confinement on artificial communities and the rigourous control over the

personal freedom of those resident on such communities have directly touched

the lives of many of those who died in custody in Queensland, reference must

also be made to broader and less direct historical forces. The evidence before me

indicates that a most significant consequence of Queensland's history has been


27 28

Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody (1989) Report of the inquiry into the death of John Raymond Pilot; by L.F. Wyvill QC, Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra RCIADIC Report of the inquiry into the deaths at Yarrabah pp.l27-128. G. Turrell, J. Western and N. Williams op cit.


the generation of dependence amongst Aboriginal people which has inhibited

their capacity to exercise control over their own lives and the lives of their

families and communities. This must not be taken to suggest that the majority of

Aboriginal people in Queensland have ever been able to gain access to sufficient

resources and power to exercise effective control over their lives. As the

research of Turrell, Western and Williams demonstrates dependence has always

been accompanied by powerlessness. Nevertheless the development of

dependence is a most significant historical legacy. In my inquiry into the death

of Deidre Short I received evidence from anthropologist Dr Athol Chase as to the

contemporary social consequences of Queensland ' s paternalist and

assimilationist policies and practices. In Dr Chase's words:

One can see structured dependence emerging from a situation where people are institutionalised under direct and heavy administration by people who have a pre-ordained idea of what should happen to Aboriginal people. If you disempower Aboriginal people by making decisions for them and by preventing them, even the mechanisms for starting to develop

their own ideas about their future, what you end up with are the classic systems of alcoholism, violence and all the rest ofit.29

I have noted that those policies and practices were still operating on the

ex-reserve communities as recently as last year.

In my report of my inquiry into the death at Wujal Wujal I observed that

the paternalism and authoritarianism which characterised the administration of

that community since the establishment of the mission in 1957 had the effect of

leaving people, such as the deceased in that case, inordinately dependent upon

the direction and supervision of non-Aboriginal administrators and managers.

In my consideration of the contemporary social circumstance of Aurukun

I noted the connection between dependence and powerlessness; the historical

process has been one of enforcing dependence on White structures of

administration, White resources and White ideas while simultaneously removing

29 Report of the Inquiry into the Death of Deidre Short, p.46


or marginalising Aboriginal structures of decision making, Aboriginal forms of

social organisation and Aboriginal ideas. In my report in relation to Aurukun I

stated that the history of the management and control of virtually all aspects of

the lives of Aurukun Aboriginals has denied those people the full knowledge and

experience of their own culture and its forms of social organisation and left them

dependent on White administrators making decisions and taking initiatives on

their behalf and that this combination of cultural denial and imposed dependence

has left people poorly equipped to deal with social problems.

Social Forces and Contemporary Environments

More generally, the weight of evidence presented to me in the course of

my inquiries indicates that the legacy of history has been the marginalisation of

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people in depressed and disadvantaged social

conditions. Aboriginal life in Queensland is conditioned by poverty and

deprivation. Although the cross-cultural limitations associated with evaluating

the standard of Aboriginal social life according to White social indicators must be

recognised, those measures demonstrate systemic and structural disadvantage of

an appalling magnitude. Turrell, Western and Williams have identified socio­

economic status as one of the principal social forces impacting on Aboriginal

people today. They have specified the extreme marginalisation of Aboriginal

people in terms of access to fundamental socio-economic resources such as

housing, income, employment and education. Along with the marginalised

health status of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people to which I have

referred above, these factors have been instrumental in what the authors refer to

as 'the ongoing process of Aboriginal oppression'. 30

The marginalised social conditions under which very many Aboriginal

people labour impacts directly on their standard of health contributing

significantly to the chances of premature death; constitute conditions conducive

to the emergence of higher rates of crime and violence; inhibits the capacity of

30 Turrell, Western and Williams op cit p.9


communities to deal effectively with social conflict; and, most importantly,

renders Aboriginal people powerless. In the previous section I have indicated

certain connections between prevailing social conditions and poor health. In my

report into my inquiry into the death of Eddie West I observed the relation

between impoverished social circumstances and crime, in particular juvenile

offending. In my report concerning the deaths at Yarrabah I observed that

certain dimensions of social conditions prevailing there, particularly health status

and housing provision, make the difficult task of coping with conflict and

disputation so much harder. Much of the evidence presented to me also indicates

that the limited access of very many Aboriginal people to social resources

contributes to their systemic powerlessness. On many occasions widespread

feelings of powerlessness felt by very many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island

people, particularly those resident on the ex-reserve communities, have been

brought to my attention and have been identified as an explanation for the

stresses with which very many Aboriginal people have great difficulty in coping,

widespread excessive alcohol use, social disorder, violence and criminal


In one sense the history of violence, dispossession and management to

which Aboriginal people have been subject and which has led to their

marginalised social status today has also been a history of the disempowerment

of Aboriginal people. It is to recent attempts to re-empower Aboriginal people

that I now tum by way of conclusion.

Self-Management and Re-empowerment

In 1978 and again in 1984 the Queensland Government passed

legislation purporting to enable the self-management of Queensland Aboriginal

and Torres Strait Island communities.31 That legislation was passed only after

years of pressure from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people, many of their

31 The Local Government (Aboriginal Lands) Act 1978, the Community Services (Aborigines) Act 1984, and the Community Services (Torres Strait) Act 1984 .


supporters and the Federal Government. The essence of that legislation has been

the establishment of community councils in the fonn of local government

councils, and the granting to them of the power to pass by-laws with respect to

designated areas of land usually corresponding to the boundaries of pre-existing

reserves or settlements and the granting of a limited form of tenure over that land

to those councils.32 Thus, the legislation purports to provide for self­

management through a local government structure.

In much evidence presented to me through the course of my inquiries it

is obvious that the extent to which this legislative scheme has facilitated the

genuine re -empowennent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people resident

on communities has been very limited indeed. I have on many occasions

expressed reservations as to the provisions, administration and implications of

the legislation.

In the course of my inquiries at Wujal Wujal, for example, it became

obvious that the extent to which an imposed local government structure could

reflect or accommodate traditional decision making practices and operate

effectively was limited. I suggested that a more representative council based on

traditional structures and which reflect the complex constituency of the many

different mobs there might be more successful in attracting broad based

community input and might invite greater confidence. This observation calls into

question, however, the more fundamental issue of the artificiality of the

community itself and the legitimacy of any structure which seeks to be


Even if the structure provided for in the legislation is accorded

legitimacy I have received evidence that serious problems exist in relation to its

administration. As a result of my inquiries at Aurukun I observed that the local

government structure, imposed by the State Government without due

32 With respect to communities constituted under the Community Services Act 1984 that form of tenure is known as Deed of Grant in Trust.


consideration or consultation is complex, unwieldy and totally incompatible with

the authority and deCision making structures of traditional or contemporary

Aboriginal society. I have also noted that the confusion and inefficiency

generated by the lack of co-operation and co-ordination between State and

Commonwealth agencies further contributes to administrative problems.

Fundamentally, Aboriginal communities have never been given the resources,

the training or the opportunity to make this albeit limited form of self-government

function effectively. I have witnessed the continuing role of White

administrators and have heard and seen evidence of the deleterious consequences

of constant and obtrusive government intervention. If the envisaged form of

self-management is to function effectively Aboriginal people need to be provided

with not only the freedom but the skills and resources to make it work. To date,

the pace at which Aboriginal community residents have been trained and

empowered to assume the responsibilities of self-management has been


The form of self-management embodied in the legislation is currently

undergoing comprehensive review by a committee formed under the auspices of

the Department of Family Services and Aboriginal and Island Affairs33. The

involvement of Aboriginal people and meaningful negotiations with Aboriginal

people in that process is encouraged.

However, at a more fundamental level, the evidence before me indicates

the inadequacy of any structure which purports to offer self-government that is

imposed by government rather than one that is designed, constructed and

administered by Aboriginal community people themselves. Again, not only must

Aboriginal people be finally given the freedom to create and operate such

structures of their own determination but they must be given the power and

resources to do so.

33 The Committee of Review inquiring into legislation relating to the management of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in Queensland.


I have recognised the importance of this distinction in my report of the

inquiry into the deaths at Yarrabah where again I recognised the community

council's need for expertise, advice and skills training and their associated needs

for permanent financial security and independence from political influence as pre­

conditions for successful Aboriginal self-management. I noted there, however,

that effective self-determination will require much more. The effective re­

empowerment of Aboriginal people and communities requires no less than the

granting of power over law, land and people. I shall deal with .each of these

dimensions of re-empowerment in tum.

I have observed in this section and in other parts of this report that the

most common response to problems of social control on the communities has

been the application of the White criminal justice system by White agents of law

enforcement. In my report relating to Aurukun I queried whether a greater

commitment to present law and order practices constituted a viable strategy in the

context of continuing social control problems. In my report concerning the

deaths at Yarrabah and Doomadgee I recognised the ineffective operation of the

Aboriginal court· system there, a system designed and imposed by White

government. In another part of this present report I make critical comment with

respect to the operation of the Aboriginal police system. I have received

evidence to the effect that the present power for Aboriginal councils to pass laws

in the form of by-laws is too restrictive. The by-laws which have until very

recently been imposed on the ex-reserve communities, and continue to operate on

many of them, have been based on a set of uniform by-laws developed for non­

Aboriginal local government authorities. Central to the re-empowerment of

Aboriginal people is the power to make, vary and enforce culturally appropriate

and locally relevant and meaningful laws regardless of their correspondence to

the expectations of White bureaucracies.

In my report in relation to the death at Wujal Wujal I noted the

prominence of the issue of the community's access to and control over land in

the explanation of contemporary social problems there. I noted that matters of

land access and control are of immense spiritual and practical significance to


.boriginal people. I suggested that there appears no alternative but to ensure the

ennanent and unconditional acquisition of traditional land estates by each of the

groups which constitute the present community. The same principles

ilust apply to Aboriginal groups with historical, as well as traditional,

ttachments to country.

While the systematic consideration of this most fundamental and crucial

[uestion is left to the National Report of this Royal Commission, it is necessary,

m the basis of evidence presented to me in the course of my investigations to

nake certain observations here which are specific to the Queensland situation.

The evidence before me indicates that the present form of land tenure

to Aboriginal communities under Deeds of Grant in Trust is

msatisfactory for a number of reasons. First, for communities and groups such

lS those presently resident at Wujal Wujal there is simply not enough land.

Some mechanism for the acquisition of tradition and historical estates by

1\boriginal groups should be established. Second, the fonn of tenure provided is

too insecure. Nothing short of title equivalent to freehold title should be

guaranteed for Aboriginal groups and communities. Third, and related to those

two issues, the outstation or homelands movement apparent in a number of

communities should receive the financial commitment and practical support of

government. In my report in relation to the death at Lockhart River I commented

favourably with respect to the movement there and noted the direct relevance of

the movement as a potential strategy for reducing the prevalence of alcoholism,

violence and poor health. Fourthly, the securing of effective control over land

necessitates that the effective participation of Aboriginal people in decisions

affecting that land also be secured. Again, the evidence I received at Lockhart

River indicated that the people of that community are presently unable to

adequately control the multiple pressures on their traditional relationships with

land arising from development proposals for tourism, mining, space base

development, freeholding and from already established restrictions on their

hunting and gathering on and other use of National Parks.


My inquiries in Queensland revealed that at least these four issues should

be considered in the establishment of some mechanism whereby Aboriginal

people, groups and communities can acquire land to which they have some

traditional or historical attachment. Reference must also be had to apparent

community concerns regarding rights to royalties or their equivalent, the

protection of sacred sites and compensation for loss of land.

Ultimately, the re-empowerment of Aboriginal people is conditional

upon the power of Aboriginal people to control their own lives. While that

power is fundamentally related to the power of Aboriginal people to make their

own laws with respect to their own lands, it also requires the re-establishment of

conditions under which Aboriginal people themselves can develop their own

ideas regarding their own future. In my report in relation to the death at Lockhart

River I observed that the process of re-empowerment is a process of re-education

in which Aboriginals must be both the educators and the learners and that the

White contribution must be restricted to the pool of ideas (which may be accepted

or rejected) and resources to enable the process to develop. My inquiries in

Queensland and my findings as to the social environments in which the deceased

lived and, on occasion, died suggest that the key to avoiding deaths in custody in

the future is the commencement, continuation and completion of a process of

genuine re-empowerment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people.

The evidence placed before me in the course of my inquiries as to the

connections between the history of systemic disempowerment of Aboriginal and

Torres Strait Island people, to which I have referred, and the contemporary

social control and social disorder problems that characterise community life today

suggests, at a deeper level, two important points which must be appreciated if the

process of re-empowerment is to be understood and commenced. First, it is

apparent that the accommodation of Aboriginal rights and claims within the

assertion of White rights and claims can, in certain circumstances, succeed in

empowering Aboriginal people. For example, the provision of Crown Land to

people at places such as Wujal Wujal can be accommodated by Government and

can led to the significant empowerment of those people. Second however, it


rnust be recognised that, on occasions, there is a direct conflict and essential

incompatability between Aboriginal rights and claims and White rights and

and, on those occasions, a choice must be made as to which of those

rights and claims should prevail.

On the evidence before me it is apparent that historically those choices

made by government have resulted in the systematic ascendancy of White rights

and claims over Aboriginal rights and claims. The consequence of those choices

has been, of course, the disempowerment of Aboriginal people and

communities. With reference to the recent political history of Queensland it can

be seen that those choices have been made for Aboriginal people not through a

process of legitimate negotiation under which claims are balanced, but through a

process of political domination (and some have suggested political violence)

which has owed more to the consideration of the interests of White economic

development and the competing interests of State and Commonwealth

Governments than to a consideration of Aboriginal interests.

The effects of the defeat of Aboriginal interests on many occasions have

been clearly illustrated to me. Many community people, particularly young men

have been left with feelings of disenchantment, hopelessness, frustration and a

resignation to the belief that rights and power can never be won. Particularly in

the Queensland circumstance, the lesson of an examination of the social

environments in which deaths in custody have occurred is that the cost associated

with that political process has been the social destruction of very many

communities and the disproportionate occurrence of Aboriginals in custody.


Chapter 3


3.1 In the course of my inquiries into individual deaths in custody I have endeavoured to conceptualise models of the ideal investigation, post-mortem and

coronia! inquiry. These models incotporate certain features which seem to me to

be essential for the proper conduct of such investigations. It is not my intention

here to make specific recommendations since this will be the function of the

National Report, and, to that end, the experience of all the Commissioners will be

drawn upon. Rather, it is my putpose to highlight deficiencies in the current

Queensland models which were revealed by my inquiries.

3 .1.1 The Ideal Investigation

It is imperative that the public have confidence in the ability,

impartiality, independence and accountability of officers conducting an

investigation into a death particularly where that death has occurred in custody.

Only if the investigation is thorough and meticulous will it serve to allay any

suspicion or doubt in the minds of next-of-kin and the public of foul play or

maltreatment by the custodians of the deceased. The State and its agents must be,

and be seen to be, beyond reproach. Hence, the ideal investigation of a death in

custody should be characterised by these features:

• The investigators should be independent of the Police Service to

overcome the inherent difficulty of police officers investigating fellow

police officers. The investigators should comprise an independent unit

reporting to the coroner.


The investigation should proceed on the assumption that the death has

in suspicious circumstances and be conducted with the same

degree of thoroughness as a homicide investigation. The investigators

should draw no premature conclusions as to the cause of death.This

will avoid the investigation being directed towards substantiating such a

conclusion and becoming no more than an administrative process of

gathering the minimum information necessary for the coroner.

• Investigators should be experienced and the senior investigator in

charge of co-ordinating the overall investigation should oversee the

completion of relevant forms. He must take an overall responsibility

for the investigation, accountable ultimately to the coroner.

Investigators should liaise with the coroner and the pathologist

performing the post-mortem. They should demonstrate cultural

sensitivity in their dealings with the next-of-kin, particularly where the

next-of-kin seek to conduct funerary rituals.

• The investigator's brief should require full inquiries not only into issues

that bear on criminal responsibility but also those that bear on the

conduct generally of those charged with the supervision of the

deceased, including whether there has been compliance with general

instructions, standing orders and other rules of conduct. They should

also inquire into any systemic problems in relation to the arrest,

detention and supervision in custody of the deceased. The investigation

should be conducted with a broad focus so that any systemic problems

or failures identified can be brought to the attention of the coroner with

a view to his making remedial recommendations to prevent further

deaths in similar circumstances.

• Accurate and detailed notes should be kept. The officer first in

attendance must secure the integrity of the death scene and the body.

Officers undertaking the investigation should make all notes in a


permanent form, for example by entering them directly into a bound

notebook with numbered pages. Each such notebook should have its

own number and be on individual issue to each investigator who will be

accountable for that notebook and for each page in it. The body should

be carefully observed and any injuries or marks found noted by the

investigator. Measurements should be taken of any significant objects

or distances at the death scene.

As far as practicable the death scene should be left undisturbed until

photographs can be taken. These should be of good quality, preferably

in colour, and of sufficient number to enable one to form a clear view of

all relevant features of the death scene.

All witnesses should be interviewed promptly and separately by

investigators. Statements should be prepared on the basis of such

interviews and signed as soon as possible to avoid any suspicion of

collusion, collaboration or fabrication. The witnesses interviewed

should include all persons involved in the arrest, detention or

supervision of the deceased, and should include all prisoners detained

in custody in the vicinity of, or who had relevant contact with, the


Forms required under the relevant legislation should be completed by

investigators who express no concluded opinion to avoid influencing

the pathologist or coroner. These forms should provide an adequate

factual basis upon which the pathologist and the coroner can make their

independent findings as to the cause of death.

An investigator should attend the post-mortem and discuss with the

forensic pathologist how the injuries could have been caused, keeping

detailed notes of discussions.

Investigators should prepare a brief for the coroner which contains the

signed statements from all relevant witnesses, observations by the


investigators as to any discrepancies between statements, references to

any issues that may not have been investigated but should have been,

and observations on systemic problems identified. As mentioned, the

brief should not pre-empt the coroner's findings.

• Investigators should afford the next-of-kin every consideration and

respect since they have a legitimate personal interest in the outcome of the

investigation. The next-of-kin should be entitled to view the body at an

early stage to see if it bears any marks of violence or other signs of


3 .1. 2 Police Investigations in Queensland

• General instructions contained in the Queensland Policeman's Manual

and Police Commissioner's Circulars as issued from time to time govern

the approach adopted by members of the Police Service upon discovery

or notification of a death in custody. However, the workability of this

system depends upon the proper implementation of such guidelines and

at the same time the important safeguard that it is being appropriately


As a result of recent public scrutiny and examination of Queensland

police and prisons practice in the form of the Fitzgerald Inquiry, the

Kennedy Commission and this Royal Commission these instructions

have been subject to much debate and review. At present specific

General Instructions address deaths in police custody and deaths in

Queensland Correctional Centres separately. Deaths in other forms of

State detention fall under the more general provisions of the Manual.

Circular No. 40/90 from the Police Commissioner dated 3 May 1990

stipulates that an officer of rank no less than Detective Sergeant 2/c or

higher must carry out the initial investigation and have had no

involvement in the incident and be senior to any police officer involved.

As well, he must not be stationed in the complex where the incident


occurred. However, the circular is silent as to the full scale of the

investigation he is required to make.

• The External Investigations Unit (E.I.U.) is a police unit attached to the

Queensland Corrective Services Commission as from 1 February 1989.

The Unit reports directly to the Director-General of the Queensland

Corrective Services Commission (Q.C.S.C.) and to the Assistant

Commissioner (Crime and Services) of the Queensland Police Service.

Pursuant to Police Commissioner's Circular No. 4/89 dated 29 March

1990, the E.I.U. will investigate all deaths in correctional centres in the

Brisbane/Ipswich area. In relation to deaths occurring in Correctional

Centres outside the Brisbane/Ipswich area the E.I. U. will be notified and

will determine after consultation with the Director-General Q.C.S.C. or

his whether its officers will attend or not. If not, the

Detective Inspector of the E. I. U. will advise the District Officer involved

who will take appropriate action.

• The General Instructions require police to complete and dispatch to the

coroner a Report Concerning Death by a Member of the Police Force

(Form 4 in Schedule 1 of the Coroners Rules 1959) where the death is

such as to come within the scope of s.7 of The Coroners Act of 1958.34

It is clear that the Form 4 plays a significant role in any post-death

investigation. It not only provides the basis for the coroner's decision

whether or not to issue an order for a post-mortem examination but also

provides the medical practitioner conducting the examination with a

context in which to assess the findings of the examination. Equally it is

clear that the Form 4 should not state whether or not in the opinion of its

maker there exists or does not exist 'suspicious circumstances' -this

being a matter for determination of both the pathologist and the coroner

in each case.

34 In this chapter referred to as 'the Coroners Act' or 'the Act'.


Officers involved in the apprehension, arrest and detention of the

deceased, upon discovery of the death are required to secure the scene,

notify the Officer in Charge or their District Officer and record these

steps. Of course, an officer's first duty is the preservation of life and it

may be necessary to interfere with the death scene to ascertain if anything

can be done to resuscitate the deceased. As one can foresee, problems

will arise where deaths occur in watchhouses on remote communities and

single officer stations where the officer discovering the death is

invariably the arresting or supervising officer and independent senior

officers may be many hours away. This occurred in the Wujal Wujal

case where the body of the deceased remained hanging for some seven

hours in the watchhouse cell until the arrival of the State police. In the

circumstances this was understandable because no one at the scene was

sufficiently trained to cope with the situation. Nevertheless, this caused

much concern among the family of the deceased and the general


As I observed in my report of my inquiry into the death of Barbara Tiers,

it is obvious that members of the Queensland Police Service are sensitive

to their relations with fellow members and that entrenched assumptions

founded on that relationship severely inhibit the capacity of officers to

investigate the conduct of their fellow police officers. There is no

novelty about the observation that in the investigation of police conduct

one of the difficulties is selection and training of the investigators.

• The Commissioner's Circular No. 40/90 dated 3 May 1990 to which I

referred earlier requires that the scope of investigations into deaths in

custody must go beyond the question of criminal responsibility and

examine possible official misconduct or breaches of discipline and that

any breaches discovered be dealt with according to law and procedures.

It further obliges a Regional Superintendent or Commissioned Officer in

Charge to satisfy himself that the investigation has been performed

thoroughly and fairly and, if so, to endorse the file to that effect.


3.1.3 What I Found

All of the 27 deaths the subject of inquiry by me were investigated with

varying degrees of thoroughness by the police. Of these I found only five of the

police investigations to be adequate in the circumstances and even in relation to

each of these, I had occasion to draw attention to some minor points where the

investigation could have been improved.

Criticism of the police investigation in the remaining 22 cases canvassed

a number of deficiencies and problem areas:

By far the most significant matter was the police perception of such

investigations as being confined to a determination of whether death

occurred as a result of criminal misconduct or not. In many cases this

question was answered very early in the investigation with the

conclusion that there were 'no suspicious circumstances' i.e. that there

was no criminal misconduct causally linked to the death. Thereafter the

investigation was little more than an administrative process of gathering

the minimum information necessary for the coroner, which consisted of

the obtaining of statements from witnesses and the compilation of forms

setting out brief details of circumstances surrounding the death. Thus,

after a cursory inspection of the body in the place of death and a

conversation with the deceased's custodians there was no further actual

investigation; rather there was a compilation of scant details to support

the investigating officer's initial, and at times premature, conclusion of

either self-inflicted death or death from natural causes.

• Three specific areas of inquiry were repeatedly ignored or avoided by

investigating police because the focus of their attention was narrowed to

a search for criminal misconduct. When that was negatived, the

conclusion 'no suspicious circumstances' brought an end to the inquiry.

Those areas of inquiry that I feel were ignored or avoided were:


(i) Whether or not there was compliance with General Instructions in

the Manual and Standing Orders relating to the detention of

prisoners in police watchhouses.

The practice of police, as enunciated by many of them before the

Commission, was to treat General Instructions as guidelines only

and to be followed at the individual officer's discretion or

judgement. This general perception was identified by the

Commission in numerous cases before it. The Police

Commissioner has acknowledged the problem and has sought to

rectify it with the recent Executive Direction of 5 November


(ii) In no case before the Commission did investigating police

address the issue of whether the deceased's custodians had

satisfactorily discharged their duty of care toward the prisoner

prior to his death. A proper starting point for all these

investigations should be a scrutiny of the conduct of the

deceased's custodians with a view to determining if they had

contributed in any way to the death whether by act or omission.

(iii) Failure to investigate police practices and procedures with a view

to identifying systemic failures which could be rectified to

prevent further deaths in similar circumstances.

It is frequently argued that resources and manpower constraints

are the operative causes of these shortcomings. Police do not see

their role as investigators as extending to the identification of

deficiencies or systemic problems that should be rectified to

prevent further deaths of a similar nature. The police examined

before the Commission in the cases referred to considered that

their job was limited to the narrow focus of determining whether

criminal charges should be laid in respect of the death.


Another major problem I found was that the investigation was often

conducted by, or with the assistance of, officers involved in the initial

apprehension and/or custody of the deceased. It is imperative that only

police officers independent of the incident should partake in the


In many of the cases officers were not required to submit statements until

the file was forwarded to their station with theinvestigator's report.

They were thus in a position where they could ensure that their statement

did not conflict with other evidence on the file. In other cases officers

consulted with each other and prepared their statements in concert with

the result that almost identical statements were prepared.

Such collaboration and, dare it be said, collusion, is highly unsatisfactory

as it encourages the fabrication of evidence or raises the suspicion of

fabrication, thereby diminishing the evidentiary value of the statements

and the general integrity of the investigation. Furthermore, the

collaboration of witnesses can lead to the observations of one witness

being overlooked if not shared by others. Conversely, a witness may

adopt certain occurrences because they were observed by other

witnesses. Such practices conflict with the basic rules of evidence­

gathering and have a damaging effect on the success and independence of

an investigation.

Rather than upgrade the current style of police investigation an alternative

may be to extend the role of the External Investigations Unit to cover

deaths occurring in police custody as well as in correctional institutions.

One justification for such a course is that officers of the E.I.Unit could

be expected to develop a specialist expertise in this area of inquiry.

Further, the E.I. Unit officers would form a separate unit significantly

removed from the police force and could be expected as such to develop

their own esprit de corps.


• Another deficiency I noted frequently in the cases I inquired into was a

failure to . take statements from all persons present during the

apprehension and detention in custody of the deceased. This

investigative shortcoming is usually rationalised by the officer concerned

on the basis that the witness in question could not have added anything

useful to the evidence already obtained. Even assuming that the officer

has interviewed the witness at length and reached this conclusion as a

matter of sound judgment, a statement should be obtained to evidence that

fact. If not, the investigation is incomplete and open to accusations of

shoddiness and cover-up and superior officers are denied the opportunity

of reviewing the investigation.

• At present there is no requirement that any particular officer complete the

Form 4. It may be completed by a junior constable if his superiors give

him the task and this in fact occurred in several of the cases reviewed by

the Commission. Ideally, the Form 4 should be completed by the senior

officer, being a Detective of rank no lower than Sergeant 2/c.

• Photographs were not taken in a number of cases inquired into by the

Commission, and, in others, photographs were taken after the scene had

been disturbed. It is obvious that in the absence of a Scenes of Crime

Technical Officer to take photographs, other officers should be trained to

take the necessary forensic photographs.

It is to be hoped that the system of police investigation of deaths in

custody, which has been upgraded under the direction of the Commissioner of

Police in recent month$, will be subject to further revision. In my view the ideals

discussed earlier should be incorporated in any reformed system, and the specific

deficiencies I observed in my inquiries into individual deaths addressed.



3. 2 .1 The Ideal Forensic Pathology System

A necessary feature of an ideal coronial system is an organisation of

Government forensic pathologists sufficiently staffed and resourced to enable

them to be directly involved in the investigation of all deaths occurring in State


• A specialist forensic pathologist should be one of the people routinely

notified immediately upon the discovery of a death in custody.

• The pathologist should then liaise with the investigative staff attached to

the coroner to ensure that, if he cannot personally attend the death scene

before it is disturbed, the appropriate photographs and observations will

be made by the investigative staff.

• Ideally the pathologist should attend the death scene in person, though,

as a matter of practicality, this may not always be possible especially

where the death occurs in a more remote area of Queensland.

• The aim of a post-mortem examination should be not only to identify the

cause of death but also to assist in the reconstruction of the events

preceding the death. The results of the post-mortem examination will

usually be the major component of the evidence against which the

testimony of the deceased's custodians may be evaluated.

• The actual examination must be conducted in a comprehensive and

thorough manner. While the history of the deceased's incarceration and

the circumstances of death as conveyed by the deceased's custodians is

relevant background information for the medical practitioner, he must not

allow this information to dictate or pre-empt his independent findings.


3.2.2 The Forensic Pathology System in Queensland

• At present the Laboratory of Microbiology and Pathology (State Health

Laboratory) has an infonnal arrangement with the Queensland Police

Service to the effect that all contentious autopsies are to be perfonned by

Government forensic pathologists. Included in contentious deaths are all

custodial deaths. The Queensland Police Commissioner in Circular No.

48!90 dated 5 June 1990 drew the attention of all {X>lice officers to this


3.2.3 What I Found

Post-mortem examinations were conducted in all of the cases reviewed

by the Commission. However, in only nine of the 27 cases were these

examinations undertaken by specialist forensic pathologists. On each of the other

occasions the examinations occurred in regional centres throughout Queensland

and were conducted by a government medical officer from the region. Each of

these government medical officers was a general practitioner without any

recognised qualifications in the field of pathology or forensic pathology. This is

unsatisfactory considering the acknowledged fact that the conduct of an autopsy

is a specialised medical procedure.Although no adverse findings were made by

me in relation to these examinations, in only two cases (Johnson, Ryan) were

extensive special examinations made of body specimens. In three recent

contentious cases staff from the State Health Laboratory were flown to

Rockhampton (Tiers, Booth) and Cairns (Short) to conduct the examinations.

Only one case (Pilot) involved participation by a government forensic pathologist

to the extent described above in relation to the ideal system.

Recent debate has centred on the desirability of a protocol for the conduct

of{X>st-1940s examinations in relation to deaths in custody. Dr A.J. Ansford,

Director of the Laboratory of Microbiology and Pathology, has advised this

Commission in corres{X>ndence that he agrees with Professor Cordner, the

Director of the Victorian Institute of Forensic Pathology, who has stated that a


detailed protocol is not necessary, assuming qualified and experienced forensic

pathologists conduct or oversee all such examinations. Procedures such as

extensive photography, routine histology and toxicology examinations and

specimen retention should be adopted as standard practice within the State Health



3. 3 .1 The Ideal Coronial System

In an ideal coronia! system a mandatory inquest should be held where

death occurs in any institutional situation. A succinct statement of this view

appears in K.M. Waller Coronia! Law and Practice in NSW, Second Edition, at

p.24, which I quoted in my report of my inquiry into the death of John Raymond


It is very desirable that no suspicion should arise in the public mind that deaths in Government Institutions such as gaols are made the subject merely of investigation by Government Officers, and that therefore, when deaths occur, it is not likely that everything which reflects on the management of the institution will be allowed to come into the public view. The public should be satisfied that the prisoner or confinee came to his death by the common course of nature, and not by some unlawful violence or unreasonable hardship put upon him by those under whose power he was while confined. There should not be given an opportunity for asserting that matters with regard to deaths in public

institutions are 'hushed up'.

I note that on 8 February 1990 as a direct consequence of my

recommendation in that report, the Honourable the Minister for Justice and

Corrective Services issued a directive to coroners, as he is empowered to do

under the Coroners Act to the effect that it is mandatory to hold an inquest into all

cases of deaths in police or prison custody. I take the view that this

administrative directive is an effective interim measure until such time as the

legislation can be amended.


My inquiries have indicated to me that the proposed overhaul of the

Queensland coronial system should incorporate at least the following concepts:

• The coroner should be a person of appropriate training and experience

with judicial status;

• The coroner should be able to call upon the assistance of a specialist

investigatory unit to work directly under his direction and be directly

accountable to him;

• The coroner should be assisted at the inquest by counsel or by an

independent person with appropriate qualifications who is not a police


The inquest should be conducted by one coroner sitting at one appointed

venue and seek to avoid any lengthy adjournments; but in circumstances

where an adjournment to another place is unavoidable the coroner and the

staff assisting him should move to that place;

• The coroner should fully investigate such issues as:

(a) whether the death occurred in suspicious circumstances (whether

by negligent act or omission or otherwise); and

(b) whether there was any systemic failure of any relevant

prison/watchhouse supervision procedure or of police

arrest/detention procedures.

• There should be only minimal delay between the date of death and the

opening of the inquest, and between the date of the opening of the

inquest and its conclusion;


• The coroner should be required, in appropriate cases, to make

investigations with a view to recommendations designed to prevent

further deaths in similar circumstances;

• The coroner should monitor the handling by police and medical

practitioners of the lxxly of the deceased and issue appropriate directions

to ensure access by the next of kin and to facilitate the conduct of

funerary rites.

It will be clear from the foregoing that I am in substantial agreement with

recommendations numbers 44-48 in the Interim Report.

Section 45(3) of the Act authorises a coroner to extend his inquiries

beyond the fact of the death, the identity of the deceased, the circumstances of

death and whether any person should be charged in relation to the death and to

make a recommendation designed to prevent the recurrence of similar deaths.

The subsection was presumably intended by the legislature to highlight

any deficiencies in the system in which the deceased met his or her death. It

provides the coroner with a discretion as to whether or not to add a rider. The

real difficulty however is that the coronial system, as it presently functions, does

not provide the coroner with the material upon which he maylegitimately or

fruitfully make recommendations. If this discretion is to be properly exercised by

coroners, more extensive evidentiary material must be placed before them to

enable them to make recommendations. In order that such recommendations be

valid and useful, the coroner needs to have material before him that addresses the

issue whether such reforms he might contemplate are feasible and cost effective.

There are a number of other features which have been thought in recent

times to characterise an ideal coronial system, some of which have been

emlxxlied in legislation in other Australian States. They are outside the Terms of

Reference of my inquiry and this report. However, I note that in the

foreshadowed review of the Coroners Act there are many other interests to be


considered. A thorough inquiry into refonn of the coronia! system in Queensland

should be preceded by an invitation for submissions from all interested parties

and followed by public discussion prior to any major revision.

3.3.2 What I Found

My inquiries revealed that the Queensland coronia! system presently falls

far short of the ideal in a number of respects:

• Inquests into deaths in custody are not mandatory under the Act; although this deficiency has for all practical purposes been remedied by the

Ministerial direction to which I have referred.

• Coroners have no investigatory staff of their own, and are entirely

dependent upon the police to conduct investigations over which they have

no direct control.

Section 50 of the Act provides that it is the duty of all members of the

Police Service to assist coroners in their inquires and in the exercise and

perfonnance of their other powers and duties under the Act and to comply

with all lawful directions, requests, and orders of any coroners and to

assist at all inquests and other proceedings under the Act. However, in

practice police officers, in the main, exercise complete autonomy in

detennining the nature of the investigation to be conducted into a

particular death. The quality of that investigation, which in my

experience was often perfunctory and deficient, will almost invariably

influence the decision whether or not an inquest is to take place, and, if

one does, the effectiveness of that inquest. The most frequently found

source of deficiency in coronia! inquiries investigated by me was that

coroners depended largely upon the police investigation. Almost

invariably, the deficiencies in the police investigation were reflected in the

coronia! investigation. I should mention that in some cases investigated

by me, the coroner did cause further inquiries to be made by police but

even then the total investigation usually proved to be inadequate.


In the coronia! system as it presently operates in Queensland there is

frequently gross delay between a death in custody and the opening of the

inquest. Furthermore, in a number of cases I inquired into there was a

further extensive delay between the opening of the inquest and the

delivery of the coroner's findings. Such delays inhibit one of the

perceived functions of a proper inquest, which is to identify the

circumstances and cause of death in a timely fashion with a view to

making recommendations designed to prevent similar occurrences in the


Section 27 of the Act provides, inter alia, that where any inquest is

adjourned from place to place, the inquest may be continued or completed

by some other coroner who may act upon any evidence already given at

the inquest in all respects as if it were given before him.

The practical upshot of the operation of s.27 is that inquests in

Queensland have frequently been conducted in a piecemeal fashion,

which significantly undermines confidence in the thoroughness of the

inquiry and diminishes their effectiveness in relation to the hearing of

evidence and the sifting of facts.

I have set out below in Table 3.1 the data relating to each inquest held in

relation to a death investigated by me, showing the name of the deceased, the

number of coroners in total who conducted the inquest, the number of venues at

which the inquest was held and the number of occasions including the original

hearing date(s) and any subsequent adjournment beyond the next court sitting day

on which the coroner sat on the inquest.

I am of course cognisant of the fact that coroners in Queensland

investigate numerous deaths apart from those of Aboriginal and Torres Strait

Islanders which occur in custody. However, no suggestion was advanced in the

inquires conducted before me that the inquests in question were in any way

uncharacteristic of inquests customarily conducted in Queensland.


Table 3.1




Pilot 3 1 5

The Man who died 2 3 4


The Young Man 1 1 1

who died at Wujal Wujal

Riversleigh 3 3 4

Dunrobin 2 2 3

Lacey 1 1 2

O'Rourlce 2 1 3

Binks 2 2 2

Kulla Kulla 4 3 4

Salt 2 2 4

Wouters 1 1 2

Noble 1 1 1

Hyde 1 1 2

Koowootha 2 2 3

West 4 4 9

Booth 1 1 1

Tiers 1 1 1

Short 1 1 1

Yarrie B. 2 1 2

Lawton 1 1 1

Lorraway 1 1 2


1bere was invariably some considerable delay between the date of death

and the date on which the inquest opened. In Lacey's case there was a delay of

17 months, due mainly to the fact that on 22 January 1988, on the

recommendation of the coroner, the Under-Secretary of the Department of

Justice certified that the holding of an inquest was unnecessary. Following the

receipt of a letter from the solicitors for the relatives advising him that this

Commission would be investigating the death, the Under-Secretary changed his

mind and recommended that an inquest be held. Three days later this

recommendation was accepted by the Minister for Justice who directed the

holding of an inquest. Nevertheless the inquest was not convened for another

seven months. In the cases of Salt (14 months), Binks (13 months), Lorraway

(10 months) and Tiers (9 months) the delays were also extreme. The delay of27

months in Kulla Kulla's case is unpardonable. What is remarkable about the

delay in Lorraway's case is that it occurred despite a show of concern by two

Ministers of the Crown. In most cases where delays occurred they could be

attributed to dilatoriness in the police investigations into the death. Frequently

there was further considerable delay between the opening of the inquest and the

delivery of the coroner's findings. I have set out below in tabular fonn the data

in relation to these matters from the cases I have investigated where an inquest

was held.


Table 3.2




Pilot 25 January 1987 7 April1987 28 September 1987

The Young 11 April 1987 20 July 1987 8 December 1987

Man who died atAurukun

The Young 29 March 1987 7 September 1987 8 September 1987 Man who died at Wujal Wujal

Riversleigh 13 March 1987 12 October 1987 2 June 1988

Dunrobin 2 August 1984 5 November 1984 20 February 1985

Lacey 11 June 1987 19 October 1988 24 October 1988

O'Rourke 11 February 1980 6 May 1980 27 June 1980

Binks 11 March 1989 23 April 1990 Not concluded as at

30 November 1990

Kulla Kulla 2 September 1984 20 March 1985 3 December 1986

Salt 21 June 1987 9 August 1988 10 December 1988

Wouters 15 November 1987 11 February 1988 25 February 1988

Noble 4 December 1986 29 May 1987 1 June 1987

Hyde 18 December 1986 29 May 1987 5 June 1987

Koowootha 18 February 1987 10 September 1987 16 January 1988

West 9 July 1987 28 October 1987 16 December 1988

Booth 15 November 1988 13 December 1988 21 December 1988

Tiers 1 ·February 1989 1 November 1989 1 November 1989

Short 24 March 1989 16 August 1989 18 August 1989

Yarrie B. 14 April 1986 22 January 1987 18 February 1987

Lawton 4 December 1980 17 June 1981 17 June 1981

Lorraway 16 May 1981 10 March 1982 7 April1982


On 13 April 1987, following six Aboriginal deaths in custody in four

North Queensland Aboriginal communities between December 1986 and April

1987, the Queensland Government appointed Mr Eric Law, an officer of the

Department of Community Services, and Mr Pearce Powder, a councillor with

the Woorabinda Aboriginal Council, to 'investigate and report on the apparent

rising incidence of suicides by Aborigines on Queensland communities whilst in


The stated objectives of the investigative team were:

1. To consult with local communities on the security and supervision procedures recently introduced to the Communities to prevent suicide attempts.

2. To consult with officials and Community members regarding the reasons which are causing the current problems.

3 . Through the consultative process to suggest ways of eliminating both the suicide problems and the underlying causes, if any, of it.

The brief for the team contained guidelines suggesting issues upon which

investigations might focus:

• The safety precautions taken at jails to prevent suicides

• The observation system instituted or to be instituted on each Community to prevent suicides

• The use of Community based medica/facilities as a viable alternative to jails

• Community perception as to the need to establish

rehabilitation services on the Community

• Types and level of Community support for the preceding programmes

• Data collection re number of suicides, incidence of alcoholism and drunkenness, trends in these areas as perceived by Community members. (In conjunction with Aboriginal Health Team interviews)


• Reasons for incidents of suicides and levels of

drunkenness. (These can cover both immediate and deep seated long term reasons)

• What further can be done to overcome the problems. (This should involve both immediate and medium term programmes)

• It may be possible to ascertain whether other types of drugs are being introduced into Communities.

It is significant to note that in so defining the ' terms of reference'. the

investigative team was clearly given a brief to conduct research into not simply

immediate causes and phenomena properly regarded merely as symptomatic of

underlying causes, but also to examine • deep seated • causes underlying suicides

occurring in custody. It was expected that the team would, and it in fact did, visit

each mainland Aboriginal community as well as Momington Island and Palm


On 2 July 1987, they submitted a report to the Minister which has

become known as 'The Powder-Law Report'. Their investigations took them to

14 Aboriginal communities in Queensland and their report after referring to

possible causes for suicides and suggested solutions sets out in detail the results

of their investigations into each community. Messrs Powder and Law's 'Major

Recommendations' listed on page 6 of the report are:

1. Effective training and career paths for Community Police

2. Appointment ofWatchhouse Keepers on all Communities

3. New Police Stations at Ayton and Hope Vale

4. Improve the Housing situation on Communities

5. Community education programs relating to Government Acts and Regulations

6. Alcohol Rehabilitation Centre on all Communities

7. Alcohol and Drug Education Programs in Schools

8. CDEP offered to all Communities


9. Strengthening, maintaining and resurrection of Aboriginal Culture on Communities

10. Improved Health facilities

11. Consistent co-ordination between agencies on Communities

12. New Watchhouses at Wujal Wujal, Hope Vale and Yarrabah.

In my report of my inquiry into the death of Alistair Albert Riversleigh I

stated that my Letters Patent obliged me to conduct an inquiry into the Powder­

Law Report and the action, if any, generated by that report. I considered doing

this on a community by community basis. However, as I indicated in my report

in relation to the death of Riversleigh, upon reflection and bearing in mind that the

Powder-Law Report covers many communities where a death within my Terms

of Reference has not occurred and also deals extensively with underlying issues,

I concluded that it would be more appropriate to address the Report and any

subsequent action taken as a consequence of it after I had completed my inquiries

into individual deaths and when the various underlying issues that may have had

a bearing on those deaths had become more clearly identified.

In 1989, after the publication of the Interim Report, the Queensland

Government requested Messrs Powder and Law to undertake a review of their

Report for the purpose of reporting on the extent of the implementation of their

recommendations and also to report generally on the situation on communities as

it then was. That review was duly undertaken and presented to Cabinet on

30 October 1989.

The change of government that followed the Queensland State election in

December 1989, was followed by departmental restructuring and a noticeable

policy shift in the administration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs.

On 14 August 1990 the Queensland Cabinet established a Committee of Review

to inquire into legislation relating to the management of Aboriginal and Torres

Strait Islander communities in Queensland. It became apparent that no good

purpose would be served by a detailed analysis by me of any action taken by the


previous Government subsequent to the presentation of the Powder-Law Report

in 1987 and its review in 1989 and I discontinued my inquiries into that Report.



Appendix 1(a)



Professor Henry Reynolds



Recent archaeological work in North Queensland has established that

Aboriginal occupation goes back at least 30,000 years. Earlier sites are likely to

be discovered in the future although many of the most heavily populated areas

were probably on or near the Ice-Age coastline which ran along the outer-edge of

the Barrier Reef and were drowned as a result of rising sea levels between

15,000 and 6,000 years ago. Over hundreds of generations of Aboriginal

society adapted to and in tum altered its physical environment, creating a way of

li fe responsive to a wide range of habitats hot, dry savannah, dense tropical

rai nforest, mangrove, dune and coastal wetland, cool southern forests . Along

the North Coast resident clans had long term contact with Torres Strait Islanders

and traded artifacts and ideas with Papuan society on the far shore of the Strait.

Macassan seamen fished the waters of the Gulf of Carpentaria and cured

beche-de-mer in camps established on the coast. The date of their first

appearance is unknown but it may have coincided with the first visits by Dutch

and Spanish expeditions in the C17th. By the early C19th the sea-lane- the so

called inner-route - inside the Barrier Reef and through Torres Strait was being

regularly used by ships sailing between ports on the eastern seaboard and those

in South and East Asia. Clans living on the off shore islands had frequent

contact with passing ships which normally anchored every night while in

dangerous reef waters.

Castaways like Eliza Frazer, James Morrell and Barbara Thompson lived

with coastal clans for varying periods of time. The major land expeditions -those of Mitchell, Leichhardt and Gregory - had far less impact on Aboriginal

society than the constant maritime traffic along the coast while the influence of

convict settlement at Moreton Bay was confined to its immediate hinterland.

But once the pastoralists pushed into Queensland from 1840 onwards

their occupation of runs was extremely rapid. Between 1840 and 1870 most of

the easily accessible grazing land was stocked with sheep or cattle. In the 1880's

the Queensland squatters drove their herds across the Northern Territory and


took up land in the East Kimberley. The discovery, exploitation and in many

cases the abandonment of goldfields took place at an equally frenetic pace.

During the 1870s and 1880s diggers rushed to the Gilbert, Etheridge, Mulgrave,

Palmer and many other lesser known fields. From 1856 this rapid expansion of

settlement took place under the aegis of colonial governments (New South Wales

until 1859 and then Queensland) which displayed far less concern for the

Aboriginals than had the Imperial Government during the 1830s and 1840s.

What is more Queensland inherited the harsh racial attitudes which had

developed on the expanding frontier during the 1820s and 1830s.

New South Wales since the first years of settlement, with marked

intensification of conflict on the Hawkesbury in the 1790s, on the Bathurst plains

and along the Hunter in the 1820s. Conflict was even more severe in the valleys

of the Macintyre, Gwydir and Namoi in the late 1830s and early 1840s. Fierce

Aboriginal resistance provoked a series of massacres culminating in the murder

of 28 men, women and children at Myall Creek on lOth June 1838.35 Edward

Day, the Police Magistrate at Muswellbrook reported to a Legislative Council

Select Committee in 1839 that the district was 'in a state of warfare'. The

Europeans, he noted, 'seem to feel that they [are] in an enemy's country'. His

colleague, Edward Mayne, the local Commissioner for Crown Lands, told the

Committee that 'such was the want of confidence subsisting between the Whites

and the Blacks, that whenever they encountered each other, the Whites expected

themselves or their cattle to be speared, and the Blacks expected to be fired at'. 36

A settler on the Gwydir wrote to the Sydney paper The Colonist in February

1839 explaining that 'you must either shoot a few of them by way of example or

you must abandon the country' _37




For conflict in New South Wales sec H. Reynolds, Frontier, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 1987. For the most recent account of the Myall Creek massacre consult A. Atkinson 6 M. Avcling, eds., Australians 1838, Fairfax, Syme & Weldon, Sydney, 1987, pp.38-63. Minutes of Evidence taken from the Committee on Police and Gaols, NSW Legislative Council V & P, 2, 1839, pp.23,224. Letter by 'State Umbra', Black and White, The Colonist, 16 Feb. 1839.


The pioneer pastoralists moved up onto the Darling Downs expecting

trouble and ready to use their guns to shoot their way out of it. Many of them

had already had experience on the frontier and had absorbed its ethos of violence.

In letters to their parents the Leslie brothers reported that, on their expedition to

the north, they were 'taking plenty of firearms for fear of the blacks'. And they

used them. Eighteen months later they explained that they ' never allow them [the

Aboriginals] to come about the station or hold any communication with them

except it be with a gun or a sword'. Three years later the message was even

more sinister, Walter Leslie writing 'Our shooting here is mostly confined to the

rifle and pistol used in defence of our men's lives and property'. Despite their

weapons the Leslie's were chronically insecure. Patrick Leslie regretted taking

his wife to Canning Downs, explaining that, 'I would not take her again into

such a situation for the fortune of a Peer. The constant dread of the Blacks and

the fearful risks one runs so far from civilized life is enough to deter anyone from

such a step' .38

While reminiscing about the early years of settlement on the Condamine

G.S. Lang noted that he and his companions lived with their guns on hand for

'nearly three years'. When they bathed in the river 'carbines and ammunition had

to be on the water's edge·.39

In 1848 the distant government responded to the continuing conflict on

the northern frontier by establishing a small native police force under the

command of Frederick Walker who recruited fourteen young Aboriginal men

from the Riverina and after a brief training period they rode north.40 They had


39 40

George Leslie to his parents, 10 Dec. 1839, 24 June 1841 ; Walter to William Leslie, 14 April 1844; Patrick to his parents, 2 March 1843. K.G .T.Waller, The Letters of the Leslie Brothers in Australia, 1834-54, B.A. Hons . thesis , University of Qld., pp .85, 97, 102, 104. For a recent account see M. French, ConOi ct on the Condamine: Aborigines and the European Invasion, Darling Downs Institute Pres s, Toowoomba, 1989. G.S. Lang, The Aborigines of Australia, Melbourne, 1865, p.77 . The early history of the Native Police is discussed in L.E . Skinner, Police of the

Pastoral Frontier, Uni of Qld Press, St Lucia, 1971. For the later history consult,


an immediate effect on conflict along the Condamine and Macintyre. The

troopers were particularly suited to the task in hand combining the skills of both

white and black- the ability to ride and shoot and the capacity to live off the land,

find water and track their opponents even in the most difficult country. Walker

saw his role not as a participant in frontier conflict on the side of the Europeans

but as the agent of an impartial state who would maintain law and order. He did

not intend to carry 'war into an enemy country' but to put the law 'into effect

against both white and black without distinction' . The blacks were not to be

treated as enemies but as 'British subjects who like armed Bushrangers were

defying the law'. But this was certainly not the way that frontier settlers viewed

the matter. Walker quickly discovered that they believed that 'a system of

warfare ought to be authorized by Government•.4I It was a conflict of opinion

which was resolved decisively in favour of the settlers, a decision made more

likely by the grant of responsible government to New South Wales in 1856 and

to Queensland on separation three years later. Each shift of power - from

Downing Street to Sydney and from Sydney to Brisbane brought goveri-unent

closer to the frontier- politically, intellectually and morally.

In 1859 there were just over 30,000 settlers in the colony. The

Aboriginal population cannot be determined but it may have been more than

100,000.42. The Europeans occupied the south-east comer of the colony - a

triangular slice of territory bounded by the coast, the New South Wales border

and a line drawn from Rockhampton to St George. In area it was certainly no

more than 20% of the total land surface.43




N. Taylor, The Native Mounted Police of Queensland, B.A. Hons. thesis, James Cook Uni., 1970 See the letters of Frederick Walker to Colonial Secretary. 18 October 1849, I July 1854, Letters re Moreton Bay and Native Police, Mitchell Library mss. A2/19, A2/48; I March I852, NSW Legislative Council V& P, I, I852,p.789. There is much debate currently about the original Aboriginal population. See for instance 'How Many People?' in J.P. White and D.J. Mulvaney, Australians to

I788, Fairfax, Syme & Weldon, Sydney, 1987, pp.Il5-17. See Australians: An Historical Atlas, Fairfax, Syme & Weldon, Sydney, I987, p.65 .


The existence of such a large area of 'unsettled' land promoted a sense

both of boundless opportunity and of mission to engage in 'the great· work of

reclaiming the wildemess·.44 The editor of the North Australian wrote in 1861:

Our mission is to populate and develop the resources of the country .. . and that mission llill.U. be fulfilled. 45

A 'Working Man' wrote to the same paper a few months earlier

explaining that 'we are as yet but as the pioneers that precede the army in its

march, clearing the forest, marking out the roads for the main body of our

countrymen to advance' .46 The pastoral industry was the backbone of the

economy providing 90% of the colony' s exports. Many members of the first

parliament were squatters or had direct financial interests in the industry.

Unlike the colonists elsewhere in Eastern Australia before 1866, and in

Western Australia until 1900, the Queenslanders were released from the restraint

which had been exercised- albeit fitfully and often ineffectually- by the Imperial

Government and its local representatives. Despite many complaints sent to

England during the nineteenth century about the treatment of the Aboriginals the

Colonial Office regarded the matter as an internal issue. Humanitarian opinion

had some influence in Brisbane - a Moreton Bay Aborigines Friendship Society

was established in the 1850s - but it was weaker there than in the southern cities.

The two early attempts at missionary endeavour - the Roman Catholics on

Stradbroke Island and the Lutherans on the outskirts of Brisbane - had both

failed by 1859. There was little further missionary activity for thirty years. It

was rare to find anyone at the time who spoke out in favour of Aboriginal rights

to land - even to the usufructuary rights which the Imperial Government had

44 45 46

Moreton Bay Courier, 27 May 1862. 6 December 1861 21 September 1860


recognized in 1848 and which were incorporated in Queensland pastoral leases

after that date.47

The violence which accompanied the settlement of the Darling Downs

and the Brisbane Valley continued on into the 1850s as settlers pushed into

central Queensland. The Aboriginal attacks on Hornet Bank Station in 1857 and

on Cullinlaringoe in 1861, resulting in the deaths of 30 men, women and

children shocked and angered the settlers and evoked demands for indiscriminate

revenge. 48 The New South Wales Select Committee set up to enquire into the

Hornet Bank affair reported that the members were satisfied that there is no

alternative but to carry matters through with a strong hand, and punish with

necessary severity all future outrages upon life and property.49

Public opinion was even more inflamed. When news of the deaths at

Hornet Bank reached Ipswich 'even those habitually calm and merciful [were]

often heard to advocate vengeance and extermination·.50 A correspondent who

wrote to the Queensland Guardian after hearing of the deaths at Cullinlaringoe

argued that the tribe must be punished. Whether it number scores or hundreds

... the deadly bullet must do the work of the more legitimate executioner- justice

must triumph over law.51

When the punitive expeditions - both official and private - rode across

large areas of central Queensland with guns blazing revenge clearly did lliumph

over law and the legal doctrine - honoured more in the breach than in the

observance- that the Aboriginals were British subjects protected by the law. The

tragic events of 1857-61 ensured the future of the Native Police force which




50 51

For the question of the pastoral leases see H. Reynolds , The Law of the Land Penguin, Ringwood, 1988, pp.l37-46. For material on the two attacks see G. Reid, A nest of Hornets: The Massacre of the Fraser Family at Hornet Bank. 1857, Oxford UP, Melbourne, 1982. J. Wright, The Cry for the Dead, Oxford UP, Melbourne, 1981.

Select Committee on Murders by the Aborigines on the Dawson River, NSW Legislative Assembly V & P 1858 p.849. Ipswich correspondent, Moreton Bay Courier, 14 November, 1857. 6 November 1861.


continued to ride the frontier until the first decade of the twentieth century. When

news of the deaths of the Wills family at Cullinlaringoe reached Brisbane a

correspondent writing in the Queensland Guardian argued 'and now we can

understand and appreciate the value of [the Native Police] we thank Providence

for it and commend it to its work•.52

Any pretence of strict legality or of even-handedness in the activities of

the Native Police wad dispensed with. In January 1858 the Commandant E.Y.

Morisset issued instructions to the officers of the force which reflected the harsh

new outlook. 'It is the duty of the Officers', the tenth paragraph read, 'at all

times and opportunities to disperse any large assemblage of blacks; such

meetings if not prevented, invariably lead to depredations or murder .. .'. 53

The instruction to disperse large gatherings at all times and opportunities

was not rescinded until 1896, thirty-eight years later. If there was ever any

doubt about what 'to disperse' meant it was dispelled by the colony's Attorney­

General who told parliament in 1861 that it was ' idle to dispute', that the term

'meant nothing but firing at them' .54 The frontier settlers had got the kind of

force they had wanted all along. A prominent squatter-member of the 1861

Select Committee on the Native Police declared that 'the natives must be regarded

in the same light as inhabitants of a country under martial law'. He believed that

'from the natives knowing no law, [nor] entertaining any fears but those of the

carbine, there was no other means of ruling them' _55

The activities of the Native Police force did not obviate the need for

individual involvement in frontier conflict or preclude the widespread carrying of

guns. On the frontier men were armed, often with rifle and revolver, while

travelling, while working and loaded guns were kept ready in the home.56 How

52 53 54 55 56

Ibid. Select Committee on Native Police Force, Queensland V 6 P, 1961, p.151. Reported in Queensland Guardian, 27 July 1861. The Courier, 25 July 1861.

H. Reynolds. ed. Race Relations in North Queensland James Cook Uni., Townsville, 1978, pp.34-36.


many individuals were personally involved in frontier violence is hard to say.

But individual participation aside there clearly was widespread acceptance of the

use of brutal means both in gaining control of the land and in 'keeping the blacks

in their place' when that was done. The editor of the Rockhampton Bulletin

remarked in April 1876 that a 'reckless disregard of the common rights of

humanity was far too often exhibited by men whose moral sensibilities' had been

blunted 'by too great familiarity with deeds of blood in skirmishes which take

place on our frontier settlement' .57 Writing after a massacre by Native Police on

the outskirts of the mining town of Morinish a local resident wrote with deep

concern to the Rockhampton paper:

One inevitable effect of these massacres continuing unpunished and unrepressed will be, that the youth of the colony will grow up with a reckless disregard of human life, which, in due time will yield congenial fruit. Already the evil leaven has begun to work. I have frequently felt grieved and indigmmt at the levity, with which many of the colonial youth speak of those outrages on the blacks.58

Clearly there was a high degree of tolerance of violence and atrocity in

colonial Queensland. It often caught the attention of observant visitors. This

was clearly the case with the distinguished British colonial official Sir Arthur

Gordon who visited the colony in 1883. In a letter to his friend the British Prime

Minister William Gladstone he confided that while in Queensland he had heard

men of culture and refinement, of the greatest humanity and kindness to their

fellow whites, and who when you meet them at home you would pronounce to

be incapable of such deeds, talk, not only of the wholesale butchery ... but of

individual murder of natives, exactly as they would talk of a day's sport, or of

having to kill some troublesome animal. 59

57 58


19 April 1876 M. Collison, 'The Recent Outrage on the Blacks', Rockhampton Bu!letin 25 June 1867. A. Knaplund, 'Sir Arthur Gordon and the New Guinea Question', Historical Studies of Australia & New Zealand, 7, 1955-57, pp.330-31.


One of the most disturbing examples of this callousness is illustrated in

the diary of Caroline Creaghe written during a visit to north-west Queensland in

1883 a month or two before Gordon was writing of his concern to Gladstone.

She was twenty-two at the time and a child of the Australian elite - daughter of

Major General George Robinson and niece of two colonial governors. She had

recently married H.A. Creaghe a member of the English aristocracy. While

staying on frontier cattle stations she made several references in her diary to the

local Aboriginals. On 8 February 1883 she noted that on Lome Hill station the

manager had '40 pairs of black's ears nailed round the walls, collected during

raids after losses of many cattle speared by the blacks'. A fortnight later on .c.arl

Creek station she observed that when the men returned from the run:

They brought a new black gin with them; she cannot speak a word of English. Mr. Shadforth [the manager] put a rope round the girl's neck and dragged her along onfoot. He was riding. This seems to be the usual method.

The following day she recorded that the woman was chained up to a tree

a few yards from the house. She was 'not to be loosed until they think she is

tamed'. 60 These incidents are recorded in a matter of fact way without any

indication of shock or disapproval.

People who took a stand against racial violence were often decried and

abused. The squatter Ernest Thorn attempted to frustrate a party bent on

attacking an Aboriginal camp near his property. As a result he got 'a bad name'

which followed him for many years and 'rose up in judgement' against him for

many years. He was, he recalled, branded as 'a dangerous man'.61 The

journalist A.J. Vogan had a similar experience. Having exposed the activities of

the Native Police in a novel called The Black Police he found that he had acquired

powerful enemies. Writing to the Anti-Slavery Society in London he explained

that as a consequence his profession was closed to him, 'marked man as I now

60 61

Diary of Caroline Creaghe, Mitchell Library, mss. 2982. E. Thorn, 'A White Australia- The Other Side', United Australia, 25 October 1901.


am'. 62 The Catholic priest Duncan McNab infonned a parliamentary committee

that in his experience he had found 'too generally prevailing a certain disposition

to regard and treat as a fanatic, anyone who shows an inclination to advocate [the

cause] of the Aboriginals or to benefit them'. 63

Both government policy and individual behaviour towards th e

Aboriginals were shaped by racial ideas which the settlers brought into the

colony with them and which in tum were influenced by local developments.

Belief in racial equality, which in the early years of Australian settlement had

drawn strength from both Enlightenment philosophy and traditional Christianity,

had faltered by the time that Queensland was separated from New South Wales.

Assorted schools of 'scientific' racism which flourished in Europe and North

America in the first half of the century were finding favour in the Australian

colonies in the 1840s and 1850s. The establishment of responsible government

in Queensland in 1859 coincided with the publication of Charles Darwin 's

seminal work The Origin of the Species which was ultimately to have a major

influence on racial thought as a consequence of the work of his many followers

who adapted the concept of evolution to explain the development of human

societies. 64

The common view throughout the second half of the nineteenth century

was that Aboriginals were 'savages' who shared common characteristics with

'savages' in other parts of the world. This belief was deeply rooted in European

thought influencing at one and the same time those who advocated amelioration

and those who promoted much harsher policies. Settlers hostile to the Aboriginal

cause spoke and wrote of 'the wretched characteristics of our black population­

their fearful superstitions, their bestial tastes, their undisguised squalor and filth,

62 63


Anti-Slavery Papers, 522/697. Rhodes House, Oxford. Report on the Board of Inquiry in the Aboriginal Reserve at Mackay, Queensland V & P, 3, 1876, p.l66. For a discussion of racial ideas see H. Reynolds, 'Racial Thought in Early Colonial · Australia', Australian Journal of Politics & History, 20, April 1974, pp.45-53. ·


their indolent habits and their nomadic disposition'. 65 But the views of the

missionary William Ridley, a so-called 'friend' of the blacks, appear to modem

eyes to be little better. He wrote in 1856, when a leading figure in the short-lived

Moreton Bay Aborigines Friendship Society, that:

It had been remarked that they [the Aborigines] were the most degraded and lowest race in the world. It must be admitted, so far as he knew, that in some points they were singularly, and also uniquely defective, as if some features of human nature

were wanting, or else they were much demented.66

From the very beginning of settlement it was widely accepted that the

Aboriginals were doomed to extinction, a view bolstered by experience in New

South Wales and Tasmania and by generally available knowledge of earlier

demographic disasters which befell the Indian populations in the Americas. A

writer in the Moreton Bay Free Press argued in 1852 that the whole history of

colonisation proved that when a 'country inhabited by savages' was occupied by

a 'superior race ' the fate of 'its original inhabitants is from that moment

sealed' _67 'The native race', a correspondent in the Brisbane Courier explained

in 1865, 'will perish before our advance as docs the autumnal grass before a

bush fire' . 68

Darwinian ideas gave strength to many pre-existing racial ideas, linking

them with the greatest scientific achievement of the age. The concept of race was

further embedded in colonial thought, the various races being equated with the

species in the natural world.69 Increasingly the Aboriginals were seen as

members of a less evolved, earlier race, a biological and cultural fossil preserved

by the isolation of the continent. The laws of evolution, it was confidently

assumed, were pushi,ng to race to the brink of extinction. There was little that


66 67 68 69

J.H.C ., 'Civilization Based on Moraliz ation', Moreton Bay Courier, 16 August 1856 . Moreton Bay Courier, 19 January 1856. Moreton Bay Courier, 29 January 1852. Brisbane Courier, 25 March 1865. For a discussion of social Darwinism see H. Reynolds, Frontier, op. cit., pp.l15 -23.


could be done about it. Conflict attending the expansion of the frontier could be

seen, in this light, as a regrettable but inevitable conflict of races out of which the

fi tter would survive prepared for further evolutionary advance. A settler who

professed strong sympathy for the Aboriginals told the visiting Norwegian

scientist Carl Lumholtz that he would do anything he could to 'ameliorate their

present wretched condition' but nothing could be achieved 'for it is an immutable

law of nature that the strong will prey upon the weak' _70 A writer in the

Quecnslander similarly believed that the callousness towards the Aboriginals

aro se not from a lack of sympathy but from a 'firm conviction that their stage of

civili zation is too many hundreds and perhaps thousands of years behind our

own to allow their race to thrive side by side with ours• .71 An even more

signi ficant statement of social Darwinism was that of Archibald Meston in a

report to the government in 1889 a few years before he was to exert a profound

influence on the protectionist policies adopted after 1897. 'The Australian

blacks', he insisted,

... are moving rapidly on into eternal darkness in which all savage and inferior races are surely destined to disappear. All effort to preserve th em, though creditable to our humanity, is a poor compliment to our knowledge of those inexorable laws

whose operations are as apparent as our own existence. Their epoch of tim e is near its termination, the shadows deepening towards everlastin g night. It is a mournful picture, that of the old inhabitants who f or unknown ages have roam ed the primeval forests of this mighty continent, now moving off silent and swift­ footed into oblivion before th e presence of the white strangers.n

It is much more difficult to describe what happened on the 'other side of

the frontier' , given the large number of Aboriginal tribes involved and the general

lac k of evidence available to us. However a composite picture can be pieced

together which conveys the overall situation while not necessarily being true to

70 71


C. Lu mhol tz. Among Cann ibals, London, 1889, p.348.

Letter by A.C.G., Queensland, 5 June 1880. Report by A. Meston on th e Government Scientific Expedition to th e Bell enden Ker Range, Queensland V & P, 5, 1889, p.1213 .


every clan in the colony.73 Knowledge of the Europeans undoubtedly preceded

the advancing tide of settlement. News about the mysterious powers of guns and

the propensity of white men to use them was spread far and wide. Many clans

had seen and even hunted wild cattle well before the settler's herds and flocks

came over the horizon. Iron, glass and even tobacco were often in use well

beyond the outer fringe of European settlement. Even so the arrival of the first

permanent settlers was an awesome experience. Violence was not instantaneous,

or even inevitable. Contact often began peacefully and in a few districts that

situation was maintained. Many clans attempted to avoid contact as long as

possible; others sought to establish amiable relations with the powerful

newcomers and absorb them within their networks of obligation. But the

situation was fraught with danger. So many things could go wrong. Both white

and black were stretched taut with anxiety. Mutual misunderstanding abounded.

Conflict over women, access to water, use of land was endemic. Once violence

began it usually spiralled out of control and continued for months and in some

places for years where the terrain gave the tribesman the advantage over mounted

white stockmen and native troopers. Recurrent skirmishing persisted for 50

years and took many lives. At least 1000 Europeans died and perhaps 10,000

Aboriginals although we will never know the true figure . Many were wounded

on both sides of the frontier. 74

The fighting came to an uneasy end everywhere sooner or later. The

pressures on tribal society were enormous. People had lived for long periods

gripped with chronic anxiety. They had seen their kin gunned down. It became

increasingly difficult to sustain the lifestyle of the hunter and gatherer as the

Aboriginals were forced away from the river valleys and other surface water into

mountainous, arid or other marginal country. In his official report on the



A generalised picture of the Aboriginal response to Europeans will be found in H. Reynolds The Other Side of the Frontier. Penguin, Ringwood, 1982 . For an assessment of the impact of frontier conflict see N.A. Loos, Invasion and resistance, ANU Press, Canberra, 1982. N.A. Loos & H. Reynolds, 'Aboriginal Resistance in Queensland', Australian Journal of Politics & History, 22 August

1976, pp.214-15.


condition of the Aboriginals in North Queensland Archibald Meston described

one group who came to meet him 'like hunted wild beasts, having lived for years

in a state of absolute terror' _75 Individuals and small groups gradually 'went in'

and attempted to come to terms with the white men, eventually living more or

less permanently in camps on pastoral stations or on the outskirts of the pioneer


The Europeans welcomed the end of hostilities both because they had

been costly financially and psychologically and because in most frontier districts

there were chronic shortages of labour. In a short space of time young men and

women were absorbed into the white economy. In the north and west of the

colony black stockmen and women were the mainstays of the pastoral industry

while on the coast Aboriginal workers were of vital importance for the pearling

and beche-de-mer industries. Until the government forced the issue in the early

twentieth century Aboriginal workers rarely received wages but were paid in kind

with varying quantities of food, clothing, tobacco, alcohol or opium. Their

working conditions were usually very poor and the use of violence - of fists,

boots and stockwhips - was commonplace and fully supported by public opinion

in communities obsessed by the need to 'keep the niggers in their place'. When

the local clans were first 'let in' to Bowen the editor of the local paper warned his

fellow townspeople:

... we must not cease to be firm and must take especial care to show our black neighbours that whilst we are willing, nay anxious, to hold our hands from slaughter, we are at the same time determined to enforce at all hazards and by any means submission to our laws and that any infraction of them will be met by retribution prompt and severe.16

Aboriginals living on the fringes of white society were almost completely

powerless and received little protection from violence and exploitation. Neither

the law nor public opinion shielded them from the ill-disposed, a writer in the



Report on the Aborigines of North Queensland, Queensland V & P, 4,1896, no.85, p.3. Port Denison Times, 12 June 1869.


Queenslander observing in 1884 that 'everyman seems to consider himself as

quite justified in carrying out the utmost vigour of the law towards an aboriginal,

often for some very trivial and insignificant offence' .77 In all parts of the colony

men were bashed, women raped and children stolen from their families.

The fear engendered during Queensland's 'border wars' continued to

determine Aboriginal behaviour for a long time after the shooting stopped. The

local blacks, a settler noted in 1889, 'have learnt in their terror to submit to

anything that the conquering race may choose to do' _78 While visiting sheep and

cattle stations in the south-west Archibald Meston informed the Colonial

Secretary of the situation he found:

Never before had I seen aboriginal men living under such extraordinary

terrorism, many of them fine athletic fellows who could in case of a row have

settled with their terrorisers in a very summary fashion. But many of them had

long been treated as the dogs are treated and were scared into the belief that their

employers wielded the power of life and death.79

By.the late nineteenth century Aboriginals had established fringe camps

on the outskirts of practically every town in the colony. The larger towns had

two or three such settlements with a total population of several hundred. The

camps were characteristically located a mile or two out of town - beyond the

cemetery, the Chinese gardens or the rubbish dump or on the other side of the

river. They were composed of clusters of humpies constructed with an

assortment of traditional building materials and cast-off European commodities.

Camp dwellers scraped together a precarious living from what could be

gained by hunting and gathering in the immediate neighbourhood and with food

received from the townspeople in return for work or sexual favours . The camp

77 78 79

Queenslander, 12 January 1884. Ibid., 5 June 1880. On the Aborigines West of the Warrego, June 1990, Queensland State Archives, COL/144.


dwellers perfonned a wide variety of tasks for townspeople who couldn't afford

or couldn't find white servants. Townspeople were always ambivalent about the

camps. They benefitted from the cheap labour but they were detennined to keep

the local blacks 'in their place'. Individual and vigilante violence was common, a

Brisbane resident explaining that when the occasion demanded 'every private

individual takes the liberty ... [to] administer a sound thrashing for offences

against the decency and peace of the neighbourhood'. 80 It appears that a curfew

was imposed in practically every town in the colony. Southern visitors were

often shocked when they saw the police driving the local blacks out of town at

sunset. Two sisters passing through Maryborough were 'deeply outraged at the

way they were driven down the street, like so many sheep or dogs, to the water's

edge, when they plunged in and swam to the opposite side [of the river]'.8 1 The

practice was, as the Gympie Police Magistrate admitted, 'doubtless illegal in

itself' but the government usually turned a blind eye to action which had

widespread popular support. 82 In 1896 the Colonial Secretary Horace Tozer

declared his unqualified support for the police when they .'removed' the

Aboriginals, arguing that 'no law is necessary to justify this save the law of

necessity'. 83

The forced residential segregation in Queensland towns reflected the

social and economic status of the Aboriginal community. In many parts of the

colony settlement was, by the end of the century, a generation and more old.

Though memories of a world without white people survived and traditional

languages and customs were preserved many adult Aboriginals had grown up in

or near European society. A substantial, if indctenninate number, had white

fathers. Most Aboriginals in the older settled parts of Queensland spoke English

with varying degrees of fluency and in many cases had mastered economically

useful skills. Some were indispensable members of the rural workforce. But

80 8 1 82


Brisbane Courier, 29 January 1863 . 'Here and There in Queensland', Illustrated Sydney News, 24 October 1885. Report on the flogging by Constable King of an Aborigine, Queensland Colonial Secretary Files, CSP/A2894 of 1876. N.A. Loos, Invasion & Resistance, op,cit., p.433.


few had received any fonnal education and in most towns the local schools were

closed to them. A minority of skilled and independent men worked for wages or '

made a living by commercial hunting and trapping. As far as can be detennined

no Aboriginal had received a land grant or had been able to purchase or lease

property. Sexual relations between black women and white men were

commonplace. But few men sought more than sex or wished to establish

pennanent relations with their Aboriginal lovers, nor did they take any

responsibility for children they fathered. As far as we know there were few

interracial marriages. Mixed race children nonnally grew up with their mothers

and European society invariably treated them as Aboriginals. Both popular and

scientific opinion concurred in regarding 'half-castes' as degenerates who

inherited the worst qualities of both races. No matter what Aboriginals did -work industriously, acquire skills, seek to purchase or lease land, sleep with

white men, bear their children -nothing would enable them to break through the

caste-barrier which kept them locked in the lowest strata of society.

Living standards were often desperately poor. Many Aboriginals

suffered from poor nutrition, chronic disease and addiction to alcohol or opium.

As a group they were almost completely powerless and were unable to improve

their circumstances. The fear which came, carried on the tidal wave of

settlement, lived on in Aboriginal society shaping attitudes to every aspect of life.

The police as the most obvious agent of government were especially feared.

While writing to the Commissioner in 1897 Inspector Lamond of the Cooktown

region described the scene when he went forward to meet a group of Cape York

Aboriginals who were 'quaking with timidity'. '

The Inspector of Police with them is a 'big' man- the Commissioner is

still very much greater - but the Government is that unknowable, all powerful

something in their opinion which can do anything and everything and which they

revere and fear with their whole being.84

84 J. Lamond to Commissioner of Police, 4 July 1897, Queensland Colonial Secretary files , COL/140.


As far as the whites were concerned the general view was, by the end of

the century, that there was a direct relationship between colonial progress- the

fulfilment of their mission - and the destruction of Aboriginal society. It was in

itself a proof of progress. The belief that the Aboriginals were 'dying off' was

almost universal, supported alike by popular prejudice and scientific and medical

opinion. There appeared to be no need - indeed no point - in making long term

plans for the future. Darwinian theories, which were increasingly influential,

emphasised that miscegenation was dangerous, that 'half-castes' were not only a

social problem but were, more importantly, a biological threat to the white race.

It appeared increasingly vital to discourage interracial sex and prohibit

intermarriage. Half a century of violence had hardened public opinion and had

led to the acceptance of personal brutality and authoritarian government controls

which would have been considered highly inappropriate for Europeans. The

concept of race was deeply ingrained and so too was a whole cluster of beliefs

about Aboriginals - they were primitive, stone-age people who were less

intelligent, with smaller and under-developed brains. They were closer to the

animals and were therefore more instinctive and had more highly developed

senses. Above all they could not be 'civilized', nor could they become

amalgamated with white society. Many of these views continued to influence

popular opinion until well into the present century. In this as in all other aspect

of white-Aboriginal relations the colonial past weighs heavily on the present.


Appendix 1(b)







This study of race relations in Queensland between 1897 and 1971 will

be divided into three periods roughly coinciding with the introduction of new

legislation. The first covers the years 1897 to 1939. At the beginning of this

period the policy towards Aboriginal people was one of protection but the

emphasis soon changed to segregation and social engineering. With the

realisation in the 1930s that the Aboriginal population was increasing, new

legislation was enacted in 1939. During this second period the stated

government policy was protection and preservation but it could be more

appropriately described as an increasing commitment to the control of all aspects

of Aboriginal lives, particularly those people living on reserves and settlements.

Although there was a movement towards assimilation in the 1950s, this was not

reflected in legislation until 1965 when all Aborigines were given the right to

vote in state elections, had access to liquor off the reserves and could marry

without the permission of the Director of Native Affairs. For Aboriginal people

the overall effect of this 'protective' legislation has been an almost total loss of

power over their own lives and it is only recently that there has been some

reversal of this situation.

Aboriginals Protection and Restrictions of the

Sale of Opium Act 1897-1934

By the end of the nineteenth century, with the Aboriginal population

decimated as a result of 'dispersal', malnutrition, opium and diseases, it was

widely believed in Queensland that Aborigines were members of a 'dying race'.

The survivors had been pushed into fringe camps located on the periphery of

country towns where they eked out an existence; those whose services were in

demand on cattle stations found a refuge there. Pressure from some quarters of

the community saw the Queensland government commission Archibald Meston

to look at the plight of these dispossessed people. He was well known for his

interest in Queensland Aborigines and knowledge of the bush and in 1891 had

led a government-sponsored expedition to the Bellenden-Ker Range. Meston


carried out an extensive survey throughout the state and made a number of

recommendations. Some of these became the basis of the Aboriginal Protection

and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act which was passed in 1897. The

creators of this Act really saw it as a solution to a short term problem. The

administrators of the legislation however had a different idea and from the

beginning, used it as a device for social engineering and control. It became the

instrument with which Aboriginal people could be stripped of the most basic

human rights. The Act was the first measure of separate legal control over the

Aboriginal people and as Reynolds has pointed out it 'was far more restrictive

than any [contemporary]legislation operating in New South Wales or Victoria,

and implemented a system of tight controls and closed reserves'.

Administrators were able to gain control of Aboriginal affairs through the

extensive use of Regulations which could be made lawful simply through

proclamation by the Governor-in-Council. In this manner decision making

passed from politicians to the public servants most ministers acquiescing with the

arrangement. The welfare of Aborigines was after all, only one small part of a

busy member's portfolio. But not only did public servants have responsibility

for a huge amount of delegated legislation, individual protectors had extensive

autonomy in administering the Act and Regulations.


The concept of a protective force to safeguard Aboriginal rights was first

raised by Dr Challinor in the select committee inquiry into the Native Police

Force in 1861. He advocated that in every district a 'competent person of known

sympathy for the aborigines should be appointed their Protector'. This

suggestion was incorporated into the 1897 Act with protectors being required to

inquire into cases of ill-treatment of blacks and to generally supervise

employment. While this may well have been desirable, it did legally sanction

state paternalism. Although concerned about their plight, it is clear that Meston

had an ambivalent attitude to Aboriginal people. He recognised the need for a

protective force but also desired to instil fear. He was quite definite about the


type of person who should be appointed to the position of protector. With a

penchant for physical fitness and strength Meston believed that protectors should

possess similar qualities arguing that no 'white man can command the fear and

respect of the Australian black without an unmistakable manifestation of superior I

physical and intellectual force allied to a liberal disposition and evidence of some


While Meston did not stipulate that police should act as protectors, he

considered it necessary that a person filling this role should be invested with the

powers of a magistrate. In this manner he could legally deal with the injustices

committed against Aborigines. Initially it was decided to appoint police to the

position but in presenting the bill to parliament, the minister made it quite clear

that this was to be only a temporary measure and hoped that his successor would

'make the system more perfect'. He noted that for the present:

We intend to appoint their protectors and I think if we make the police their protectors they will be much more inclined to do their duty, when they know they have a trust imposed upon them. That may be only a sentiment but I think it will have a good


Accordingly in 1898 Police Commissioner Parry-Okeden was made

responsible for the general administration of the Act assisted by Walter Roth in

the north and Meston in the south. In addition 13 police officers were assigned

as protectors in various petty session districts. By 1907 this number had

increased to 24 including a female officer who dealt primarily with those

Aboriginal women placed in domestic service. Although Parry-Okeden's duties

were to be mainly inspectorial, by 1904 it had become necessary to form a

separate administrative sub-department of the Home Secretary's Office with its

own clerical staff. At this time, Roth was appointed the first Chief Protector of

Aborigines in Queensland.



It had been decided that the degradation of the Aboriginal population was

a res ult of contact with white society and removal from the worst aspects was

deemed necessary. The 1897 Act accordingly made provision for the creation of

a se ri es of reserves where Aboriginal members of the 'dying race' could be

'entirely isolated from contact with other races'. In deciding on their locations,

traditional Aboriginal land areas were ignored. The first of these reserves was on

Fraser Island which became ' home' for 52 Aborigines removed from the

Maryborough di strict in February. It was reported that all of these were in a

' deplorable state of mental and physical degradation caused by opium, drink,

imperfec t nutrition, exposure and disease'. A second reserve was started at

Durundur, 15 miles from Caboolture and it was anticipated that it would

accommodate some of the 'coast blacks, and also a number who will be brought

down fro m the West, kept clear of opium and drink, restored to complete health

and gradu ally initiated to industrious habits'. It was suggested that the third

reserve, the largest in Australia and incorporating Yarrabah mission, would be

extensiv e enough to accommodate all the Aboriginals in North Queensland.

Apart fro m having access to good fishing, water and agricultural land, it had the

added advantage of being 'isolated from all white settlers by a lofty jungle-clad

range'. The size of this reserve would have allowed residents to pursue hunting

and gathering activities. From a European perspective this was highly desirable

as it reduced the cost to the state of Aboriginal welfare.

In 1897 there were also six mission stations; one at Deebing Creek,

5 miles from Ipswich; one at Marie Yamba, 60 miles north of Mackay; Yarrabah

ncar Cairns; one on the Bloomfield River, south of Cooktown; one at Cape

Bedfo rd , 14 miles from Cooktown by water; and Mapoon on the mouth of the

Batavia River. Apart from these reserves and missions, there were fifteen

stations for the distribution of food and tobacco. The policy of giving rations

was aimed more at deterring Aboriginal people from killing cattle rather than a

concern with improving their health. The Home Secretary believed that 'the plan


of feeding the blacks, along with a general policy of kindness and forbearance,

had done wonders in a brief period to inaugurate a reign of peace and tenninate

hostility between the two races'. In retrospect historians have judged the policy

more harshly Noel Loos for one arguing that ' substituting beef for bullets was

simply a more effective means of dispossessing Aborigines' .

In the more remote parts of the state Aborigines continued to share their

land with pastoralists and protectors were given the task of trying to reconcil e

two completely different economic systems; that of the traditional owners along

with cattle station operators. In the pastoralists' mind, they had paramount right

to the land as they would use it more productively than Aborigines. Although

Queensland law did allow Aborigines the right to hunt and cross any unfenced

leased Crown land (which was the status of almost all cattle propertie s) it was a

right that was rarely acknowledged by Europeans. In 1903 Roth reported th at

'notwithstanding the efforts of myself and other protectors to combat it, the

assumption continues to prevail that because a large area of land is held from the

Crown on lease, licence or other tenure, the lessee has the legal ri ght to prevent

aborigines roaming or hunting over it; even living on it'. He argued that carry ing

the practice of 'might against right' to its logical conclusion ' it would simply

mean that, were all the land in the north to be thus leased, all the blacks would be

hunted into the sea'.

When there was a conflict of interest between blacks and whites, police,

even though they were Aboriginal protectors, tended to favour the European

interests. No longer able to disperse unwanted Aborigines, station operators

enlisted the services of the police to move them from one location to another.

Watson of Gregocy Downs wrote to the Police Commissioner seeking assistance

in having a dozen blacks who were 'always prowling about the homestation'

removed to the Lawn Hill reserve. Murray of Morstone was another who

requested police assistance in removing Aborigines to land not being used for

stock. Objections were soon received from the manager of neighbouring Undilla

who wanted the area for a large number of weak cattle. There were many

complaints about Aborigines refusing to remain on the land designated by the


police. Macintosh reported that after the police left, blacks roamed wherever they

pleased defying instructions from Europeans. 'They must be taught to obey,' he

implored, 'or otherwise there will be no living here with them'. Others

complained about Aborigines camping on waterholes as it prevented cattle from

drinking. Protector Galbraith was adamant that Aborigines should have access to


To deprive them of this right simply means wiping them out or driving them into the smaller townships, where women must prostitute themselves in order to enable the men and children to live. Those that are myalls will naturally kill cattle, or even

commit murder, if driven away from their hunting grounds. The station owner or manager claims that his stock have to go to water - so have the aboriginal's game - and the sight of the blacks disturbs his cattle. The result is that blacks are often dispersed by the station hands. Of course such dispersals are not reported to the police.

In the eyes of the Northern Protector and his contemporaries, the only

practical solution was the creation of more reseiVes for Aborigines in the remote

areas. It was argued that in:

... the extreme North, for instance, the formation of one large aboriginal reserve of the whole of the Peninsula north of the Coleman and Morehead Rivers .. . would answer the purpose without any appreciable loss to the general revenues.

The new conciliatory approach had certainly made it more difficult for

Europeans to engage in the old-time 'dispersal' tactics of the nineteenth century

but the cost to the Aboriginal people was increasing containment on designated

land not necessarily their own. Protector Galbraith of Norm anton was only too

aware that by 1904 the Act which had been intended to improve the lot of the

blacks, was working more for the benefit of the Europeans in the district. He

noted that cases of killing, cattle-stealing and so forth were rare. European

settlers had 'benefited in security of human life, stock, but there [had] not been

the same corresponding advantages to the aborigines. Country that a few years

ago settlers would not take up, is now occupied with impunity. The blacks'

hunting grounds are very much restricted especially country with water on it'.


In spite of this situation, employers were far from happy with the way

the Act was administered. In 1904 and 1905 there was considerable public

debate - at meetings, in newspapers and in parliament - concerning its

operations. It is hardly surprising that in 1905 the main target for employers'

attacks was Chief Protector of Aboriginals, Walter Roth whom the editor of the

North Queensland Register described as 'the best hated official in the Queensland

Government service'. Moves were set in train in Cooktown to have the office of

Chief Protector abolished. In Roth's eyes, the general opposition to his

administration was mainly due to his interference with Aboriginal employment.


The Act required employers of Aboriginal labour, from 1 January 1898,

to enter into a written agreement in the presence of a justice of the peace or a

member of the police force. Contracts were to contain particulars of the names

of the parties, nature of the service, periods of employment, wages or other

remuneration and the type of accommodation to be provided. The aim of the

legislation was to eliminate the serious abuses of Aboriginal labour, particularly

in the maritime industry. It is clear that Police Commissioner Parry-Okeden

wanted a deal of discretion exercised in implementing the provisions of the Act.

In reporting on its operation in 1898 he noted that his:

.. . instructions to Dr. Roth and to the various Protectors under my direction, have been to work the Act in a conciliatory and generous spirit, causing as little friction as possible, to resort to its drastic provisions only where necessary to put down abuses and wrong doing, and in all cases where the blacks are kindly treated and their well-being assured not to disturb the status qUQ.

Roth however was intent on a much more rigorous application of the Act

and set about ensuring that all employed, including those on cattle stations were

properly signed on. It is likely that he saw the provis.ions of the Act and

Regulations as an ideal device for 'civilising' what remained of the Aboriginal

population. It was a way of introducing the western concept of work; by signing

agreements, blacks could be tied to specific jobs for set periods which would


eventually lead to the elimination of undesirable traits such as the Aboriginal

propensity to go 'walkabout'. Moreover, several other goals could be

simultaneously achieved by such an approach. Given the preoccupation with the

'yellow peril' and fears about being overrun from the north, it was believed to be

in the national interest to have a white presence to indicate colonial settlement.

Despite its uncertain financial condition, the cattle industry served this purpose

well. By ensuring the continued supply of cheap Aboriginal labour, the state

was able to play its part in making sure the industry survived. Located on remote

cattle stations, there was also the added 'advantage' that Aborigines were

effectively segregated from the bulk of the white population at minimal cost to the

state. It was in such a climate that administrators saw only the benefits to be

derived fro m tightly controlled Aboriginal employment.

Nevertheless it is clear that individual protectors had considerable

discretion in whether or not to enforce the signing of agreements between

employees and employers, what portion of their wages had to be banked and

how they spent their money. Although the original intention of the Act may have

been Aboriginal protection, within a short period its main thrust was the

regulation of employment. By 1908 the stated aim of Chief Protector Howard

was to obtain employment for 'each and every individual impressing upon them

the desirableness of doing their best to satisfy their employer, and at the same

time savi ng some of their earnings for a rainy day' . In addition, Aborigines were

su bjected to ever increasing control because of the government's desire to close

loopholes which employers might otherwise. There was a failure to appreciate

that such paternalistic actions ran counter to the original aim of shaping blacks

into a modem industrial workforce. Although agreements proved to be relatively

ineffectual as a method of social engineering, removal orders had a much more

si gnifi cant impact.


Aboriginal people have been continually moved around by Europeans

and placed in locations where they would cause the least inconvenience.


Reserves were created on land considered not suitable for cattle raising and

people were incarcerated on distance islands where they could be most effectively

segregated from the white community. 'Half-caste' children, particularly females

were early targets for removal to missions and reformatories. Roth argued that

his chief aim was 'to ensure the future welfare and happiness of the children

themselves'. Aboriginal people remember it differently. Jerry Hudson of

Mapoon recalled that 'the government took our fathers and mothers away from

our grand-parents. Some were six and seven years old. Well, you can guess

how our dear grandparents felt about our mothers and fathers who they will

never see anymore ... that's one thing we will never forget until we die'. Norman

Wheeler says the same of his parents, 'My mother come from Burketown and

my father from Croydon, but the police shifted them away and brought them

down to Mapoon. They were five years old then'. From the early twentieth

century 'helpless aboriginal children and young women' were sent to missions

including Mapoon, Yarrabah and Cape Bedford for care and protection but

protectors were always conscious of the fact, that in doing this, they were

imiX>sing additional expenses on the resource-starved missions.

The Act of 1901 made provision for the removal of people deemed to be

'incorrigibles'. Some of these were sent to Deebing Creek, Durundur and Fraser

Island before the establishment of Barambah. However by the 1920s protectors

were continually using removal orders to modify behaviour. For instance Jimmy

was removed from Gunawarra station in 1922 for being 'bad tempered and

abusive' and Aggie from Gregory Downs for 'poor conduct'. The Cardwell

protector requested the removal of an Upper Murray man for causing discontent

among Aborigines by advising them not to sign agreements. In another incident

the Maytown protector threatened to send nine Wrotham Park Aborigines to

Barambah if they did not renew their agreements. The Charters Towers protector

recommended the removal of a man to Palm Island he caused 'discontent

amongst those blacks who were under agreement'. The threat of being removed

to Palm Island caused a great deal of anxiety amongst the Aboriginal population

and was just as pronounced in the western regions of Queensland. Jack Punch


remembered that 'everybody was son of frightened. They used to think they'd

be sent to Palm Island. They didn't know what Palm Island was. They thought

it was a son of Gaol'.

It was so easy to defuse potential trouble by removing offenders to Palm

Island . The fate of Albert Hippi in 1923 markedly illustrates this point. He was

dissatisfied with the small amount of money he could withdraw from his bank

account while on holidays in Richmond and organised a petition to the Minister

for Justice. 'We do not ask that a big amount be paid to us in one sum but that

we be permitted to draw at least one a day during our holidays.' As with most

complaints, the matter was investigated but no further action taken. It was

however somewhat disconcerting to discover Hippi 's name amongst those being

removed to Palm Island the following year. The reason given was that 'he

frightens women and tries to get liquor'.

Once a removal order was obtained, Aborigines had no redress; the

Chief Protector advised the Under Secretary in 1937 that there was no provision

in 'the Aboriginal Protection Acts for an aboriginal to be brought before a

Magistrate and given a hearing before being sent to a Settlement'. In many

instances Aboriginal people were unaware of the reason for their deportation and

it was not uncommon for people who were the victims of crimes to be removed.

A former protector explained that he had sent blacks from the Gregory Downs

district because they were a 'nuisance'. 'They were being worked without pay

and were being bedded down' he said. In such instances the perpetrators of the

crime went free while the victims were punished. On other occasions, removal

orders were issued for people already residing on missions as a means of

'restraining them there'.

Notwithstanding the numerous accounts of protectors readily invoking

removal orders, there are quite a few incidents of protectors objecting to this

action. The Annual Report for 1938 notes that 48 Aborigines were removed

from the Burketown camp to Doomadgee Mission because they were 'destitute

and too old to maintain themselves in employment'. Correspondence from the


local protector gives a totally different view. When the matter was raised with

him in October 1937 he advised the Chief Protector that he did not favour the

proposal as it was not in the 'best interests of the natives concerned'. He

maintained that while some were aged and infirm, others were not. The local

protector believed that his superior was more concerned with providing able­

bodied workers for the mission rather than thinking of the welfare of the

Aboriginal people in the district. The officer was duly reprimanded but this did

not stop him once again objecting to the removal of people from the Burketown

camp. Indeed the report on the collection of these people clearly indicates that

they were not all destitute. Some of those named had to be collected from jobs to

be taken to the mission. It was reported that:

Left hand George is away droving under Agreement to Mr. P.H. Gibson and on his return both he and his wife will be held in the camp at Burketown until Mr. Read [Doomadgee superintendent] can remove them to the Mission. Charlie and Wife were

employed under Agreement to Mr. DeLestang at Adels Grove and I removed him from his employment there.

Another woman listed on the removal order was living with her daughter

and son-in-law in Camooweal and it was reported that the protector, under

duress, would remove the woman to the mission 'at the first available

opportunity'. In another incident the Norm anton protector threatened to resign

from the police force in the 1920s if he was forced to send to Palm Island, two

orphaned Aboriginal children from a cattle station where they were well cared for

by the manager's wife.

Often the decision about whether or not to remove Aborigines was made,

not in terms of their welfare, but what was the cheapest for the department. It is

unlikely that the Doomadgee missionary was influential in having the 48

Aborigines removed from the Burketown camps. A notation on the

correspondence that 'relief of destitutes cost the government approximately 18

monthly' was probably the most significant consideration. In 1936 when the

choice was between sending a Momington Islander stranded in Cloncurry back

home or to Palm Island, the department opted for the latter alternative as it was



cheaper. Clearly Aboriginal people who came under the jurisdiction of the Act

had no choice in where they lived.


Because missions were helping to implement the government policy of

racial segregation, officials received some support from the state. Government

officers assisted missionaries to locate suitable sites for their evangelical activities

and the Queensland government did partially contribute to mission costs by

paying subsidies for education and on occasions provided goods and services.

The church was after all relieving the state of some of its welfare obligations.

Roth noted in 1905 that 'the mission stations are year by year becoming of

greater assistance to the State in dealing with the pauper aboriginal waifs and

strays, adults and children, on the most economic lines'. There was however

always some tension between the church and state. On leaving Queensland in

1916, members of the London Missionary Society recalled that relations with the

government had not been easy because of increasing interference in mission

administration. The missionary was of the opinion that the state's treatment of

Aboriginal people would not only cause a 'feeling of inferiority' but also

'hostility towards the white man'.

There was some debate in the 191 Os as to whether churches or the state

should have control of Aboriginal missions and reserves. Governor MacGregor

was far from happy with the state's handling of reserves in Queensland at the

time and submitted a scathing report on management practices. He informed the

minister that 'it was very desirable to place a Moravian in charge of Baram bah'.

The main objection to the church looking after Aboriginal welfare was that too

much time was devoted to religion. Others such as the operators of cattle stations

resented the missionaries' presence as they attempted to attract Aborigines into

mission stations which made it more difficult to obtain labour to work cattle.

Bowman of Rutland Plains drafted a letter complaining of the impact of the

Mitchell River mission in his area. 'When it first started,' he wrote:


... the blacks about here were well behaved and respected a white man; now they seem to think they have a right to do what they like and go unscathed. In my opinion and I have a life's experience amongst outside blacks - there will be bloodshed before long .

As Loos has pointed out, all missionaries endeavoured to convert adults

to Christianity but were forced to abandon their efforts and concentrate on

children. The basic vehicle for the evangelizing process was the provision of

secular education. The founders of Doomadgee mission for instance, went

around Burketown in an old horse and cart in 1932 collecting children whose

parents wanted them taught to read and write. A northern protector reported to

the Chief Protector that 'it seems a hopeless task to attempt anything in a spiritual

or educational way with the older aboriginals and the only thing that can be

achieved is the amelioration of their ccnditions. Efforts are being concentrated

on inducing the fathers of children to allow them to be taken away to the

dormitories where regular hours, a systematic course of diet, educational

facilities and discipline exist and have already worked wonders with other

children who had been similarly situated'. Most missions and settlements

instituted a dormitory system where contact between the sexes was rigidly


Dormitory life was highly regimented and spartan and David Martin

writes that it formed a 'crucial part of a systematic attempt to socialize Aboriginal

children into new modes of thought and behaviour'. Reflecting on the system, a

former Aurukun missionary said that they believed they were acting wisely:

... and only a few Aborigines seem to have 'realised' that such a policy was undermining their social structure and dealing a heavy blow to their culture ... [Missionaries] saw the unhappy side of Aboriginal life, the dirt and the consequent bodily ills, the

crippling sores, the blindness, the high infant mortality rate, things that most anthropologists failed to see.

On occasions medical reports endorsed missionary efforts. A patrol of

Cape York Peninsula in 1934 and another two years later, both found that

Aborigines living on Aurukun mission were healthier than those in the bush.


Dowling, medical officer with the Commonwealth Department of Health, was of

the opinion that a large proportion of non-mission residents would go blind

without systematic treatment. The superior health of those on missions was

attributed to better housing, a more varied diet as a result of gardening activities

and the availability of medical care. The opportunities to hunt for traditional

food while resident on missions would also have been beneficial to Aboriginal


On some missions, attempts were made to keep adults in the vicinity by

making them dependent on tobacco. In 1934 only a third of the Aboriginal

population in the Aurukun district had a permanent attachment to the mission and

it was imperative that 'as a first step to control, the supply of tobacco should be

kept up to the aboriginal', a factor patently recognised by the superintendent. It

was a different situation on the east coast of Cape York Peninsula where there

were few Aborigines living in camps. In 1933 the Chief Protector reported that

practically the only camps were at Stewart River and Cape Melville. Those at the

latter site were about to be transferred to Lockhart River mission and it was

hoped to 'secure' those from Port Stewart in the near future. The Thursday

Island protector reported in 1935 that:

For some time now, the nomads have been gradually concentrating round the Miss ions and all of them, if not actually resident at the mission are under its control. The Missions have done good work for the natives and have relieved the Administration of a great burden of expenditure. Owing to the financial stringency their funds have been depleted and the

question of increasing subsidies is being considered. The Aurukun Mission was recently granted an increase of 225 per annum in subsidy to ensure the retention of fifty boys in the Mission dormitory.

He could nevertheless foresee problems ahead in having the majority of

Aborigines living on missions where there was 'limited scope for employment'.

However those on missions experienced rigid, autocratic rule and many were

happy to take up the opportunity of outside work on cattle stations where they

experienced a greater degree of control over their own lives. These people fared


little better when it came to making independent decisions about how to spend

their wages.

Savings Account

When the 1897 legislation was first introduced the general feeling was

that blacks should have 'the comforts of a home coupled with considerate

treatment [rather] than ... pecuniary emoluments'. For this reason the matter of

wages was open ended in the 1897 Act; details of 'wages or other remuneration'

were to be noted on agreements. In little more than a year legislators were

arguing the need for a more formalised wage system for Aborigines and in 1899

an unsuccessful attempt was made to impose a minimum wage of 10 shillings a

month for blacks. The issue of wages was raised in Parliament again in 1901

and on this occasion a minimum wage of 10 shillings a month was fixed for

Aborigines employed on boats and 5 shillings for those employed elsewhere,

food and clothing to be supplied. A protector could direct employers to pay

wages to himself or some officer of the police named by him. Notwithstanding

the introduction of this legislation, many Aboriginal workers remained unpaid or

underpaid for their services. This was a matter of concern for some protectors

such as Galbraith who reported in 1902 that:

The permit system is working very satisfactorily, though there are still a large number of nomadic Europeans who employ aboriginals without a permit. I think it should be imperative that all employers of aboriginal labour should pay their wages into the Savings Bank, and the money be drawn out only with the sanction of a Protector. This would ensure the aboriginal getting

his wages, which in many cases he does not, and also provide for the money being properly laid out for his benefit. Such an arrangement would also protect the employer against false claims, and the wage-earner from being unjustly treated. What

Bench ,for instance, would take an aboriginal's word against an employer's in a matter of payment of wages?

As there were insufficient police to adequately enforce the payment of

Aboriginal wages it was decided to begin with those due to Aboriginal women.

At the beginning of 1904 all northern protectors were advised that they were to

insist that wages of females in permanent employment be paid direct to protectors


every three or six months. The suggested rates were: Aborigines up to 12 years,

one shilling and three pence; 12-14 years two shillings and over 14 years from

2 shillings and six pence upwards depending on the work. This still allowed the

protector a high degree of discretion in employment arrangements. All money

collected was to be banked to the credit of the employee in the government

savings b,ank with the protector as trustee. With the successful introduction of

this system for women, the practice of having male wages paid through a

protector was introduced in 1909. It was argued that this ensured that

Aborigines not only got the full benefit of their labour but that it would be easier

to instil the notion of thrift. Protector Sweetman of Charters Towers claimed to

have considerable success in this regard as he had been ... trying to educate some

of the boys up to a spirit of thrift and save their money by showing the Savings

Bank Pass-Book of the gins wherein some have as much as 18: They express

wonder and surprise at so much money being the property of one gin. I am

opposed to aboriginals having much money to squander, except a few shillings

as pocket money but the native should get the full benefit of his labour for a rainy


In directing part of the male wage be paid through the protector in 1909,

nothing was laid down in the regulations about the proportion to be banked and

what was .to be retained by the employee as pocket money. Again this was left to

the discretion of the individual protector. In most instances deductions ranged

from 20 to 50 per cent 'according to intelligence'. However with the

introduction of uniform rates of pay in 1915, banking deductions were also

standardised. Two-thirds of the adult wage was to be banked if clothing was

provided, one-third if not. For men and women with families to support, it was

recommended that only one-fifth be paid to the bank.

Although the initial idea behind bank accounts was to ensure that

Aborigines were properly paid, successive protectors viewed savings as a form

of insurance to tide workers over periods of unemployment; this had the added

advantage of reducing the cost of Aboriginal welfare to the state. Because of

this, most Aborigines found it a frustrating experience to draw money from their


personal savings accounts. The humiliation of having to wait outside the police

station all day was· vividly etched in the memory of Mamie Kennedy who said

that she 'would sit there all day frightened to go away and get a feed for fear that

you would miss out. Then at 5 o'clock the protector would come out and say,

"Nothing today. Come back tomorrow" ... It was just like a big kick up the ribs

when it was your own money anyway'. Mamie may or may not have been

aware that this was a tactic used to keep Aboriginal people 'in their place'. The

member for the western seat of Gregory told parliament in 1945 that he had:

.. . seen the treatment that policemen have given them, not because they desired to be cruel but because they wished to demonstrate to the native that they , the policemen, were their masters. If they had not done that, then the native would have assumed an air of equality or superiority.

Protectors had no hesitation in vetoing purchases deemed by them to be

inappropriate. The Cardwell protector expressed 'shock' when a newly married

Aboriginal woman applied for four pounds from her savings. His response,

worth reproducing in its entirety, encapsulated the entrenched paternalism

existing in the department and the expectation that Aboriginal society would

replicate white patriarchical structures. He wrote:

Dear Lucy,

Your letter gave me quite a shock,fancy you wanting to draw four pounds to buy a brooch, ring, bangle, work basket, tea set etc etc. I am quite sure Mrs. Henry would expend the money carefully for you but I must tell you that no Aborigine can draw four fifths of their wages unless they are sick and in hospital and

require the money to buy comforts.

Now that you are a married woman it is your husbands placed to buy you all the jewellery you may require. You must be more prudent with your pocket money that Mrs . Henry pays you for should you get sick your money will be handy to you then.

However as it is Christmas I will let you have 1151- out of your Banking account to buy lollies with.

Apart from compulsory savings taken out of Aboriginal wages, a second

deduction was made for the Aboriginal Provident Fund . From 1919, all workers


not living on reserves were to contribute portion of their wages (five per cent for

single men and two and a half per cent for married men) for the relief of 'indigent

natives'. There seemed to be some confusion about the purpose of the

Aboriginal Provident Fund. Was it for needy Aborigines generally or for the

benefit of those temporarily unemployed who had contributed to the scheme?

The Chief Protector of Aboriginals explained in his 1921 report that it entitled

contributors 'to relief for themselves and dependants when in want, out of

employment, sickness etc'. This point was further clarified in a circular to all

protectors in 1922. 'Benefits are limited to contributors to the fund and those

actually dependent upon them in distress, including widows.' The department

had consistently maintained that this was the purpose of the individual savings

accounts. It therefore seems likely, particularly in view of later developments,

that the CPA himself was confused about the purpose of the fund. With it

largely untouched, from the early 1930s, money from the Provident Fund was

used to subsidise the Aboriginal vote and later, to provide substantial relief to

indigent country blacks. In reality the government was so committed to the

control of Aboriginal money that it created a system of enforced sharing which

meant as Rowley has argued 'the more enterprising workers under the Act [had

to] contribute to the maintenance of others who exert[ed] less effort'. Some

indication of the numerous accounts held in trust by the state for the Aboriginal

population can be gleaned from Table I. In 1935, these amounted to

293,549/4/11. It is small wonder that the prevailing belief in the 1930s was that

Queensland would never surrender the management of Aboriginal affairs to the

federal government because of the loss of control of Aboriginal savings.


Table 1: Aboriginal Savings Held in Trust by the State, 1935


1. Current Balance in Savings Account 44,475

2. Settlement Natives' Savings Bank Funds, 12,000

invested in Inscribed Stock

3. Country Natives' Savings Bank Accounts, 200,000 investedin Commonwealth Stock at 33/4per cent

4 . Thrusday Island District Natives' Savings Bank 4,000 Funds, on loan to Aboriginal Industries

5. Aboriginal Protection Property Account, Balance 2,880 in Current Account

6. Aboriginal Provident Fund, Balance in 1,125

Current Account

7. Aboriginal Protection Property Accounts, Funds 14,000 invested inlnscribed Stock at 4 per cent

8. Aboriginal Protection Property Account, Sundry 1,648 Loans to Missions and Settlements

9. Aboriginal Provident Fund Investment at 2,060

4 per cent

10. Aboriginal Provident Fund held in Bonds at 20

4 per cent

Aboriginal Provident Fund on Loan to Aboriginal 5,000 Industries at 5 per cent

11. Island Funds and Boats Reserve Account, 1,504

Current Balance

12. Island Fund and Boats Reserve Account, 4,835

Loans to Boats

TOTAL 293,549

Source: Annual Report Chief Protector of Aboriginals Queensland Parliamentary Papers 1936, Vol. 1, p.1025


































The provisions of the 1897 Act were to apply to all Aboriginal people

unless they were specifically exempted. 'Certain half-castes' who were

'intelligent', over the age of 16 years and not married to or habitually associating

wi th Aborigines could apply for exemption but given these restrictions it was

extremely difficult to achieve. In 1912 for instance, representation was made on

behalf of 22 Aborigines employed on Cattle stations- 15 were full bloods and

automati cally disqualified. Only one of the remaining seven did not

' unnecessarily associate with Aborigines' and was therefore deemed suitable to

handl e his own affairs. If an exempted Aboriginal resumed contact with those

under the Act, the exemption certificate could be revoked. The decision to tum

their backs on family members and their culture to be accepted into mainstream

society would have placed enormous psychological strains on those Aboriginal

people who chose this course particularly as in many cases the suggestion that a

person apply for exemption from the Act came from employers. Moreover even

when Aborigines were granted exemption, it did not mean that they had the same

ri ghts as non-Aboriginal people. The 1934 Amendment to the Aboriginals

Protection Act imposed conditions on exemption. It was noted that 'all money or

property belonging to such half-caste and held in trust for such half-caste by a

Protector shall remain subject to the control of a Protector'. Justifying this, the

Chief Protector argued that 'experience in the past has frequently shown that

such people, when given control of a large sum of money, are too easily victims

of extravagance or imposition'. One well known North Queensland identity had

a tw elve months restriction imposed on his banking account when he was

exempted in 1932. Expecting this to be raised at the end of the year, he entered

into negotiations with a non-Aboriginal to purchase a truck. However he found

himself in an embarrassing situation when the application for the release of his

money was refused on the recommendation of the local protector. His European

father-in-law was forced to appeal to the local branch of the Country Women's

Association for help pointing out in a letter to them that as neighbours:


You all know Dick as a decent fellow sober and hardworking courteous in his dealings and meetings with all concerned. You all know him as a good horsebreaker and as a man who is very fond of his wife and children.

These were indeed the attributes desired in Aborigines and on the

recommendation of the minister, the man was allowed 60 pounds to service his

debt. His account however continued to be subjected to departmental control.

Clearly exempted Aboriginal people did not have the same rights as white

Australians. Even after they had escaped the provisions of the Act they remained

very much in its shadows. They lived independently of the department only

while they behaved in a manner deemed acceptable to administrators.

'Crossbreed Population'

Although in 1897 it was believed that the Aboriginal population would

eventually disappear, there was a realisation in 1924 that this may not be the

case. It was noted in the annual report to the Aboriginal Department that there

were 3,505 full-blood Aboriginal children under the age of 12 years whi ch

'hardly seems to bear out the commonly expressed opinion that the aboriginal

race is dying out'. Of more concern was the increasing number of 'half-castes ' .

The number had increased from 3,869 in 1929 to 6,461 in 1938 ; from 1934

'quadroons and cross-breeds' were included in the Aboriginal census which

accounted for some of the increase. At a conference held in 1930 regarding the

payment of 'half-castes' in the Northern Territory, there was considerable

criticism of Queensland's treatment of its part-Aboriginal population. It was

pointed out that Bleakley's policy was 'to drive them back into the aboriginal

camp'. This was in marked contrast to the Northern Territory where part­

Aborigines were made 'white men ... at the age of 21 ' . These comments were

well founded as under the 1934 amendment Queensland 'half-castes who

previously could not legally be regarded as aboriginals' were to be brought under

the provisions of the Act. It was noted in the 1934 Annual Report that:

The definition of' half-caste' in the 1897 Act has been repealed to provide for the care of all cross-breed elements of aboriginal or


Pacific Island extraction who live or associate with aboriginals, or as aboriginals, or who, in the opinion of the Chief Protector, are in need of control or protection. A large proportion of that coloured population resident principally in North Queensland, who previously have not been regarded as wards of the Aboriginal Department, are now, unless specifically exempt from the provisions of the Act, covered by it.

Only a small proportion of the increase in the part-Aboriginal was due to

mixed black/white unions. Bleakley proudly told participants at the Aboriginal

Welfare Conference in 1937 that every encouragement 'had been given to

marriage of crossbreed aboriginals amongst their own race. The result is that

95 per cent of the crossbreed children born are the issue of purely native


This desire to bring all part-Aborigines under the Act in Queensland was

often quite detrimental to self-esteem, especially if people had previously been

treated as white. For instance, when it was discovered that a stockman working

on Lorraine station was not signed on at the end of the 1920s, the Cloncurry

protector attempted to redress the situation as quickly as possible. In spite of

'associating and working with white men since his infancy' and receiving 'the

full wage of station hands as fixed by the various awards', the department was

unwilling to exempt the Aboriginal stockman from the provisions of the Act. In

due course he was brought into line with other blacks even though this meant a

reduction in wages. From this point there was a marked deterioration in the

man's ability to cope with the European system. In 1931 there were reports that

he and his family were starving. Two years later he was before the courts in

Cloncurry for an undisclosed crime. A former employer who came to his

assistance expressed the view that ever since Patterson has been placed under the

Act 'things have gone amiss with him. He is a good cattleman but under present

conditions he has a hard row to hoe' . The following year he was again in

trouble and on that occasion was sent to Palm Island. In just five years of

Aboriginal 'protection' this man had degenerated from being 'intelligent and

industrious' to 'a horse thief and unemployed'.


Indeed it took little time to realise that the 1934 Amendment was a total

disaster. This became evident to Chief Protector Bleakley when he visited

Gayndah, Eidsvold and Munduberra in 1935. He noted that:

Practically all the families seen by me were those of half-castes or quadroons, holding certificates of exemption, and /learned from the Teacher and local Protectors that these men had shown their ability to manage their own affairs as regards employment and the handling of their money and that there was a very great reluctance or objection on their part to be treated as aboriginals subject to the usual restrictions of a Settlement such as Cherbourg ... The

recent amendments of the Aboriginal Protection Act would now make the Act apply to this type of half-caste, notwithstanding that the majority seem to already hold certificates of exemption ... However, the number of quadroons to be found amongst these people of the Burnett district, as well as the number also to be found on each of the Settlements, satisfies me that the time has

arrived when the whole crossbreed question should receive further and careful consideration ... I am satisfied that the type of crossbreed seen in my recent inspections, although now embraced by the new Amendment Act, should not have such Act

rigidly applied to them in regard to their business affairs as though they had been returned to the aboriginal fold.

While conceding that these people were able to manage their own

financial affairs he believed that they needed help to improve their living

standards 'not only in their own interests as human beings, but in the interests of

morals and health of the community generally'. One suggestion was that they be

removed to Barambah but this was obviously out of the question given

Bleakley's acknowledgement that they had the ability to handle their own

business affairs. In his opinion the department should endeavour to secure a

large area of land with reasonably good natural resources. He believed that these

'families should then be encouraged, rather than compelled, to take up their

residence thereon af!d each family allotted a block of ground, up to say five

acres, on the condition that the occupant fenced it in and profitably utilised it in

the raising of food such as garden vegetables, fowls, pigs, bees etc'. Apparently

nothing came of this proposal and the Aboriginal people w'ere left squatting on

the fringes of these country towns.


Nevertheless before the legislation was changed countless Aboriginal

people experienced the 'heavy hand' of the department. A letter from George

Saunders outlining the circumstances of his removal to Palm Island and the

conditions on the settlement was published in the North Queensland Guardian in

1937. A resident of New South Wales, Saunders was sent to Palm Island for

being 'an absconder and addicted to drink'. He maintained that he was sent there

because he would not 'work under the Aborigines Act and pay into the

settlement'. He pointed out that he:

... was transferred here to a penal settlement to remain here how long I don ' t know. I wish to get out of here as soon as possible. I did no wrong outside. The condition of living does not suit me at all. I don't get paid for the amount of work I do and have very bad food.

Acting Superintendent Julian advised the Chief Protector that:

Saunders was 'so little coloured and his bearing and intelligence is such that he cannot be thought of as anything but a white man'. He believed that Saunders 'would be better regarded as a white man and, if he offended against the law, dealt with in the ordinary way' . It was clearly a system out of control.

Aboriginals Preservation and Protection Acts, 1939 to 1946

A new Aboriginal Act was introduced in 1939 addressing the 'half-caste'

issue. The Director of Native Affairs argued that the main feature of the

legislation was 'the upliftment of the civilised half-castes by automatically

conferring freedom and full citizen rights where their circumstances and

associations qualified them for such privilege'. Persons with 50 per cent or less

Aboriginal blood who did not live with, or habitually associate with Aboriginals,

were no longer subject to departmental control unless declared by a judge or

magistrate to be in need of such care. It was estimated that the part-Aboriginal

population was around 4,500 in 1939 and some I ,500 would have the same

rights as non-Aboriginal people. The bulk of the 3,000 who would still be under

the Act, were living on settlements. For these people, it was evident that there

would be no improvement in the repressive conditions under which they lived. It


had been written into the 1934 Amendment that the department could make

regulations 'providing for the control and supervision of all aboriginals and half­

castes in or upon any reserve' but the details were more precise in the 1939 Act.

The department could make regulations with regard to the following:

(1) Defining the duties and powers of superintendents.

(2) Control and supervision. Providing for the preservation, detention,

control and employment of aboriginals on reserves; discipline and good

order upon and the inspection of reserves.

(3) Aboriginal courts. Providing for the establishment of aboriginal

courts on reserves and the constitution and civil and/or criminal

jurisdiction of such aboriginal courts and the procedure in respect of their

jurisdiction, either civil or criminal:

Provided that the maximum pecuniary penalty which may be inflicted by any such court for any offence or breach of duty shall not exceed one pound and the maximum term of imprisonment which may be imposed by any such court (either in lieu of or on default in payment of a pecuniary penalty or on default in payment of a sum of money) shall

not exceed three weeks.

(4) Police. Authorising the establishment of aboriginal police on reserves,

and prescribing the powers and duties of such police.

(5) Gaols, etc. Providing for the establishment of aboriginal gaols on

reserves, and the carrying-out therein of sentences of imprisonment

imposed upon aboriginals by an aboriginal court.

Heather Wearne has pointed out that the tone of the debate in parliament

was significantly different in 1939 from 1897. The earlier legislation grew out of • a sense of guilt. This had clearly dissipated in 1939 with the debate more concerned with making the institution of reserves a success and 'preventing the

Aboriginal population from disrupting white community standards'.


Government Settlements

The first government institution was established at Barambah in 1904

(named changed to Cherbourg in 1931) and Aborigines who had gathered at

Durundur reserve near Caboolture were amongst the first transferred. From 1908

there was a steady increase in numbers as Aborigines were transferred from

southern Queensland in line with Meston 's proposal. The permanent population

stood at 663 in 1933. A second settlement was established in 1911 near Taroom

but in 1927 this was relocated 120 miles north and became Woorabinda. By

1938 there were 692 people living on this reserve west of Rockhampton. In

1914 Aboriginal people in the Cardwell{fully districts were systematically

rounded up and taken to the newly established Hull River mission. Inmates were

shifted to Palm Island in 1918 after a cyclone demolished the premises. Even

without the disaster at Hull River, it seems that Palm Island would have been

established as it was discussed as a suitable site for a penitentiary in 1916. Since

the early 1920s Palm Island has been the largest of the government settlements.

It quickly gained a reputation amongst Aborigines as a penal settlement because

people were sent there from all parts of the state for 'punishment'; in excess of

half the Aboriginal removals between 1919 and 1937 were to Palm Island.

The dormitory system of the early missions where children were isolated

from the influence of their parents, was adopted on settlements. Fred Clay

recalled that when his family was removed to Palm Island in the 1930s they were

separated; his mother and two sisters were sent to the women's dormitory and

the three sons to the boys' dormitory:

We saw each other only when permission was granted. There was a white person there they called a matron, you know. We had to get permission from her to visit the dormitory and see our mother. Pretty stiff when you've got to get permission to see your own mother.

Administrators found the location of Palm Island particularly attractive as

Aboriginal people could be isolated, most effectively, from the white population.

Nevertheless there were numerous accounts of Palm Islanders attempting to


swim the 20 miles to the mainland using logs and pieces of wood. In 1925 two

men escaped by swimming from island to island and made their way back to the

Mitchell River on Cape York Peninsula. In 1932 nineteen people absconded but

eleven were subsequently recaptured, 'punished with short terms of

imprisonment', and returned to the settlement while some were transferred to

other settlements. As a result of this incident, the increase in 'moral' offences

and the general unrest owing to reduced employment opportunities away from

the island, it was decided to reorganise and strengthen the Palm Island native

police squad.

Aboriginal Police had been operating on reserves for many years prior to

their formal recognition in the 1939 Act. For some Aboriginal officers it was

work which yielded considerable job satisfaction. Isaac Gundy who went to

Palm Island in 1933 became a policeman on the settlement. He recalled that the

Aboriginal sergeant recruited suitable candidates:

You could work your way up from a constable to a senior sergeant. I was tough in those days- I didn' tfavour my brother, cousin, mother, sister- they would have to do the right thing. [I] treated everyone the same and I punished only those that did wrong. I took them to the court first- I didn't do the punishing myself of course. The superintendent did that.

A lot of our old fellows couldn't read or write but they never had trouble keeping law and order in this place ... They knew right from wrong. They were brought up on the old tribal laws and you couldn't break any tribal laws without being punished ... the

police used to drill like soldiers ... They would go on parade in the morning -down among the workers. I'd put on the parade there and break them off ... had to be spanking clean, starched uniforms, clean shaven, boots polished. You could see the uniform shine on us that's how good we were ...

Willie Thaiday who was sent to Palm Island around the same time as

Isaac Gundy had a different perspective of the Aboriginal Police which he saw as

little more than a tool of the Superintendent:

The policemen on Palm Island should not be called policeman ... They are only trackers from far away inland and they know nothing about law, not a scrap. They never been to school and all they do is what the superintendent tell them . 'Can you do this?'


'yes boss.' 'Can you do that?' 'Yes boss.' They never say no. Then they come to try to stand over us by the power of the superintendent.

We got to do everything what suit the superintendent, not us and every super that go there got the law in his own mouth. What he say is law and the state government allow them to make the rules.

We know it is wrong but still you can't say nothing because tht; moment you say something they throw you in gaol. If they say you go to gaol you can't say what for and you don't know when you come out. I saw some boys, two or three of them, who

spent 18 months without court.

The overwhelming majority of incidents on the settlement were dealt

with by the Aboriginal Police and Courts where there was no right to a defence

lawyer and no provisions for appeals against rulings made arbitrarily by the

superintendent. On Palm Island even children were gaoled for insignificant

misdemeanours. Mamie Kennedy recalled her experiences as a child in the late


I was singing this song 'Who Said I Was a Bum'. I didn't know that the matron was coming through the dormitory. Next thing I found myself in jail for the night because I was singing that song and using the world 'bum' ... Next time I went to jail we were

hunting for stuff on the reef when we saw this big fish in the lagoon . A big one. Of course we started chasing it. We had no sandshoes on but we were running over the coral chasing this fish. The police were blowing the whistle for us to come in and

we never heard it. We were too busy chasing the fish. Finally we caught it and the police caught us and marched us off the jail. We kicked that fish all the way back to the jail. We spent the night there.

Willie Thaiday believed that the Palm Island superintendent treated

women harshly as well. He saw one person shoved in gaol for refusing to scrub

the hospital floor. He explained that the woman was unable do the work because

she could not leave her children alone at home. Another girl was put in gaol

because she ran away from the dormitory for one night.

There seemed to be little logic in the way that punishment was

dispensed. One inmate reported that 'a married man cleared out with a single girl

for a couple of days. They were sentenced to 14 days gaol. After this the man


was appointed to the police force and the girl was sent to Fan tome Island'. In

1937 Tommy Ryan was charged with disobeying the orders of the

Superintendent and sentenced to seven days imprisonment; Ted Bosun, sergeant

of Police was charged with trying to commit suicide, and allowed to carry on as

Police Sergeant; Constable Ross was found ill-treating his wife and when he

reported the matter to the Superintendent was told to go home and that it was all


A multitude of other practices compounded the sense of powerlessness

experienced by those Aboriginal people unfortunate enough to be incarcerated on

Queensland settlements. A lock hospital was erected on Fantome Island in 1926

to deal with the numerous cases of venereal disease but by the early 1930s all

people being transferred to Palm Island had to pass through Fantome Island first.

Usually a person who was free of venereal disease would only stay for two

weeks but for others it could be months depending on when the medical

superintendent decided to grant a free bill of health to enable the person to be

transferred to Palm Island. New arrivals had to go straight to the

superintendent's office and have their luggage inspected. The Chief Protector

maintained that this was necessary 'in order to prevent the entrance of

intoxicating liquor'. All inward and outward mail was also censored in much the

same way as occurred for soldiers in a war zone . From the 1930s, Aborigines

living on settlements had to obtain the permission of the superintendent before

they could marry another Aboriginal. Under the provisions of the 1901 Act it

had only been necessary to obtain 'permission, in writing of a Protector

authorised by the Minister to give such permission' if an Aboriginal woman

wanted to marry a non-Aboriginal. Even though most had committed no crime,

they had to have the permission of the superintendent before they could leave the

settlement. In addition all residents could be ordered to work for 32 hours a

week without pay. For those sections of the Aboriginal community subjected to

increasing controls and regulations it must have been extremely difficult to

maintain a sense of self-worth.


Morale on Palm Island was particularly low in 1937. Director-General

of Health, Sir Raphael Cilento reported that 'during the eighteen years that I

have known this settlement, I have never seen it in worse condition, or with less

evidence of active progress'. The previous year it had been decided to elect a

local council which decided to take up the issue of wages with the government.

Prior to this they had been paid in tobacco and rations including flour, rice, sugar

and porridge. Apparently it was agreed that residents would be paid four

shillings a fortnight on the understanding that they did not gamble. Within days

however they were caught and the wages stopped. When Cilento visited the

Island the following year he reported that there was considerable resentment that

the plans for an Aboriginal council had been reversed 'by studied neglect of this

activity on the part of the Acting Superintendent'. The experiences of the Torres

Strait Islanders were markedly different in this regard.

Torres Strait Islanders

The Queensland government consistently maintained that Torres Strait

Islanders were a different type of people from their mainland counterparts. In

1897 when protective legislation was introduced it did not apply to those born in

the Islands. However when it was discovered that European employers were

taking advantage of these people, Torres Strait Islanders were brought under

provisions of the Act in 1904. By the 1930s the department looked most

favourably on the Islanders who owned the largest pearling fleet in the north and

marketed their products through the Native Trading Station and Branch stores;

when new Aboriginal legislation was being drawn up in 1939, it was decided

that the people of Torres Strait should have a separate bill. This decision was no

doubt influenced by events of 1936 when 70 per cent of the Islander workforce

went on strike for nine months. Nonie Sharp has pointed out that the immediate

cause of the dispute was the Islanders' insistence on the right to control their

own wages. The wider issue was however to do with control of their own

affairs including the lifting of evening curfews, removal of the permit system for

inter-island travel, recruitment of island police for their home Islands, Islanders'


right to recruit their own boat crews and the availability of Boat Returns to

skippers and crews. Sharp argues that the strike was an:

.. . expression and a measure of a new interdependence on the one hand. On the other, its course and its ou_tcome were to further consolidate inter-island bonds and to raise awareness as an Island people. Over the months of the strike officials noted privately the

'altered outlook' and changed mentality of the Islanders. Those administrators with some insight into the attitudes of Islanders sensed a new determination and self-confidence. Steps were quickly taken to grant some of their immediate demands. Administrators were forced to treat Islanders as one group of people.

Like the Aboriginal Act of 1939, provision was still maintained in the

Torres Strait Act for protection and preservation. Unlike the Aboriginal Act

however, a large part of the Torres Strait Islander Act dealt with local

government. Following an inter-island councillors' conference in 1937 it was

noted in a departmental report that:

... they have already proved themselves capable of carrying out the functions of local government, and their services in the past to their indigent by means of their own welfare or island funds, is evidence of their appreciation of the needs and obligations of such a system as also are their public buildings, churches, bridges, drainage and sanitary systems, and the like, while their attention

to their person and dwellings is further evidence of their endeavours to achieve a decent standard of living.

This Bill had been introduced to give constitutional effect to a system of

self-government which with sympathetic departmental assistance, has been

evolved by these people, and to direct and assist them further towards perfecting

such a system, at the same time fully preserving their racial entity and protecting

their interests when such conflict with those of the European race.

It would be tempting to argue that because Torres Strait Islanders have

been historically treated differently from mainland Aboriginals that this has been

a contributing factor to fewer people dying while in custody. Before such a

conclusion can be made there are several factors which should be borne in mind.

Firstly, Torres Strait communities have few provisions for people being held in

watchhouses and secondly because the communities are smaller there is much


more scope for residents to detect a contemplated suicide and to take appropriate

intervention procedures. Even though many Islanders now live away from their

homelands, they nevertheless have been able to retain more of their culture and

this has had a marked effect on their state of mind.

In the 1946 Regulation some attempt was made to make the Aboriginal

Act and the Torres Strait Islanders Act more uniform by introducing elected

councils on mainland reserves and settlements. Some officials such as Sturgess

on Palm Island encouraged Aboriginal involvement in some decision making.

Neville Bonner remembered that the superintendent formed the Palm Island

Social and Welfare Association which organised after-work activities from sport

to the annual show, corroborees to the baby welfare scheme, fishing contests and

so forth. With the superintendent controlling proceedings, these mainland

councils did not however have the power of the Islanders' councils. The

superintendent could for instance declare a candidate ineligible 'for any reason

whatsoever'. There were some changes to the Torres Strait Islander and

Aboriginals Preservation and Protection Acts in 1946 but these were minor

compared with provisions of the new legislation introduced in 1965 which

focused on assimilation.


Although Queensland had a reputation for being an 'expert on Aboriginal

affairs' it lagged far behind other states in the adoption of assimilation as a

policy. By 1951 all Australian governments claimed to have adopted a policy of

assimilating Aborigines into the wider society, but it was to be another ten years

before a common definition was adopted. It was agreed that:

The policy of assimilation means that all Aborigines and part­ Aborigines are expected eventually to attain the same manner of living as other Australians and to live as members of a single Australian community enjoying the same rights and privileges, accepting the same responsibilities, observing the same customs and influenced by the same beliefs, as other Australians.


Rowley has pointed out that this definition could accommodate the

extreme assimilationist view of eventual Aboriginal disappearance or the liberal

view of promising no more than a general equality. Heather Weame pinpoints

1957 as the year when the Queensland govemmenfofficially adopted a policy of

assimilation. She maintains that it was 'significant that the discovery of minerals

on Aboriginal reserves during the 1950s coincided with the increased political

interest in Aboriginal affairs'. The department on the other hand argued that it

was the appropriate action as by 1956 ' more people in Queensland possessing

aboriginal blood [are] assimilated into the general community than are controlled

and protected under the Acts' and that 'at least 20,000' people lived thus outside

'the Acts'. Nevertheless the 1961 census sho"'ed that no less than 40 per cent of

Queensland Aborigines were still 'locked away in this system of settlements and

controlled contract employment' . Subjected to discrimination and denied the

most basic human rights for years, Aboriginal people played a significant part in

forcing changes to official policy. In this they were aided by left wing unions.

In the 1950s there were more job opportunities even for those in remote

areas. The main employment for Aboriginal labour until then had been on cattle

stations where they were relatively isolated from the rest of the community and

could be more easily controlled by protectors. In the fifties some found work in

the mining industry. The 1958 annual report noted that 'the coming of the mining

companies to the north has meant that the majority of younger men were able to

find work fairly close at hand'.

Others were given opportunities at Mt Isa Mines. With the construction

of the beef roads in the early 1960s, some found employment there. Hunter of

Magowra station reported losing stockmen to the Main Roads jobs and regretted

being unable to compete with the wages offered there. The effect of this was to

bring Aboriginal people into contact with more white workers and with members

of the more militant unions including the Waterside Workers Federation and the

Trades and Labour Council (TLC).


TLC official Fred Thompson recalled that when he began visiting the

bauxite location at Weipa from 1957 he spent as much time on Aboriginal matters

as on his regular union duties. He was able to gain first hand knowledge of the

problems encountered by Aborigines in the workforce. A delegation from the

Cairns branch of the Trades and Labor Council paid a visit to Yarrabah on a fact

finding and in 1961 the Queensland branch of the TLC was instrumental

in having incidents of violence involving Aboriginal stockmen on Abindgon

Downs and QMey stations investigated by the police. During the same year the

TLC also called for equal wages and full union rights for Aborigines in the cattle


The treatment of Aborigines was brought to the attention of rank and file

members from the early 1950s when some unions began organising members '

conferences in north Queensland. It was at one of these that the position of

Aboriginal workers was raised, particularly in relation to violence and restrictions

on wages. As a result, the militant wing of the local trade union movement began

to give close attention to the need for Aborigines to develop a political

organisation of their own. The TLC, and particularly its state general secretary

Alec Macdonald, threw their support firmly behind the moves to give Aborigines

an identity of their own. Conferences were set up, mainly in Cairns, but also in

other locations and Aboriginal people were encouraged to participate. The most

significant of these was the first Conference of Aboriginal and Torres Strait

Islanders Advancement League in Cairns in 1960. It was attended by over 100

Aborigines and Islanders, trade union officials including representatives from

Cairns, Townsville and state branches of the TLC. At the conclusion of the

conference a declaration of Rights of the Queensland Aborigines and Torres

Islanders was drawn up. It addressed the issues of civil liberties, landownership,

education, housing, unclaimed money and racial discrimination. This

commitment to developing Aboriginal leadership was in marked contrast to the

government's paternalism.


Black Protest

But even without the encouragement from left wing unions, resentment

was mounting on missions and settlements in the 1950s. When Roy Bartlam

took control of Palm Island in 1954 he was intent on enforcing the rules and

regulations much more rigourously than his predecessor. Indignation at

Bartlam 's authoritarian style reached a peak in 1957; the catalyst was a

disagreement between Len Croker, the white hygiene officer and Albie Geia, an

Aboriginal foreman. Geia objected to the lack of control over basic aspects of his

life and the fact that, despite having a superior understanding of the job, he was

paid only a fraction of Crocker's wage. He was told that he could leave Palm I

Island and make his own way on the mainland and was placed in custody until he

could be transported to Townsville. He escaped and others including Bill

Congoo, Willie Thaiday, Eric Lymbume, Sonny Sibley and George Watson

threw their support behind Geia. Eventually the whole island came to a standstill

and with tension mounting, Bartlam called in 20 armed police from Townsville

who arrested the six strike leaders. Without any charges being laid, these men

were sent to three different settlements simply through the invocation of removal

orders. Unrest at Doomadgee mission a couple of years later was handled in a

different manner.

The Deputy Director of Native Affairs was sent to the mission to

participate in a public meeting where residents were encouraged to air their

grievances. These included the increased tensions which resulted when a large

number of people returned from outside work to take up residence during the wet

season; the separation of children in dormitories and inadequate housing. It was

reported that as the m'eeting progressed the superintendent Alan Hockey:

.. .felt that some form of control was warranted in the village and it was agreed that a Native Advisory Committee would be formed at that meeting which Committee would be responsible for the control and management etc. of the village and hold periodic discussions with the Superintendent to improve general

conditions. This Committee would also act as a liaison between


the Superintendent and the village in all matters and make appropriate recommendations to the Superintendent.

/twas carefully explained to the meeting that this Committee in no way took over any of the powers or authority of the

Superintendent but rather that he delegated certain of his power to the Committee.

It is highly unlikely that Hockey would have been prepared to transfer

any real power in decision making to the Doomadgee residents in 1959. The fact

that he was prepared to live for so many years in such isolation for no monetary

reward clearly indicates a commitment to the welfare of Aboriginal people. The

assistance which he dispensed to his wards however came with huge servings of


Apart from the protest by residents on missions and settlements, those in

towns who were less constrained by the Act were also becoming politically

active. Two of the most powerful identities to emerge from Cairns were Gladys

O'Shane and Joe McGinness the latter subsequently becoming the federal

president of Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres

Strait Islanders (FCAATSI). The leadership of this organisation was initially

made up of non-Aboriginal people but as more blacks began attending meetings

they gained the self-confidence to urge others to fight for their rights. Evelyn

Scott told Faith Bandler that FCAATSI had given her 'confidence in myself':

I never thought the day would come when I could tackle politicians, bureaucrats in government departments, and stand up in universities and address students. When growing up as a child in North Queensland I never thought I could achieve those things. Meeting people like you [Faith Bandler] and Dulcie Flower, Joe McGinness and Kath Walker gave me confidence.

In 1958 the Queensland State Council for the Advancement of

Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders (QCAATSI) was formed in Brisbane. Its

aims included complete social and political equality for Aborigines and Torres

Strait Islanders, promotion and preservation of their culture and a desire to co­

operate with other organisations with similar aims. Kath Walker became active

in QCAA TSI and recalled that it:


... handled the unpopular cases - like the matter of the freedom of movement for Aborigines and the high rate of Aboriginal arrests. Of course, we were harassed by the police and spied on by the DLP whose members made a bid to takeover our organisation by

stacking one of our annual meetings ... I had been very vocal throughout my tour of other states and the publicity had gone throughout all channels- 1V, press and radio. I averaged from seven to ten interviews a day. When I returned from a meeting one night shortly after that successful tour, I found that someone had entered my house and savagely slashed the curtains and all my clothes with a razor. I was very shocked and my companions phoned the police several times but they didn't come.

Racial Discrimination

Aboriginal people have experienced racial discrimination since the arrival

of Europeans in this country. In the nineteenth century it was often justified on

the basis of scientific theories but in the twentieth century, it has been

government policy which has helped to maintain this condition. At the first

Conference of the Aborigines and Torres Straits Islanders Advancement League

in Cairns in 1960 it was noted that:

.. . because of the inhuman attitude of the government to the peoples, racial discrimination in many forms, open and concealed, has been permitted to flourish in Queensland. Aboriginal and Torres Island people are discriminated against in

employment, in the use of many public facilities, in some theatres and other places of entertainment, in cases where they, together with others, are involved in disturbances and in many other ways. A thorough campaign of education against all forms of

discrimination is needed in Queensland,from the schools up .

On cattle stations where so many had worked, it was normal for blacks

and whites to be housed and fed separately, even in the late 1960s. This

arrangement seemed to suit the Aborigines as much as the whites. One

Aboriginal woman who did eat with non-Aborigines recalled that she never felt

comfortable there and would normally eat her food and 'bolt'. 'There were a few

Aborigines working on the station and I was glad of their company' she added .

It was evident that after years of being made to feel inferior, Aborigines had

internalised their subordinate status.


Aboriginal people were also made to feel that they were not good enough

to serve their country when it was at war. Many Queensland Aborigines

including Neville Bonner and Willie Thaiday applied to join the Army but were

rejected. Thaiday's request was turned down because he came from Palm

Island. 'I tried to join the army outside in 1939, Thaiday wrote:

... but they say: 'You can't join the army from P aim Island'. So we come back to Palm Island while the ninth, sixth and seventh division Australian boys go overseas.

In 1940 the war get bad and I go toM ackay on a patrol boat for the army. The boat take all the tucker for the army stationed on the islands, Daydream Island and all them.

I go round there working for the army. I ask Captain Swain, big army captain: 'You put me in uniform. It is no good this way. You better enlist me in the army' . Swain don't want that. He say: 'You're from Palm Island'. I say: 'I don't want to stop in military patrol boat then. You send me to P aim ! sland'. He don't want to send me so I run away back to Palm Island.

Despite pressure from the Aborigines Uplift Society and the Queensland

Department of Native Affairs, recruiting officers remained firm in their resolve to

exclude Aborigines from war service. However the acute manpower shortage in

1942 saw a relaxation of the policy and Aborigines were enlisted in relatively

large numbers.

The amount of education which blacks received was very much less than

the non-Aboriginal. On settlement schools, for many years children were not

educated beyond grade 4. This ensured that when they were assimilated into

white society, it was into the lower stratas. Even so employers saw no value in

the type of education given to Aboriginal children at mission and settlement

schools. One argued that 'what the native really wants to learn is to be useful on

the land and among stock, leave the education out'. Indeed Jean Devanny has

argued that the mission education system was an instrument for reproducing the

conditions which kept Aborigines subordinate.

Almost every aspect of Mission life seemed to presuppose a congenital inferiority of the Aborigines to the white. The brotherly approach was largely a cover - in most cases


unconsciously so - for maintaining the status quo. Male Aborigines were trained by the Missions for competent and submissive work on the station and nothing more. The females for domestic work.

Exactly the same claim can be made of settlement schools. Those

Aboriginal children who found their way into state school system were treated

differently from the other students. Norman Cummins recalled not being allowed

to join in school sports and being placed at the end of the classroom. In 1940 at

the same school in Cloncurry, parents wrote to the minister and complained when

an Aboriginal child was made a monitor and would have authority over white

children. A few Aboriginal children who had the opportunity to attend private

schools fared better than they would have in the state school system. Topsy

Hansen recalled that 'because my husband and I couldn't read or write, we made

sure our girls ... had a good education. We saved our wages and sent them away

to boarding school and they did well too'. It was a landmark in Aboriginal

education when Mick Miller and Phillip Stewart both of Palm Island completed a

regular program of teacher training in 1959 and took up positions in schools

controlled by the Education Department. ·

Notwithstanding their important contribution to the cattle industry in

Queensland, many Aboriginal workers were paid far below award wages in the

1960s. Although the committee inquiring into the well-being of Aborigines and

Torres Strait Islanders originally had no intention of addressing this aspect, they

did unexpectedly recommend that the exclusion of Aborigines from the Station

Hands Award should be abolished. It is highly likely that the change in attitude

came as a result of the submission made by Alec Macdonald, general secretary of

the Trades and Labour Council. Dealing exclusively with Aborigines in the 0 •

pastoral industry, the report was comprehensive, thoroughly outlining many

facets of discrimination encountered by Aborigines in the industry. The

submission was widely circulated and received very favourable comment. Barry

Christophers, secretary of the wages and employment committee of FCAA TSI

wrote that in his opinion the document was of 'historic importance' believing it

would 'set the pattern for trade union activity on this whole question throughout


Australia'. When equal pay was finally introduced in 1968 after a number of

smokescreens had been thrown up by the Department, there was a significant

reduction in the number of Aborigines employed in the industry. However it was

the female domestics who were the major casualties of equal pay in Queensland.

With the removal of wives and children from properties, station life lost some of

its appeal for those men left working in the industry. As a result many

Aborigines willingly chose to move to alternative employment opportunities

which emerged in the 1960s. Some of these were on missions.

Government Takeover of Missions

For a variety of reasons the Anglican church decided to hand over, to the

state government, control of Yarrabah in 1960 and its remaining northern

missions, Edward River, Lockhart and Mitchell River in 1967. The Presbyterian

church relinquished control of Mapoon in 1963 and Weipa in 1966. With access

to more funds, the government was able to embark on much needed

improvements to these institutions. This in turn provided more work for local

residents. However for Mapoon and Lockhart Aborigines, government control

brought major changes to their lifestyle when it was decided to relocate these

former missions to new sites.

At Mapoon which was located on land required by Comalco for bauxite

mining, most of the services including the flying doctor, the supply boat, the local

school and the store were withdrawn. Although some families did move, others

refused to leave their homes until the department stepped in and set fire to nearly

everything on the mission including homes, church, cookhouse, school

workshops, butcher-shop and the store. Matthew Cooktown was one of the

Mapoon residents relocated at Weipa. For him it was a most unsatisfactory

move. He wrote that he and his family were unhappy there:

At Mapoon we could catch fish, turtle, duck, geese, wild pig. We could grow fruits and vegetables. Here at Weipa we must go a long way to hunt and fish and we may dig yams only when Weipa people will permit us. We have no country that is our own. We do not find Weipa people friendly. There are many quarrels and arguments ... Though DNA has provided us with a


house for which we will soon have to pay rent we had received no compensation for our property [left at Mapoon].

At Lockhart it was the government's intention to transfer the entire

population to Bamaga. When the Lockhart residents were informed of this plan,

a significant proportion objected strongly to being moved so far away from their

country. With the unfavourable publicity from the relocation of the Mapoon

people, the government decided instead to rebuild near Iron Range which was

closer. Nevertheless as Noel Loos has pointed out the shift 'caused great

heartache because it dislocated the people from the previous mission site'.

Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders Act 1965-67

With the recognition that the existing legislation needed to be brought

into line with prevailing practices, the state government set up a special

committee to review the situation in 1962; the recommendations from this

committee were to be the basis for new legislation. When this was drawn up in

1965 Aborigines and Islanders were again brought under the same Act but the

general thrust was away from protection towards assimilation. The concept of

protectors was abandoned in favour of the term, district officers. Instead of

police acting as protectors this job was given to the clerks of magistrate's courts.

However in most country towns this was still the local police officer. The

Director of Native Affairs became the Director of Aboriginal and Islanders

Affairs, superintendents were to be called managers and the terms 'settlement'

and 'mission' were to be replaced with 'community'.

Provision was made in Section 44 of the Act for Aboriginal Councils and

Courts and under the .Regulations of 1966, the structure of both institutions was

to change. The Council on each of the designated communities was to consist of

two assisted Aborigines to be appointed by the Director and two assisted l Aborigines to be elected by residents. The council was to be responsible to the

manager for the conduct, discipline and well-being of assisted Aborigines

residing within the Reserve or community. It had the power to make By-laws,

resolutions and orders for the well-being and progressive development of


assisted residents. This appeared to be much more democratic than previously

but in reality little had changed as the Director could remove any of the members

of an Aboriginal Council and all By-laws had to receive the approval of the

Director before they could be enacted.

Aboriginal courts which had attracted so much criticism because the

superintendent was in effect both prosecutor and judge were, under the new

legislation, to be staffed by Aborigines. Two Aboriginal Justices of the Peace,

or, where there were less than two, the Aboriginal Council functioned as the

court. The Court could hear and determine breaches of regulations and by-laws

by assisted persons. Appeals in the first instance were to the manager who still

substantially controlled the courts and he remained responsible for appointing

Aboriginal police. Heather Weame points out that their 'relationship to the

manager was central to the administration of the community; the Aboriginal

council had no jurisdiction'.

Most of the recommendations of the committee inquiring into the

Promotion of the Well-Being of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders in

Queensland were incorporated into the Act and Regulations. One that was

modified considerably was the right of Aboriginal people to vote in state and

local government elections. Up until 1965 all Aborigines and Torres Strait

Islanders under the Act had been excluded. The majority of members on the

committee agreed with the Director, P.J. Killoran's resolution that the most

effective way of giving Aboriginal people the vote was by making provision for

them to elect a representative of their own to the state parliament. This person

would only have the right to vote on matters affecting Aboriginal issues. This

compromise was no doubt worked out to placate shire councils such as Cook and

Burke who were concerned that if Aboriginal people in their areas were given full

voting rights, they would take over the shires.

By contrast the minority view was that equity and propriety in the

implementation of the principle of voting could only be served by requiring all

citizens, Australian, Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islander to vote on the same


general rolls. This view was strongly endorsed by the Queensland Council for

the Advancement of.Aborigines and Torres Islanders adding that 'any form of

restricted voting implies a form of second class citizenship'. Members of the

Queensland Aboriginal Advancement League also supported the minority view.

The organisation cogently argued that 'it is against the policy of assimilation to

treat Aborigines as a distinct group entitled to distinct representation'. In

September 1965 amendments were made to the Elections Act to allow all

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders to vote in state and local authority


This was an important step in giving Aboriginal people some control

over their lives. Another significant change for the Queensland Aboriginal

people in 1965 was the right to consume alcohol in hotels on an equal footing

with all other Australians. This was not extended to communities apart from

Palm Island where it was suggested a canteen be established to enable residents

to learn how and what to drink.

In summary then, government policy with respect to the Aboriginal

population had initially been one of protection and control when it was thought

that they were dying out. When it was discovered that numbers were increasing

the strategy became one of absorption into mainstream society through a policy

of assimilation. By the late 1960s there was increasing awareness of the

arrogance and ethnocentricity that underlay such a policy which would ultimately

lead to the elimination of Aboriginal culture. At a federal level, the official

Commonwealth policy became self-management. In his party's policy speech in

December 1972 Gough Whitlam stated that the basic object of Labor's policy

was 'to restore to the Aboriginal people of Australia their lost power of self­

determination in economic, social and political affairs so that they could take up

as a distinctive and honoured component in the Australian society the position to

which their rights as the first Australians entitle them'. These sentiments were

endorsed by the Federal coalition which in its 1974 election policy stated that 'we

recognise the fundamental right of Aborigines to retain their racial identity and

traditional lifestyle or where desired, to adopt a partially or wholly European


lifestyle'. In Queensland however the government still openly pursued a policy

of assimilation and this was clearly discernible in the new legislation introduced

in 1971.

Queensland Aborigines Act 1971; the Torres Strait

IslandersAct of 1971

Once again the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations came

under the jurisdiction of separate Acts of parliament, These bills, we are

informed in the Annual Report for 1972 were the 'products of the work

undertaken by the Advisory Councils' but as it has already been noted,

Aboriginal Councils were still very much under the control of the manager. A

major feature of the act was the abolition of the 'Assisted Aborigine' category.

Objectionable terms such as 'full-blood' and 'strain or preponderance of

Aboriginal blood' were dropped in favour of a less complex definition of an

Aboriginal; 'a person who is a descendant of an indigenous inhabitant of the

Commonwealth of Australia other than the Torres Strait Islands'. After years of

living under the cloud of the Act, these cosmetic changes may have made little

difference to Aboriginal people. In 1982 when an old Aboriginal man was asked

if it was possible to borrow his 50 year old exemption certificate to copy, his

response was 'No, no, the government might ask for it'.

The 1971 Acts dealt almost exclusively with reserves specifying who

could and could not enter a reserve. An Aboriginal who wanted to live on a

reserve indefinitely, or for a period of more than one month, had to apply to the

Council chairman. A residence permit was then granted 'if and only if' the

Council and the Director were satisfied that such residence was 'in the best

interests of the applicant'. If a resident left a reserve, the permit was

automatically terminated unless the departure was for a short-term. Whereas

under the 1965 Act it had been difficult for residents to leave reserves, under the

new legislation it became difficult to return. Garth Nettheim was concerned that

there was a 'danger that any past repression in this matter may be superseded by


a sense of insecurity'. In his opinion neither condition was conducive to

achieving 'the confidence of citizenship'.

The Acts retained the concepts of Aboriginal Police and Courts.

Assessing their operations on Yarrabah in 1976, anthropologist Daniel Craig was

of the opinion that:

The essential problem on Yarrabah is that the community's by­ laws, which the Reserve police and the local Justices of the Peace are bound to uphold, do not represent the community's mores. Rather they were introduced by the Department of Aboriginal and Island Advancement in 1965 and rubber-stamped by the

Community Council This means that the Aboriginal J.P.s are using introduced rules and standards of justice to adjudicate local problems within the framework of an imposed court structure. Rather than help settle disputes, the Aboriginal Court and the

Reserve police on Yarrabah often compound social tensions by interrupting the community's informal settlement procedures, and imposing fines for behaviour which is offensive to western culture, e.g. 'obscene language', but integral to local means of

conflict management.

Every Aboriginal on Yarrabah who occupies a position of authority established by the Aborigines Actfinds it difficult to transcend family ties and act impartially. This is especially true of the Reserve police.


A large proportion of Queensland's Aboriginal and Island population has

experienced institutionalism either on a mission or a government settlement or

community. Although there were opportunities on some establishments to retain

some of their heritage, generally the experience has been highly destructive of

their culture. Subjected to so many changes, these people have been left insecure

and unsure of their identity. Moreover state paternalism has saturated every

piece of legislation dealing with Queensland Aborigines and Torres Strait

Islanders. The effect has been to slowly extract any power that these people

have had over their own lives. It is a situation to which four or five generations

have been exposed effectively crippling initiative and self-esteem. The traditional

authority of elders has been replaced with the authority of the state. For most

Aboriginal people, the state was embodied in the local policeman who was their


protector until 1965. This has meant that every day functions of their lives have

been decided by the police whom Aboriginal people call 'bulliman'. In her

autobiography Mamie Kennedy recalled that it was a name that suited them well.

She knew an old man 'who died in fear of the bulliman. Old people used to

shake violently whenever police or bulliman would be mentioned'. After 1965

the protector became the district officer who was generally the clerk of court.

But in most country towns, this was still the police officer. This resulted in the

situation where the police would arrest an Aboriginal. As clerk of court he

would lay charges and as district officer would represent the defendant. At the

same time, as a police officer he could represent the prosecution. It is small

wonder that so many Aboriginal people found their way into jails off the

reserves. With the system of Aboriginal courts and jails on settlements, it was

even easier to be incarcerated.

* I wish to acknowledge the assistance of Associate Professor Noel Loos who kindly read this manuscript and made some recommendations which I

have incorporated into this draft.


Appendix 2



Paul Memmott Aboriginal Data Archive University of Queensland




This paper has two principal aims. The first is to provide a general

cultural overview of Aboriginal people and societies in Queensland for the

reader. A variety of descriptors will be employed with some reference to broad

similarities and differences between groups and regions, and with an emphasis

on culturally distinct characteristics.

In this brief excursion through Aboriginal Queensland, there is not space

to deal with a substantial number of cultural systems or institutions in any way

but the anecdotal. These omissions include religion, government, politics, the

judicial system, education, the arts, architecture and settlement. Nor will any

reference be made to Aboriginal practices of 'health, hygiene and care about

nutrition and economic welfare', things that, as Gibson points out (1987:5),

unfortunately become too readily disenfranchised from the Aboriginal sphere of

influence and relegated to the arena of non-Aboriginal 'applied culture' by many

White outsiders.

The reason for this omission brings us to the second important aim of

this paper. Because of the task at hand, there will be a focus on specific issues

of cultural change and Aboriginal behaviour associated with the deaths in

custody. Nevertheless some balance will be sought between positive and

negative aspects of social life in Aboriginal communities.

In this paper, the term 'Aboriginals' will be used to mean both

Aboriginal mainland dwellers and Torres Strait Islanders unless the context

dictates specific differentiation. There is in fact very little attention given to the

Torres Strait Island situation in this analysis due to there being only two deaths

in custody of Islanders (Misi, Mau) out of the total of 27 deaths under

consideration by the Commission. Although Island culture is quite different in

many ways from Aboriginal cultures, the reader should bear in mind that the


Aboriginal Issues Unit85 believes the same pattern of social problems is

emerging in Island communities as in mainland Aboriginal ones, and that it will

only be a matter of time before it becomes as severe. Two other case studies

which receive negligible attention herein are those of Wouters and Lorraway, due

to the lack of clear identification of these individuals with any Aboriginal

community or group.

The following sections largely pertain to the time frame 1970-1990,

partly to preserve a sense of chronological continuity following the history

papers,86 but also to provide a broad temporal base from which to draw

materials on 'contemporary' Aboriginal cultures. Although two decades may

seem to be too broad a time frame to be categorized as 'contemporary', any

narrowing of the sample period to 1985-90 or even to 1980-90 would eliminate

much valuable research. The selection of this period is also dictated by the

limited resources at hand for many regions and communities.

Some assistance has been obtained in preparing the ensuing materials

from a number of Aboriginal consultants as well as the members of the AIU.

However it should be borne in mind that the contents essentially represent a way

of thinking about Aboriginal culture from a White person's viewpoint.

Use of the concept of 'culture'.

Throughout this paper the following broad working definition of

'culture' will be utilized:



The total pattern of human behaviour and its products embodied in thought, speech, action and artifacts and dependent upon man's capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge to succeeding generations through the use of tools, language, and systems of abstract thought

(Websters Third New International Dictionary).

Royal Commission Into Aboriginal Deaths In Custody Aboriginal Issues Unit, hereinafter referred to as the AIU. See Appendix I.


Cultural products or elements may therefore consist of concepts and

beliefs, speech, behaviour, and objects. Such elements are combined by groups

and societies to form characteristic compound patterns and styles such as

behavioural settings, languages, technologies, rituals, etc., and these in tum may

be integrated into even more abstract, complex and higher-order cultural systems

(or institutions) such as government, education, religion, social organization,


However the reader should bear in mind that the derivation of a useful

model of 'culture' has been the subject of vigorous technical debate amongst

anthropologists for some decades, and that one dominant school leans towards a

narrower ideational and cognitive definition. Thus according to Keesing

(1987:68, 69) cultures comprise 'systems of shared ideas, systems of concepts

and rules and meanings that underlie and are expressed in the ways that humans

live'. Culture, so defined, deals directly with a complex set of ideologies, ideas

and propositions about the nature of the world (Chase 1981 :24).

Nevertheless, even when adopting such a narrow model of culture, one

cannot meaningfully divorce it from its structural field which involves the same

dimensions outlined above, of groups, behavioural patterns, material and

technological products, systems of government, education, religious beliefs, etc.

Although this narrow definition of culture may be technically useful for some

types of anthropological research, a complete understanding of change in the

world of Queensland Aboriginals requires that this field be considered in its

widest dimensions, drawing in such diverse components as social organization,

government policies, alcohol consumption and psychological stress. Hence the

terms 'culture' and '-cultural change' will be used and applied herein using this

broad sense.

The reader should also note that the current theory on culture

presupposes that all humans have undergone a process of enculturation.

Although cultural traditions may be destabilized or totally destroyed, humans, in


order to smvive, invent or adapt other cultural elements or systems to augment or

replace them. Thus, as Langton points out whilst referring to urban Aboriginal

communities, 'all humans have culture ... [and] culture is the prerequisite for

humaneness' (Langton 1981:16).

A further common feature of human groups and their cultural traditions

is the acquisition and · use of distinct forms of self-identity by individuals.

Identity is acquired through processes of enculturation and concerns the

processes by which individuals and groups develop notions of how they are

made up and how they are related to or bounded from one another. Such notions

are usually based on personal and group associations with a number of cultural

elements that take on a symbolic meaning. There is thus a direct relationship

between the cultural environment of an individual and his/her self-identity.

Queensland Aboriginal Social Organization

Traditional or pre-contact Aboriginal societies are characterized as

employing a number of integrated structures or sub-systems of social

organization. The types and combinations varied across the State. Broadly

speaking they can be broken down into (a) kinship, (b) class systems, (c) local

groups and (d) cultural regions, for the analytic purposes herein. These social

structures constituted complex cultural patterns which influenced, in various

ways, most aspects of everyday behaviour.

(a) In Aboriginal Australia, kinship was and in most communities remains

the basis of, and the articulating force behind all social interaction. All

persons in a society are allocated a kinship position using a limited

number of kinship terms and placed along a continuum of social


Traditional Aboriginal kinship also involves many rules of socially

prescribed behaviour between various categories of kin, so much so, that

kinship pervades all aspects of social living in traditionally oriented

contexts. In northern and western Queensland (and possibly elsewhere)


for example, individuals employed four distinct styles of behaviour

towards four respective divisions of the other members of the society

based on kinship principles. There was one set of kin with whom one

had to display avoidance behaviour. This involved such mechanisms as

avoiding face-to-face contact, not speaking to one another and avoidance

of one another's domiciliary space. A second category 'restraint' entailed

restricted social intercourse, i.e. no body contact or joking, no direct

conversation (only a minimum of indirect conversation), and no direct

passing of food or other objects by hand. In this category is included

'moderate' behaviour, where a person could touch or joke with the

relative concerned, but could not talk fully and directly with them, sit

close to them or pass food. The third category, 'lack of restraint'

involved none of the previous restrictions, whilst the fourth, 'joking' ,

permitted bodily contact, bantering, horseplay and the exchange of


(b) The class systems involve categories such as moieties (two classes),

sections (four classes) or subsections (eight classes). These represent

further sub-systems of social organization used in various parts of the

State in variant forms but in all cases involving the categorisation of

people into a limited number of classes. Kinship relations are assigned

between the various classes despite the fact that many people may not be

related by blood or marriage. Thus all people in a society and within an

entire region will be related through the use of such a sub-system.

In the northern-most portion of Cape York and in the Torres Strait

Islands, there appear to have been no class divisions. In the southern

portion of the Cape there existed patrilineal moieties (two-class systems).

In the far north-west of the State, including the areas from which the

Doomadgee and Gununa (Mornington Island) community populations are

drawn, a patrilineal subsection system operated (eight classes).

Throughout the remainder of the State, section systems were employed

(four classes). (Berndt and Berndt 1977:55-57.)


(c) Local groups are groups who had (or still have) a strong attachment to

defined tracts of land. The attachment of such sociogeographic units may

be either (a) economic, in terms of the extent of country used for hunting

and gathering, (b) religious, in terms of an aggregate of sacred sites for

which the group maintains ritual responsibility, or (c) defined partly or

wholly through the spatial extent of usage of a dialect or language.

Economic groups are usually termed 'bands' or 'hordes' and were the

land occupying and utilizing groups. Religious groups are usually

structured through descent (e.g. patrilineally or matrilineally) and are the

land-owning units; often called local descent groups, lineages or clans.

For example, throughout most of Cape York, the Torres Strait Islands

and far North-West Queensland there were and in many cases remain

patrilineal land-holding clans which controlled definable estates.

Language or dialect groups are more nebulous, particulariy due to

multilingualism, but when associated with some additional social or

environmental properties (e.g. use of a common name, ethnocentric

behaviour, territorial prescriptors) they may take on a fixed

sociogeographic definition. In some such cases the term 'tribe' may then

be applicable to such units. Tindale (1974) estimated that there were

some 220 tribes in Queensland living in territories ranging from 600 to

over 40,000 square kilometres. Tribes, according to Tindale, were

groups of about 500 persons who shared a common language and were

an interacting and intermarrying unit. The applicability of the concept of

the tribe has been challenged by anthropologists in parts of Cape York

and Tindale's figure is probably an overestimate (Anderson 1986:299).

(d) The language groups or so-called tribes were not isolated entities, but

interdependent in many ways. Peterson (1976), has argued for wider

units of population classification in pre-contact Aboriginal Australia, and

developed the concept of the 'natural-cultural area or region'. These


regional units are detennined by a combination of water availability,

drainage basins, vegetation types, topographical features and cultural

features. Peterson makes a tentative division of Queensland

corresponding to (i) Cape York west, (ii) Cape York east, (iii)

southern Gulf of Carpentaria drainage basin, (iv) Atherton Tableland

rainforest region, (v) Lake Eyre drainage basin (south-west), (vi) upper

Darling River drainage basin (central southern), (vii) coastal Queensland

(south of the Atherton Tableland and east of Dividing Range). To these

can be added, (viii) the Torres Strait Islands. Within each of these

regions Peterson argues that there developed a distinctive cultural style

due to the frequency of population interaction and cultural exchange over

many generations, and due to the role of natural features such as arid

areas and mountain ranges in minimizing the relative frequency of

interaction between regions.

Although this model needs yet to be tested in detail for pre-contact

Queensland, it is also possible to fonnulate a parallel one of

contemporary cultural regions for Queensland. This will be expanded in

due course.

The cultures of pre-contact Aboriginal Queensland contained important

commonalities. These included religious, land-holding, political, legal and

behavioural systems based on the philosophical concept of the Dreaming, as well

as technologically simple but highly efficient material cultures, and complex

social organizations of an acephalous nature (after Langton 1981 :26). Other

commonalities included distinctive types of kinship systems, and the complex

application of principles of individual and group reciprocity to socio-economic

and religious behaviour. The environment was humanized and personalized, and

through totemism, individuals and groups maintained a diyerse range of links

with it.


Language change in Aboriginal Queensland87

The calculation of the number of traditional languages in pre-contact

Queensland is made complex by the technical difficulties of differentiating

between the linguistic categories of dialect and language, and by the

disappearance of many of these forms before their adequate research. There

were at least 50 distinguishable languages and possibly up to 100 languages

spoken in the middle of the last century, together with their constituent dialects.

(Dixon 1980: xviii, Rigsby, p.c. 02/07/90). Today, no more than half of the

original Queensland languages have survived in any form (inc. written), but of

greater significance, none are in good health as community-based spoken

languages. No languages have been learnt by children in communities as a first

language in recent years. (Rigsby, p.c., 02/07/90.) An exception here may be at

Aurukun where Wik Mungkan has become a type of lingua franca amongst

groups who have different primary indigenous languages (Martin Ts, 29/08/88).

Nevertheless, in many communities Aboriginal languages may be used

as a second language, by older individuals particularly. Even in South-East

Queensland where culture contact has been most prolonged:

... The indigenous Aboriginal languages (such as Gooreng Gooreng, Waka Waka, Wooli Wooli, Kabi Kabi and Batjala) are still spoken in some restricted contexts, mainly by older people. For several generations people were actively discouraged from, and on some government reserves even punished for, using their Aboriginal languages.

(Eades 1988: 101.)

In Queensland today, most Aboriginal people speak styles of Aboriginal



Aboriginal English is the name given to dialects of English, spoken by Aboriginal people, which are largely mutually intelligible with Standard English. The differences are systematic

I am indebted to Bruce Rigsby, Professor of Anthropology at the University of Queensland for his comments on this section.


and rule-governed, and they occur in all areas of the language : phonology (or sound system), morphology and syntax (or grammar), .lexicon (or vocabulary), semantics (or the meanings of words and sentences), and pragmatics (or the use and meaning

of language in context).

(Eades 1990:6.)

The context of use may demand that different styles of Aboriginal

English are employed. Thus many Aboriginal people are competent users of a

number of varieties of English which they select dependent on whether they are

amongst predominantly non-Aboriginal people, or predominantly Aboriginal

people, or within other types of structured social contexts. There is also

considerable variability in the styles of Aboriginal English employed throughout

the State. (Eades 1988:100.)

Similarly, Torres Strait Islanders speak Torres Strait Creole or English.

Language change is but only one form of cultural change in Aboriginal


Cultural Change

When analyzing cultural change, theoretical distinction is made between

those cultural elements and patterns that have been retained and those which have

been lost, those imposed or acquired from the invading colonialists and other

migrant groups, those created or adapted from the old and the new, newly

invented elements or patterns, and the re-incorporation of old elements or

patterns after a period of disuse.

If one analyses the changes amongst specific groups of and

Islands across the State in such a 'nut-and-bolts' manner it will readily be

revealed that such groups have undergone change in' different ways, both

quantitatively and qualitatively. Thus the peaceful activities of missionaries in

parts of Cape York who directed change according to concepts of Christianity,

had a totally different impact compared to the violence of the Native Police in the

Ooncurry District. Much cultural change has been externally imposed, often


forcefully, by the colonial invaders and subsequent immigrants, and by the

agents, and administrators of the governments and institutions which these

people established. Given that the pre-contact Aboriginal cultures of Queensland

had numerous diversities, and that the processes of change have differed in the

various parts of the State, it is not surprising that there exists significant variation

in the cultures of Aboriginal Queensland today.

A further variable in the change process was the temporal depth of

culture contact between the Aboriginals and the immigrants across the State,

dependent on the movement of the frontier. For example, there are substantial

cultural differences between (i) the Nunakal of Stradbroke Island, a community

who today live in urban settings at Dunwich and Brisbane and whose sustained

contact histories commenced in the 1820's, and (ii) the Kayardilt of Bentinck

Island in the southern Gulf of Carpentaria who maintained a traditional lifestyle

of hunting, fishing and gathering up until the 1940s when they were removed to

the Mornington Island Mission, but who have re-established an outstation in

their homeland during the last decade.

Such differences in the social products of change are thus not only due to

the variation between the original pre-contact cultures but also due to the different

political policies, economic motives and ideological orientations of the various

immigrants and their government and church agencies, who impacted upon these

Aboriginal groups in distinctly different historical periods. It is therefore not

possible to explain culturally and historically all contemporary Aboriginal

cultures and behaviours in Queensland with a single succinct model. At best,

this paper can only provide an overview of the some of the more widespread and

better understood processes that seem relevant to deaths in custody.

Fortunately for the analysis, a number of these processes stem from

Queensland Government policies and methods which had wide application and

thus lend themselves to consideration across the State. A key theme which will

be examined in the following pages will be the relation between cultural change


and loss of social control. In focussing upon this relation, reliance will be placed

on the following theoretical arguments concerning the nature of these processes.

In all societies and communities, there occur internal cultural changes,

albeit at varying rates. There also exists a lack of precise fit or correlation

between the idealized perception or model of a cultural system as conceived and

desired by a society's members and the social reality which is itself undergoing

change. However the institutionalized systems of a society (government, law,

politics, religion) will be oriented to maintain some acceptable level of social

control through a variety of mechanisms. Such mechanisms include overt power

structures, the checks and balances of overlapping allegiances, processes of

enculturation, and other individual or group pressures directly applied to those

perceived to be deviant or needing instruction concerning the norms of the

group. Whilst forms of behavioural expression are making a contribution to a

group's needs and self-definition, and conforming more or less to its idealized

modes of behaviour, a certain acceptable stability will be maintained in the

society, both in terms of the close congruence of idealized and actual behaviour,

and in regard to the application of social controls and the minimisation of deviant

behaviour. The members of the society because of their shared ideals and

symbols will also maintain and commit themselves to group identity systems,

reinforcing their solidarity within their social structure.

However if the group or society experiences persistent forces of cultural

change either incurred from discrete sources within or from without, so too must

the ideational and institutional aspects transform, either in a self-corrective mode

to effectively resist the change or in an adaptive mode to accommodate the

change. (After Keesing 1987:384.) Thus the culture may transform in a self­

directed and self-correcting manner.

If this is not achieved, significant portions of the ideational system may

lose their meaning and relevance, the mechanisms of social control may fail in

various ways, and forms of non-conformist, deviant and socially destructive

behaviour may eventuate in opposition to the status quo. In situations of extreme


change, the institutional systems may not be able to maintain the necessary

stability to achieve acceptable social order. In periods of gross instability it is

expected that human stress will also be maximized as personal needs are not

fulfilled, and that individuals will become even more susceptible to enacting anti­

social or anti-institutional behaviour. Systems of individual and group identity

will similarly be stressed and may be attacked, rejected or revised.

It is hypothesized that it is precisely such an unstable cultural state which

has resulted in widespread forms of self-destructive behaviour in Aboriginal

Queensland, and which has contributed significantly to the current phenomenon

of deaths in custody.

To provide a framework of cultural change in which to consider this

hypothesis, samples of data will be provided from Aboriginal Queensland on the

following interconnected themes in this argument, (a) changes in social

organization, control and behaviour; (b) arising forms of social disorder and

stress; (c) modes of self-destructive behaviour. In terms of the first category,

changes in social organization, it will be argued that, in general, these have either

been directly or indirectly caused by the processes of colonization and the

institutionalized control of Aboriginal people.

Every system of social organization incorporates its stress-lines,

contradictions and conflicts as well as its more coherent parts, its modes of

integration and reinforcement. The less coherent aspects provide a vulnerability

to the forces of change. (After Keesing 1987:372.) By purposefully or

accidentally selecting existing or potential stress lines in the traditional forms of

social organization, government and church agents transformed the social order

of Aboriginal societies, but in so doing, were unable to reconstruct a new and

ideal social order. Rather, they were left with so-called 'communities' in

different stages of social transformation with corresponding levels of social

disorder and stress. It is argued that these agencies have in many cases been

unsuccessful in repairing such disorder, both in earlier and more recent decades,


despite repeated attempts to do so through shifts in policy and on-the-ground

manipulation of cultural variables.

Description will immediately follow concerning one of the most

formidable methods of disintegrating the old cultural order, the State

Government's policy of removalism. Other methods of breaking down the

traditional social organizations and controls will be dealt with in due course.

In the following pages careful consideration will also be given to the

consumption of alcohol, one of the introduced cultural elements to Aboriginal

societies. Since at least half of the deaths in custody victims were intoxicated

when placed in custody, the role of alcohol must be at least circumstantially or

contextually linked to such deaths, if not directly linked. To pursue this relation

between drinking and death, the behavioural styles of drinking in various

Aboriginal communities will be examined throughout this paper. Later analysis

will aim to indicate how certain of these social drinking styles play a contributing

factor to deaths in custody. This material may also be useful for formulating

recommendations concerning community-based programmes to socialize specific

preferred styles of drinking behaviour.

Removalism and migration

A key to understanding and explaining many of the above issues is the

State policy of removalism which was described before. The broad population

movements and resultant communities are described in Table 1 and Figure 1.

Anderson's analysis of the geography of removals (1986:302-306) indicates that

the major receiving centres for removals (or 'population sinks') were Cherbourg,

Woorabinda and Palm island. Yarrabah should also be included here, since as

Craig (1979:70) points out, this place became a repository for mixed bloods to

help solve the 'half caste ·problem', and after 100 years of institutionalization

there was an admixture of 30 different tribes. Secondary centres to which

smaller more localized populations were sent were Hopevale, Weipa South,

Mornington Island, and the Northern Peninsula Area. (The last destination now


consists of Bamaga and its satellite townships of Injinoo, New Mapoon,

Umagico and Seisia.) The population of the other reserve communities was

largely made up from the local indigenous tribespeople.

Table 1: Major Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island 'Reserve communities' in Queensland, 1984 (from Anderson 1986:306)

Name Pop.** Admin. Date fmmded Area Major

& original (Ha) geographic origin

Admin. of residents

Cherbourg 991 Qld Govt 1904 2,808 Major receiving centre

Qld Govt for removals (SQ,

SWQ, Central Coast, SEQ)

Woorabinda 549 Qld Govt 1927 21,760 Major receiving centre

Qld Govt for removals (SWQ,

Central Q, Central Coast)

Doomadgee 1,062 Qld Govt 1931 145,656 Local population

Brethren (NWQ, Gulf Country)

Palm Island 1,335 Qld Govt 1918 6,253 Major receiving centre

Qld Govt removals (Central

CYP, farwest Q, NWQ, SWQ, North CoastQ}

Yarrabah 1,420 QldGovt 1891 15,435 Local pop. & some

Anglican removals-(Caims area)

Wujalwujal 248 Lutheran 1957 103 Local pop. (Annan R.

Lutheran & Bloomfield R.)

Hope Vale 552 Lutheran 1885 16,973 Local pop. & some

Lutheran removals (Cape

Bedford, Cooktown to Laura area)

Kowanyama 870 Qld Govt 1904 259,000 Local pop. (Mitchell

Anglican R. & Gilbert River


Edward River 420 Qld Govt 1936 466,099

Local pop. (Holroyd R. & Coleman River

Anglican areas)


Name Pop.** Admin. Date founded Area Major

& original (Ha) geographic origin

Admin. of residents

Northern Pen. 1,339 QldGovt 1960s 39,462 Local pop. & some

Area* Qld Govt removals (far north

CYP central CYP)

Weipa South 618 Qld Govt 1891 (old 119 Local pop. & some

Mapoon removals (NWCYP)

Pres b.)

Lockhart 394 Qld Govt 1924 313,500 Local pop. (NECYP)

River Anglican

Aurukun 821 Local Govt 1904 750,320 Local pop. (Archer R.,

Presbyterian Kendall R. areas)

Mornington 708 Local Govt 1905 119,200 Local pop. & some


Presbyterian removals (Bentinck

Is. Burketown)

Bolgu Is. 391 IQldGovt Anglican*** 8 294 Local population

Davan Is. 94 IOldGovt Anglican 324 Local papulation

Saibai Is. 210 IQld Govt Anglican 9 800 Local population

Stephens Is. 33 IQld Govt Anglican 324 Local population

Damlev Is. 171 IQld Govt Anglican 376 Local papulation

Yorke Is. 131 IOldGovt Anglican 168 Local population

Murray Is. 204 IQldGovt Anglican 486 Local papulation

Yam Is. llO IOldGovt Anglican 144 Local papulation

Mabuing Is. 132 IOldGovt Anglican 647 Local papulation

Badu Is. 302 IOld Govt Anglican 164 Local papulation

Moa Is. 95 IQld Govt Anglican 14 566 Local population

Warraber is. 160 IOldGovt Anglican 324 Local papulation

Hammond Is. 135 Catholic Catholic 1 550 Local papulation



Includes Bamaga, Injinoo (Cowal Ck), New Mapoon, Umagico, Seisia. Figures from DAA 1983. *** No dates given as villages existed prior to missionary arrival in 1871.


In tenns of the destruction of social organization, the greatest impact was

on (a) those people who, despite surviving the destructive forces of the 19th

century (diseases, Native Police, etc.), were then sent to the four major receiving

centres, and (b) upon those remnants who were left in the areas in which the

greatest depletion of population had occurred. Families were split up, children

taken from their parents, and leaders separated from their communities. The

future of land-based clans was limited, once removed from their territories.

Patterns of long-standing reciprocal relations between groups, involving

exchanges of ritual work, marriage partners and economic surpluses, quickly

broke down. Kin were scattered between distant centres.

The retention of aspects of traditional social organization in those

communities experiencing minimal removalism, is by comparison high, but

varies depending on local government, police and mission policies and the

vigour with which they were implemented. (Note that the above does not imply

that certain groups are in some way relatively 'culture-less', for as poinred out

before, further cultural elements and patterns have been acculturated, adapted

and/or invented.)

It was not until the advent of the 1971 Queensland Aboriginals Act that

widespread relaxation occurred of the mechanisms formerly preventing

Aboriginal people from leaving reserve communities. The result was,

throughout the 1970s a gradual drift of some rural people to regional centres.

Urban Aboriginal populations expanded in Mt Isa, Cairns, Townsville,

Rockhampton and Brisbane. A second result of the relaxation on movement was

an increased frequency of travel from home communities along the east coast

between the population sinks ofYarrabah, Palm Island, Woorabinda, Cherbourg

and the associated regional centres, (Cairns, Townsville, Rockhampton,

Brisbane) since many people had relatives distributed in many or all of these

places. Once again this north-south coastal distribution of kin was brought about

through the application of the government's removalist policy which included the

splitting up of tribes between different centres.


An example of this pattern of dispersal of kin is evident at Yarrabah

where social links are maintained to the reserve communities of Hopevhle, Palm

Island and Woorabinda, and to various rural and urban centres along the coast

e.g. Cairns, Gordonvale, Townsville, Innisfail, Rockhampton (Taylor et al

1989:12). There are some outstanding examples of high mobility along the east

coast by several of the deaths in custody victims. When West of Cherbourg was

released from Westbrook in 1985 (age about 15 or 16), he was said to be very

mobile, moving between Cairns, Brisbane and NSW. When age 20 (1973),

Pilot received his first conviction for breaking, entering and stealing (chocolates

and cigarettes from the Cherbourg store), he travelled to Townsville, Palm

Island, Charters Towers and thence made his way back to his home town of

Quilpie before residing in Brisbane.

Such movement to regional centres facilitated the open consumption of

alcohol by the former Reserve people during the 1970s, a new experience for


Further breakdown of social structures and social controls

As well as removalism, a number of other active forces have been at play

during this century in breaking down Aboriginal family and clan structures in

many parts of the State, as well as the larger-scale structural forms.

A second destructive force was the dormitory system operating in both

government and mission reserve communities (ACC 1990:2, Taylor et al199:2).

Children were separated from parents for most if not all their childhood, and this

prevented family processes of enculturation and socialization. Young women

were often kept away from their families until they were well into their twenties

and until a marriage partner for them had been approved by the settlement

manager or superintendent. Persistent employment of these mechanisms over

several generations, combined with directives concerning desirable and

undesirable behavioural practices by reserve authorities, led to a breakdown of

many behavioural norms including kinship practices and responsibilities. Since


the arranged or approved marriages were often at odds with the traditional

kinship and class rules which prescribed eligible categories of marriage partners,

such changes also represented a loss of control by elders and further breakdown

in the traditional social forms (characterized for example by intermarrying


A third element of destruction of Aboriginal social organization was that

the political and disciplinary powers of elders were weakened in all communities,

and virtually destroyed in many. (ACC 1990:3, Anderson ts: p. 256, 21/09/88,

Q D VTF 198:25 8.) It was inevitable that settlement managers had to wrest power

from traditional leaders to effect the social changes prescribed by their doctrines

or policies. For example at Mornington Island which lies within the Australian

subincising/circumcising groups, male initiation was banned as were

polygamous marriages (Memmott 1979:333). Unless senior men were prepared

to forsake their traditional religious beliefs and join the Church elders, they

found themselves in marginal political roles in the community by the 1950s, or

else on Palm Island. The loss of initiation ceremonies in itself represented the

destruction of a component of social structure which had tied categories of men

together in types of exclusive 'clubs' or sects.

-r:his loss of social control by elders also stems from the erosion of

values concerning the ideology of traditional social structures, the qualities of

leadership and the desirability of social control. Continually one hears complaint

today that young people in communities have no respect for their elders or for the

Aboriginal Law.

A contributing factor in more recent years has been the persuasive power

of television. The AIU have received a number of complaints concerning the

adulation of violence enculturated from television viewing. Children are said to

live in a 'Rambo' world. This is felt to be contributing to family breakdown.

The weakness or absence of social structure and strong community

leaders, and the lack of support from adults for token or unempowered leaders,


results in an inability of a community to effectively address and solve major

social problems or to maintain social order. This situation has been made worse

by the introduction of alcohol into the majority of communities in recent decades.

It is also paralleled by an increasing proportion of young people. A recent ABS

report on Queensland families stated that while:

... less than a quarter of Queenslanders were children under i5 years, 40 per cent of Aboriginal and islanders were in this age group. Only 2.8 per cent of Aboriginal and islanders were aged 65 years and over, compared with 10.8 per cent of the total

Queensland population.

(Queensland Department of Family Services 1989: 12.)

Thus Martin (1988a: 13) argues that the breakdown of child nurturing and

socialization mechanisms in many Aurukun extended families has been

exacerbated by the high proportion of the community under 20 years of age.

Weakness in political leadership at the community level is paralleled at

the State level where constructive, Aboriginal-initiated change is also urgently

required (Weatherall 1989:3-6).

An example of removalism - the case of deaths in custody victim,

Vincent Roy Ryan

Ryan's case is particularly significant because, in the first place, it

demonstrates how the combination of the dormitory system, indentured labour

and removalism combined to cause the breakdown of indigenous social

organization, and in particular that of the nuclear family ; secondly it demonstrates

the punitive mechanism of 'repetitive removalism' within the Reserve and wider

State institutional system.

Ryan's father was a member of the Birrigubba people of the Bowen area

who, in 1918 were removed to Palm Island. Ryan's maternal grandmother had

been sent to Palm from the western border town of Camooweal, whilst his

maternal grandfather was from Cooktown. Ryan's father was sent from Palm to

Woorabinda when Ryan himself was still an infant, and this was the end of their


relationship. Ryan spent his early years in the Palm Island donnitories and with

his auntie's family, and was said to be a good boy.

In 1957 (age 12) Ryan's mother and stepfather took him to Doomadgee.

He was placed in the boys' donnitory at Doomadgee, whilst his mother and her

spouse were sent out to employment on Nardoo Station, to the south-east, on the

Leichhardt River. These events appear to have had a stressful impact on young

Ryan who responded with reactionary behaviour. The abrupt isolation from the

family and community to which he had become attached, resulted in his gaining

an immediate reputation of being a problem child and a disturbing influence on

other children. He defied the donnitory rules, refused to perfonn tasks as

directed, attempted to abscond, and indulged in his first breaking and entering

activities. It was probably not inconsequential that the Doomadgee donnitory

system was one of the most strict if not the strictest in Queensland. A report in

1950 had said the inmates were 'the cleanest, the best fed and the best housed,'

but also 'the most severely restrained,' and 'indistinguishable from slavery.' As

late as the early 1970s the missionaries were accused of 'inhuman conduct' for

their treatment of their inmates. (Trigger 1985:197 -200.)

In 1959 Ryan was sent back to Palm Island under Native Police escort

by the Superintendent without consultation with his mother, who was prevented

by State Government agencies, much to her lifelong distress, from seeing her

son . It was reasoned that this action of separation would place him under

institutional control until his rehabilitation had advanced sufficiently for him to

settle down.

In 1959 Ryan was escorted back to Palm Island by Native Police for

'rehabilitative' treatment. Ryan then committed several acts of so-called

'indecent behaviour' and theft, and was placed in the Palm Island Boy's Home.

A year later, after a further string of misdemeanours against the strict institutional

system, he was accused (but never proved in a court) of molesting the European

overseer's daughter in her home. As punishment, he was removed to

Woorabinda in late 1960, again escorted by Native Police, and there


accommodated in the single men's quarters where he had no relatives or


Early in the following year he was caught in a staff member's house

where he said he was attempting to find a car key so that he could steal a car.

Police asked the Director of the Department of Native Affairs, if he wished to

have Ryan prosecuted in the children's court to set an example, and he agreed.

Ryan was prejudicially convicted of 'aggravated assault on a female' , with

neither any defence, nor the company of any relative. It remains unclear as to the

substance of this charge. He was accused of subnormal mentality and committed

to Westbrook Farm Home. After making some escape attempts from

Westbrook, Ryan was placed in the Security Unit under psychiatric observation.

After further disobedience, he was confined to maximum security. In late 1962,

Ryan damaged some property and threatened a warder who attempted to search

him. He was immediately certified and admitted to a mental hospital at Ipswich.

Ryan was said to be psychopathic, mentally deficient and uncontrollably violent.

When three years later after a period of good behaviour, a psychiatrist

attempted to discharge Ryan, the Department of Native Affairs resisted such an

action, claiming it had no suitable facilities in which to accommodate Ryan (now

aged 20). Nor would officers of the Department of Native Affairs agree to

provide Ryan with funds which he requested to pursue both a course in art and a

hobby of photography. In short, there were no therapeutic measures based on

constructive self-rehabilitation. Ryan was not allowed out of mental institutions

in the Brisbane area until1970.

The chances of Ryan retaining or recovering any sense of behavioural

normality after this sequence of experiences must have been incredibly minute.

His nine years of uninterrupted incarceration were accompanied by a rising tide

of discontent, frustration and despair. The actions of the State not only failed to

rehabilitate Ryan, but appear to have caused and exacerbated his behavioural

instability. Throughout his period of 'treatment', his mother's repeated written

pleas to restore contact with him were rejected by the authorities, and there was


negligible communication with his family concerning his treatment. Ryan

appears to have been 'set up' by the Palm Island and Woorabinda authorities to

rid him from their institutions, by using their removal powers and providing a

simple and convenient diagnosis of abnormal psychotic behaviour. There seems

to have been no attempt to assess his mental state as a reaction to a culturally

abnormal and stressing set of conditions. Thus Ryan's route through the

institutions of the State ultimately led to the State's capital. However his path did

not end there, but was to run a further course of crime, until1985, when he died

in prison in Townsville.

As one Palm Island resident concluded:

... no wonder Groovy [Ryan] got into mischief and trouble in those places where he was amongst complete strangers ... If a person got into trouble, it didn't matter what age, what the Department did was simply to send them somewhere else. That

was good enough punishment. That was the cruel thing they did to us ...

Exhibit QQ45

Classification of community types

Within the repertoire of Queensland population centres, there are a

number of specific types of settlements and communities, which because of their

nature, affect cultural forms and expression. These community types are as


(i) urban communities in the metropolises of Brisbane, Gold Coast and


(ii) urban communities in the regional centres of Cairns, Townsville,

Rockhampton, Mt Isa;

(iii) communities in rural towns, including 'fringe settlements ' or town



(iv) the 'reserve communities', originally on Aboriginal Reserves for the

better part of the century, but now with land tenure of Deeds of Grant in

Trust, or in the case of Mornington Island and Aurukun, Aboriginal

Shires. These communities will be referred to herein as either 'reserve

communities' or sometimes as the 'DOGIT communities'(post 1986).

They constitute Aboriginal townships in their own right. These are the

communities listed in table 1 to which Aboriginal people were removed

and where they were institutionalized under the various Acts.

(v) outstations consisting of small groups economically and socially linked

to a resource base, usually a reserve community or possibly a rural town.

Most of the reserve communities are to found in the Cape York and

Torres Strait Island regions, with two in North-West Queensland, and several in

the eastern coastal areas. Despite the State Government's policy of assimilation,

the reserve communities remain legally and geographically set apart and

distinctive from the rest of Queensland:-In socio-economic terms the communities are .. . different from like-sized European rural towns in Queensland. Housing conditions and facilities, and the health status of residents, are all

very different from that for other Queenslanders. Financially, the communities are almost wholly the product of government subsidy. Unemployment is almost twelve times that for rural Queensland in general, while personal incomes are less than two­

thirds and there seems no prospect of local industries which might alter the situation.

(Anderson 1986:311.)

It should be noted that the term 'community' is only used loosely at this

point. It does not necessarily imply political unity or social cohesion. Examples

will be provided in due course of so-called 'communities' whose internal social

structures are characterized by political divisiveness and factionalism.


Contemporary cultural-geographic regions

Most of the Aboriginal population of Queensland is clustered into

regional groupings, in many cases consisting of a number of relatively proximate

and sizeable communities separated by areas with very small or negligible

Aboriginal populations (0-80 persons per centre). 88 A tentative list of such

regions is shown in Table 2. The table also shows the relationship of these

regions to the statistical divisions used by the Australian Bureau of Census and


88 See figure 2



DENCE OVER5000 1000-5000 300-1000 80-300 POPULATION


1. South-east Brisbane and Brisbane (RC) Ipswich Gold Coast Caboolture

Queensland Moreton (Qld)

Stradbroke Is., Beaudesert

2. Southern Most of Pop'n in Toowoomba Dalby, Rom a, Augathella, Organised around east-

Central (RC) Mitchell Chinchilla, west road, rail and air

Mt Tyson, links.

Oakey, Goombungee

3. Southern border, part of South- Dirranbandi, Day mar Links into NSW centres

Upper Darling east Thall on, such as Goodooga,

Basin StGeorge Walgett.

4. Southern border, part of South- Nobby, Of doubtful properties as

Upper Darling ':Yest Warwick, a cultural region - may

basin highland Yelanban, link into NSW.

Stan thorpe, Imdewood

5. South-west Qld part of South- Cunnamulla Quilpie Eulo, Links with NSW centres

west (RC) Thargomindah, such as Bourke. Also

Wyandra, overlaps into Goodooga. Windorah


DENCE OVER 5000 1000-5000 300-1000 80-300 POPULATION


6. Far South- Birdsville, Links to SA via

west Bedourie, Birdsville ttack.


7. Mary and Wide Bay/ Cherbourg Bundaberg Mary borough Nambour,

Burnett River Burnett (RC), Hervey Toogoolawah,

basins Bay, Eidsvold, Wondai,

Gayndah, Childers

- \0 Gym pie, 00 Murgon 8. Fitzroy River Fitzroy Rockhampton Gladstone, Theodore, Biloela, Basin (RC) Woorabinda Duaringa, Springsure, Mount Morgan Blackwater, Bluff, Dingo, Duaringa, Emerald, Clermont 9. Central Central West Charters Barcaldine, Julia Creek, Towns connected by Queensland Towers Winton, Richmond, central rail system. Hughenden Longreach Charters Towers is closely linked to Townsville.


DENCE OVER5000 1000-5000 300-1000 80-300 POPUlATION


10. Northern Mockayand Townsville Mackay, Palm Bowen,Ayr, Sarine, Cardwell

Coastal Northern Coastal (RC) Island Ingham Mirani

11. Far Northern Part of Far North Cairns (RC), Tully, Murray Upper, Laura, Tolga, Incorporates Atherton

Coastal Yarrabah Innisfail, Kennedy, Redlynch, Tableland and coastal

Gordon vale, Ravenshoe, Mt Yungaburra, rainforest areas. This Mareeba, Gamet, Herberton, region is an enclave of

Kuranda, Chillagoe, Malada, the following one.

Mossman, Babinda, Kennedy,

Hope vale Deeral, Silkwood, &

Edmonton, numerous Atheron, smaller centres Mossman Gorge, Wujal Wujal, Cooktown

12. Cape York Part of Far North (Cairns) Kowanyama, Coen, Seisia, Aurukun out- Cairns is the regional

and North-west Edward River, New Mapoon, stations centre for both this and

Aurukun, Umagico, the previous region.

Weipa South, Cowal Creek Bamaga and nearby

Bamaga, centres also linked to TSI

Lockhart River region.


DENCE OVER5000 1000-5000 300-1000 80-300 POPULATION


13 . North-west Qld North-west Mt lsa (RC) Momington Burketown, Urandangi, Normanton overlaps into

Island, Camooweal, Kajabii, Cape York an overlap

Doomadgee, Dajarra, Boulia Bentinck Island centre with Cape York. Normanton, Outstation,

Cloncurry Doomadgee


14. Torres Strait Far North Boigu Island, Dauan, Saibai, Stephens Is. Cairns is also a

Islands Badu Island, Damley, Prince of regional centre.

Thursday Island Yorke, Murray, Wales Island (RC) Yam, Coconut,

Mabulag, Moa, Warraber and Hammond Is.

RC = Regional Centre

NB: Population size data drawn from the map ' Aboriginal Land & Population 1980' by Division of National Mapping, Canberra, from Anderson (1986:306) and Trigger (1983;fig 1). As the data in some of these sources is not always consistent, the categories of population size should on be regarded as an approximate guide.

The idea that a number of Aboriginal communities or settlements in a

sizeable region may be analysable as a type of contemporary cultural unit seems

to have been first advanced in analyses of western New South Wales in the

1950s and 60s by Beckett (1958:128, 129; 1965:9, 16-20) and later by Vallance

(1970). These researchers found a pattern of regional travel generated by kinship

networks. The distribution of an individual's kin generated for that person a

'beat' ... a set of places which he or she could visit and expect to obtain

hospitality and economic support if necessary. It was also within such a beat that

a person would most likely find their spouse.

Working independently of these researchers, Memmott in 1973

encountered a similar type of unit in North-West Queensland which he called a

contemporary geographic cultural region after Peterson's terminology (Memmott

and Mainwaring 1973, Memmott 1973). Memmott argued that a boundary to a

contemporary cultural region has a number of co-incident properties. It is where

a mixture of social, economic, travel, and geographical boundaries tend to

coincide. The concept of boundary thus becomes more composite and integral.

Phenomena that tend to create boundaries for a population in a region are (a) a

large surrounding area with no Aboriginal inhabitants (possibly due to

dispersals, removals, disease and the impact of opium); (b) isolation between

adjacent areas due to poor transport systems; (c) lack of interaction between

neighbouring groups of Aboriginals due to cultural dissimilarities; and (d) lack of

accessible economic opportunities.

Two further phenomena that tend to reinforce the sense of region are

(a) the presence of a highly resourced regional centre catalysing the regular

visitation of Aboriginal people and the establishment of a set of social and

residential spaces there, containing individuals with kinship links back to the

smaller towns; (b) similarities or continuities in the socio-economic environments

of the towns in the region, so that there exists relatively similar procedures and

possibilities to obtain desirable dietary items, to arrange social benefit payments

or credit, and to maintain particular behavioural styles (e.g. camping, fighting,


drinking). This does not mean that all of the towns or settlements in the region

have a similar character in all regards, they may be quite diverse in some cases.

For some parts of Queensland, there is sufficient evidence to argue that

such discrete cultural regions exist, whilst for other areas there is insufficient

research materials and findings to presently learn of their cultural and geographic

histories. In yet other areas of Queensland, cultural-geographic regions, if they

exist, overlap with one another forming more continuous networks or chains of

interacting population centres, particularly on the east coast. This classification

of communities into regions provides a framework for discussion and analysis

throughout the remainder of this paper.

There are of course other phenomena tending to break down the notions

of boundary and regional identity. The removal of relatives to such places as

Palm Island, Woorabinda, or Cherbourg can result in a type of social extension

of the region to such centres, no matter how far away they are from 'home '

communities. Similarly the need to travel to larger facilities to gain access to

specialized facilities (hospitals, law courts, educational resources), tends to

create a wider pattern of cross-regional, (and even inter-state) travel and

associated cultural interactions. Brisbane is the super-regional centre where there

are, as in the regional centres, representatives from numerous Queensland


The various deaths in custody victims will be examined in terms of these

regions to demonstrate divergent aspects of their resultant lifestyles. The victims

are listed in Table 3. The name of each victim has been classified into the region

with which he or she was mostly closely associated, and each of these names is

followed by the specific community centres to which the individual had closest

links. This is relatively easy in the northern cases, but it becomes increasingly

difficult to the south-east, particularly in relation to the Fitzroy, Mary-Burnett

and South-east regions. Here we find people travelling frequently in their lives

between a number of the coastal regions and communities.


Table 3


North-west Queensland Doomadgee, Mornington Island Riversleigh

Cape York and Aurukun The Young Man

Far Northern who died at Aurukun

Coastal Port Stewart, Laura Salt

Coen, Bamaga Kulla Kulla

Lockhart River Short

Yarrabah Noble

Yarrabah Hyde

Yarrabah (and links to Aurukun, Koowootha Weipa)

Yarrabah, Cairns, Innisfail, also Binks Brisbane

Torres Strait Torres Strait Islands (also Misi

Islands Townsville)

Northern Palm Island, Townsville Mau


Palm Island, Townsville, also Ryan Cherbourg

Palm Island, Townsville Johnson

Bowen Barney

Fitzroy River Emerald, Rockhampton, Lawton

Basin Clermont Yeppoon, also


Rockhampton,Sydney O'Rourke

Woorabinda, Rockhampton, Booth Dingo, Duaringa, Springsure, Bourke, Sydney

Woorabinda, Duaringa, Bluff, Tiers Blackwater, Oermont, Rockhampton, Taroom



Mary and Cherbourg, Basin, Woorabinda, Dunrobin Burnett River Palm Island, Brisbane

Cherbourg, Brisbane West

South-east Brisbane, Cherbourg Wouters


Brisbane Yarrie, B.

Brisbane, Woorabinda, Yarrie, F.


Brisbane, Woorabinda, Pilot


From Table 3, it can be seen, of the 27 deaths, 20 can be linked to the

reserve communities. From further analysis of the case studies, these 20 can be

divided into (a) 15 individuals who were enculturated on a reserve community

for most of their childhood, and (b) another five who lived a fairly mobile

lifestyle, but whose parents were enculturated on a reserve and had then obtained

their exemption from under the Act. Four victims who were not enculturated on

reserve communities were Misi (Thursday Island), Lorraway (Binbee, Bowen),

Salt and Kulla Kulla (Port Stewart area). Kulla Kulla spent much of his adult

life on reserve communities however. Two individuals (Wouters, O'Rourke)

were enculturated largely in child welfare institutions. The author has no data on

the early life history of the man who died in Brisbane prison and so he is not

included in this analysis.

The deaths in custody victims can also be categorized into (a) those who

either hanged themselves or died from an act of self-violence and (b) those who

died of health problems as a consequence of their difficult lifestyle. Of the

former category, all except one were either enculturated on a reserve community

or in child welfare institutions, the total of these being ten. This does not include

the man who died in Brisbane prison. The other exception referred to is Booth


who hanged himself and was enculturated in the Bourke Region (NSW), albeit

at times on the Bourke Aboriginal Reserve.

Nine of the deaths occurred in Cape York/Far Northern Coastal regions.

Fourteen are clearly linked to Palm Island, Woorabinda, Cherbourg and

Yarrabah, the four receiving centres for removals. It is to be noted that no deaths

occurred in rural communities apart from Coen and Laura, and that there are

certain interior regions such as South-west, Central, Southern-central which are

also free of deaths in custody.

Space only permits a limited number of regions and communities to be

examined. Those selected are North-West (Mt Isa), Cape York (Aurukun),

Burnett-Mary (Cherbourg), South-East (Brisbane), and South-West


Aurukun and Cherbourg are both comparatively old reserve communities

and both have experienced deaths in custody. However Aurukun grew from a

population of local origin, whilst Cherbourg was a major receiving centre.

Brisbane is one of the largest population centres in Queensland (along with

Townsville). Whereas a number of deaths in custody have occurred in Brisbane,

there have been none in Cunnamulla nor for that matter in any other interior rural

communities. This includes Mt Isa for which there will also be some analysis

herein. This selection of examples will thus present the reader with a diverse

range of community types, as well as a balanced overview of the extent of deaths

in custody in relation to the Aboriginal cultures and regions of the State.

Social organization in the North-west region89

The principal Aboriginal centres in this region comprise the rural

communities of Boulia, Dajarra, Camooweal, Cloncurry, Kajabbi, Urandangie,

Normanton and Burketown, the reserve communities of Doomadgee and

Gununa (Mornington Island), and the regional centre of Mt Isa. Normanton lies

89 Based largely on material from Memmott (1973 , 1979, 1989).


on the north-eastern border of the region and creates a link to neighbouring

regions (Cape York and the Atherton Tableland and its hinterland). Lake Nash

community in the Northern Territory also forms part of this region and provides

an overlap into the Sandover River communities to the south-west.

The best known tribal identities remaining in the North-west region (in

which contact began in the mid 1860s), are probably the Lardil and Kayardilt

(Wellesley Islands), the Wanyi, Karawa, Wakaya and Kangkalita (Northern

Territory border groups). The Kalkadoons (north-west uplands) remain

renowned for their effective guerilla resistance during c.1875-1885 (Armstrong

1980), and their name is a household word in the region.

However other language group identities in the region are no longer

known to most of the Aboriginal population, such groups having been

destroyed, dispersed, or removed in the disruptive contact period of the last

century. Nor are the class systems or land-based systems of social orgru)ization

known to the current population except those in the Gulf. Some kinship

practices and geographic knowledge of local sites is maintained although these

domains of knowledge have also shrunk. Social identity became for many,

based on one's ties to home community and family group.

North-West Queensland in the mid-1970s, could be viewed as a type of

contained region for Aboriginal people with socio-economic and physical

constraints intimidating movement outside of this region. Besides the difficult

roads in some directions, a limitation on travel outside of the region was caused

by a number of Aboriginal people not having been informed or encouraged to

seek 'exemption status' from under the Act; and consequently their ongoing

dependence upon local police officers for access to their employment savings.

Mt Isa, the regional centre, provided a range of facilities for the surrounding

region, including the popular annual rodeo which is the largest in Australia.

Most Aboriginal visitors from the region's communities had some sort of kinship

tie to at least one or more Aboriginal persons in Mt Isa, with whom they could



At this time, self-constructed fringe camps were to be found in many of

the towns of Nortll-West Queensland. These settlements displayed a strong

sense of social boundedness, not through the use of fences or other territorial

markers, but through the architectural character of the settlement and the distinct

lifestyle of its residents, unified through a network of social and domiciliary

behaviour (kinship, sharing, visiting). The Aboriginal identity of such

settlements provided a strong cultural barrier to most of the town whites. It was

at the scale of the settlement unit that the construct of social privacy operated

strongly and where mechanisms of control of access operated, rather than with

respect to individual houses or domiciles. This style of settlement life provided a

type of separatism which became a means of cultural survival. Culturally distinct

behavioural styles were maintained including forms of spatial behaviour. The

residents became equipped with a type of autonomy which, despite their material

impoverishment, comprised a social strength in coping with other aspects of

change. This observation has been made by a number of researchers in

Aboriginal towns or fringe camps elsewhere in Australia (e.g. Collman 1979,

Ross 1982, Memmott 1988).

However local authorities tended to view them as places of squalor. In

the early 1970s a significant number of them were bulldozed throughout the

region. A surviving and distinctive camp was Lhat which came to be known as

Yallambee, in Mt Isa, which contained designated places for visiting campers

from the respective communities of the region. The division of a settlement into

spatial zones in this manner, each occupied by an aggregate of domiciliary

groups, possessing a common and distinct social identity is termed a sociospatial

structure (Memmott 1983, 1990). The Yallambee camp thus functioned (and still

does) as a regional camp with residents from numerous language and community

groups. The inter-marriage between such groups since the early 1970s, has

created a social structure of cross-cutting segments with multiple links to the

various parts of the region.


In the early 1970s, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders Acts

remained administered by local Department of Aboriginal and Islander Affairs

officers and the police who maintained their orientation to the assimilation policy.

Another subtle instrument of assimilation and cultural suppression was the 'The

Relics Act 1967' which placed the control and protection of Aboriginal sites

having physical or 'archaeological' remains (art, quarries, burials, etc.), in the

hands of the State, with no consultative role for local Aboriginal people, and no

recognition of the existence of other sites of religious significance. This has

further inhibited the transmission of any remaining site-based knowledge in the

rural town communities. Housing had slowly begun to be provided for

Aboriginals in the region from 1969 as part of a State/Commonwealth housing

agreement. This was administered by the Department of Aboriginal and Islander

Affairs as an instrument of their assimilation policy, houses being purchased

where possible to create a 'scatterization' effect, a form of 'indirect

discrimination' aimed at juxtaposing whites and blacks and breaking down

Aboriginal enclaves (and hence Aboriginal identity). Housing designs made no

consideration for the culturally distinct needs of Aboriginal people (Memmott

1979:359-389, 1988).

There continued to be a steady purchase of houses for rental in Mt Isa by

the Department of Aboriginal and Islander Affairs as part of its attempted

assimilation programme, facilitating more in-migration. In 1977 one report

states that the total Aboriginal town population was about 2900 (Anderson


However assimilation prospects were limited. Opportunities for

secondary education at boarding schools and other educational trips for children

outside the region had begun in the early 1970s but were not very effective due

to a lack of employment opportunities and other discriminatory barriers in home

towns. All of the towns had significant Aboriginal populations; half in fact had

a majority of Aboriginal residents. It was not possible to avoid the enculturating


environment of one's kin or camp. Only in Mt Isa was there a sufficiently large

non-Aboriginal population to facilitate some effective assimilation processes.

The advent of the Federal Labour Government and its Aboriginal

funding was quickly felt in Mt Isa. The Canberra Office of Aboriginal Affairs

injected money into the establishment of organizations and certain social reforms

in Mt Isa from 1972. The first effective agency to become established during

this period as in many other parts of Queensland was the Aboriginal Legal

Service (1973) run by an elected local council. It brought pressure to bear on the

latent racist power structure of Mt Isa, through the successful defence of

numerous Aboriginal convictions which had hitherto been taken for granted as

guilty by the justice system. It was also prominent due to its use of Aboriginal

field officers, one of the first agencies to engage Aboriginal staff.

The implementation of the Commonwealth Aboriginal Housing

Associations scheme, led to the establishment of 'Housing Associations' in

Dajarra, Mt Isa and Boulia in 1974. In the case of Dajarra, the first

preoccupation was with the creation of an effective system of food purchase as

an alternative to the exploitative and exorbitant costs of the only local store.

Many other goals for self-determination were set.

Such multi-functional 'housing' associations sprung up in every town in

the region, and throughout the 1970s and 1980s have provided important

structural components to the formal social organizations of these town

communities, as well as the first opportunities for formal leadership to develop

since early contact. The Aboriginal organizations of this period can be regarded

as a type of cultural innovation, by which people gained some limited freedom to

express their cultural aspirations in their own terms and idioms (Langton

1981: 19). Unfortunately their success has often been inhibited by internal

factionalism as in many other parts of Aboriginal Australia. This indicates the

lack of congruence between the bureaucratic precept of 'community' and the

underlying divisions between family alliances and larger social groupings within

such towns.


The various regional barriers in North-West Queensland partly broke

down during the 1980s, with increased cash acquisition and vehicle ownership

amongst Aboriginal people, as well as improved roads and a relaxation and

disappearance of the provisions of the Act. Despite these changes, the regional

pattern of Aboriginal lifestyle in North-West Queensland still persists and is

useful in appreciating the cultural exchanges and continuities in the region.

Cultural revitalization in North-west Queensland

An important consequence of improved travel and the disappearance of

the Act has been an upsurge in cultural exchanges with neighbouring Northern

Territory Aboriginals - groups who have, because of the local patterns of

geography, history and politics, incurred less cultural disruption in their lives

than those of the North-West Queenslanders. Traditional ties have been

rekindled between the Wanyi and Karawa people of Doomadgee and Gununa

with related tribespeople in Borroloola and Ngukurr (Roper River); also

between the Wakaya of Mt Isa, Dajarra and Boulia with Sandover River

Alyawarre; and similarly between people of Arrerntic identity in Dajarra, Boulia

and Birdsville with tribal relations on the Plenty Highway (Harts Range,

Jervois). The exchanges between these eastern and western kins-people down

the entire length of the State border have led to a resurgence of ceremonial life

and knowledge. This has been due to at least two dominant influences.

Firstly a status-seeking desire by many young men or by their parents

for them to undergo traditional Aboriginal rituals (involving circumcision and

sometimes subincision); secondly by the impact of the Northern Territory Land

Rights Act ( 1976). In the latter case, many individuals with some ancestry

amongst Northern Territory groups, have been revisiting relatives in the

Northern Territory in order to re-learn and increase rituals, geographical

knowledge and miscellaneous aspects of the Aboriginal Law required to mount

land claims. The winning of the Nicholsen River land claim has enabled some of

the Wanyi from Doomadgee to establish an outstation on their tribal land.


Similarly a group of Wakaya from Dajarra and Mt Isa have set up an outstation

on their land in the Northern Territory, as have a group of East Arremte from


The main focus of the circumcision ceremonies has been at Gununa, for

both Wellesley Islanders and mainlanders from Doomadgee. This has involved

the initiation of in the order of 150 young and middle-aged men over the last

twelve years under the sponsorship of elders from Borroloola and the Barkly

Tableland. Such interactions are ongoing both for Gununa people and others in

Doomadgee, Mt Isa, Dajarra, etc.

Such forms of cultural re-vitalization are not only significant attempts to

restore concepts of traditional Aboriginal Law and religion, but also represent

oppositional forms of behaviour against past State authority, as well as new

identity symbols for those involved.

Social organization at Gununa and Doomadgee

Gununa (Momington Island) . and Doomadgee communities had

somewhat different modes of social organization during the 1970s and early

1980s compared to the rural towns of the region. This is largely due to their

differing history as mission settlements and the subsequent patterns of cultural

change. Being reserve communities, they were to obtain community councils

which were increasingly empowered through the 1970s, although they continued

to be under the firm control of the mission superintendents and have continued to

be influenced by government advisers.

The missionaries at Momington were displaced by the State Government

· in 1978, and a local Aboriginal shire council was established. At Doomadgee,

the Brethren Mission did not withdraw and hand over to State administrators 1 until 1983.

In pre-mission times at Momington Island (1900-1914), and amongst

the other islands of the North Wellesley group, there existed multiple structures


underlying social organisation. Through various activities, group definition was

achieved at the level of tribe (synonymous with language group), four

sociogeographic groups by direction, coastal patricians, resource exploitation

bands, a subsection (eight) class system, and domiciliary units (camps and

domiciliary groups). In 1914 the Lardil began to spatially concentrate in a camp

adjacent to the newly founded mission centre. The camp was divided into the

four sociogeographic divisions of the Lardil, the larumpenta, lilumpenta,

tjirrkarampenta and palumpenta.

Despite the population concentration and cultural change since the first

mission contact, social identity was still being maintained in 1975 within the

context of some of these traditional groups. The author studied the history of the

mission camp and its development into a village in the 1950s and 1960s, and

carried out a sociospatial analysis of the village domiciliary zone in 1975.

Members of the four sociogeographic divisions still occupied the same zones as

they did in 1914 and maintained a social identity with such spaces. Smaller

residential clusters were definable and contained largely agnates who were

descended from the pre-mission patricians. These residential groups were each

presided over by a head person who also claimed ongoing rights of tulmata-ship

or local resource controller in his patrician country. Despite such claims, actual

control of resources was not observed, owing to the shifts in social control and

authority systems caused by the missionaries. (Memmott 1983:59,60,


Mention has already been made of how the missionaries at Momington

Island usurped the political and social control of the local elders. The recent

revitalization of initiation ceremonies has not done a great deal to restore the

power of the elders as these rituals have been sponsored and conducted by the

Northern Territory elders. The dormitory system also operated for many

decades at Momington Island breaking down many traditional kinship

responsibilities. The role of the disciplinary relative (whether it be parent or

uncle) was usurped by the mission manager and later by the head teacher.

Consequently in the mid-1970s, two generations of Momington Islanders who


were institutionalized in the donnitory system (est c1919) regularly blamed the

misbehaviour of their children on the head teacher even though the donnitory

system had been dismantled for twenty years. Parental control and punishment

of children was thus minimal and haphazard and remains so. (Memmott


A similar but probably more severe situation is to be found at

Doomadgee where Trigger (1985) carried out a study of power relations during

1978-1983. Here Trigger concluded that there did not exist a social fonnation of

institutionalised authority and hierarchy, based on Aboriginal tradition (Trigger

1985: 126). Unfortunately Trigger's analysis explains little as to why this state

exists, i.e. he does not reconstruct the traditional regional societies and subject

them to a model of cultural change to explain the genesis of the contemporary

situation. Trigger does indicate that mission authoritarianism has prevented

senior men from implementing traditional religious practices (e.g. ceremonies)

and establishing religious cults, even though they have possessed the knowledge

to do so and may acquire status from such knowledge. Nor do senior men have

the right to bestow women in marriage, another practice which has been

forbidden by the missionaries.

Trigger identifies three types of traditional social groups which

commonly occur in conversation and verbal exchange, and are often used to seek

and express status, but which are seldom manifested as units of collective action

in the community. These cognitive units are language groups, land-owning

clans or lineages90 and classificatory groups (subsections, semi-moieties). With

respect to the clans or lineages, Trigger says (1985: 128):

... it is the divisive politicking between different parent-children factions within them which is most evident in social action associated with such affiliation to country.

Social life at Doomadgee is thus marked by an absence of any significant

relations of fonnal domination arising from Aboriginal tradition, neither through

90 Trigger's 'broad country-affiliated cognatic lineages' (1985:128)


authority nor economic power. This does not imply an absence of political life

or competition for social status, features which do derive from contemporary

Aboriginal tradition. (Trigger 1985:126-127.)

Unlike at Mornington Island, no overall sociospatial structure was

discernible at the time Trigger carried out his research at Doomadgee. Trigger's

analyses indicate that it is kinship which is most pervasive in social life at

Doomadgee and which leads to collective action by groups. His examples of

such kin-based group behaviour are co-residence as individual households, the

giving and receiving of economic and material support, and the provision of

physical and verbal support to close kin during conflicts (Trigger, 1985: 125).

Kinship was pervasive in a similar way at Mornington Island in the mid-1970s, but Memmott observed (1979:4 77) a wider repertoire of types of groups

based on these traditional social units which were not visible to Trigger at

Doomadgee (patricians, sociogeographic groups, language groups). Such

groups formed informally in the Mornington Mission at public gatherings (at the

pictures, the store, community meetings, etc.) and during conflicts, and also

received formal and symbolic expression during public dances. Power at

Doomadgee during the time of Trigger's research was very much in the hands of

the missionaries. Trigger's contact change analysis of the domination of his

study group by White Australian society reveals three key processes: (i) a

lengthy incorporation of Aboriginals into the capitalist economy (pastoralism);

(ii) imposed physical force, controlled by the State, particularly the early use of

the Native Police (c.1865-c.1910) and removalism; and (iii) the

institutionalization of authority during the mission era (early 1930s), further

enforcing the economic powerlessness of the Aboriginal people. This last

process was imposed in the form of the legitimizing ideology of fundamentalist

Christianity resulting gradually in a voluntary compliance with such authority

over several generations.

Indeed Doomadgee gained a reputation as being one of, if not the, most

authoritarian reserve communities in Queensland. Trigger (1988a:222) provides


examples in the 1970s of the harsh punishments meted out for what would be

considered minor misdeamours or not even misdemeanours at all in other parts

of Queensland (e.g. wearing a mini-skirt). The missionaries described

themselves as being 'The complete caretakers of the people from babyhood to

old age', and maintained strict rules concerning morality.

As mentioned previously, the establishment of Aboriginal councillors at

Doomadgee did not represent in any significant way, a concession of power to

the community.

The incorporation of a small number of Aboriginal Councillors into the administrative apparatus . .. cannot be viewed as effectively legitimating administrative authority across the Aboriginal population . . . Despite the view among many White

staff that the Council legitimates the wider administrative system through representing the views and sentiments of those administered, it is clear that the concept of representativeness is simply not given much credence within the Blackfella domain .. .

(Trigger 1985:301.)

When the Brethren missionaries withdrew from Doomadgee, the

community were left with very little in the way of an internal social structure

capable of either directing social action, controlling social behaviour or

developing community enterprise. It seems from Trigger's analysis that there

were no political leaders or powerful Aboriginals active in community affairs or

politics. The Doomadgee society had been reduced to a kin-affiliated group

subsisting largely on unemployment benefits whose economic and political

survival in the wider world had been exclusively maintained in the hands of the

missionaries for 50 years. It is understandable then that the 1980s were to be a

period of some social disorder and internal stress.

An Aboriginal percept!on of cultural change on Mornington Island

In stylistic contrast to the more technical anthropological descriptions of

cultural change in Aboriginal societies contained in other parts of this paper, is

the following perspective by the Aboriginal writer Labumore (Elsie Roughsey),

of change on Mornington Island. In her book (Roughsey 1984 ), Labumore


frequently provides the reader with her perceptions of the social cohesion of the

pre-contact lifestyle.

As often I sit and write I cannot really express the good old times of the tribes. These were many exciting happenings. We were surrounded by laws and customs. They were a real stuff of great protection, its needfulness was well watched and guided.

Respectableness was strictly held and commanded by the tribes. We were punished by the tribal laws in a different manner ... never to do it again ...


I feel in me, the way of their life has been one of the important true life of our land, one which most people will never understand how good the laws of a tribal Aboriginal had gifted ... holding all they had, and were Government to their own laws and people. But all this has been destroyed, forgotten. European laws have wiped it altogether from my people ...

(1984: 185.)

Labumore refers to the role of the dormitory system in the programme of

directed cultural change maintained by the missionaries for 60 years.

They made us throw up all our tribal ways, kept us away from our hunting grounds, made us give up our sacred grounds and sacred Laws. The White man, like missionaries, said they were no longer to have and hold on to. So going to school and living apart from parents and tribal Laws can change the Life of the tribes ... and Live

by their ways ...

Finally, since twenty-six years ago, the happiness of the tribes was vanishing. It was not a time now ... how to go forward, or Look still to the way the tribes had it going. Missionaries wanted a different methods, of their way of teaching and to know of their

Life. That's how our laws, customs and cultures, also Legends, were soon Left far behind for anyone to Look to carry on. We thought we were aiming for a better Life to be treated fairly and equally. But as years were going out on us in our lifes, we soon found we were rounded by wire nettings and fences, and we found Living in this modern life, we had lost.



Despite the pervasiveness of kin-oriented behaviour on Mornington

Island during the 1970s, many elements of kinship behaviour had been lost.

New values had been enculturated amongst the youth by the missionaries.

Soon the young generation came forward and wanted their own way, and spoilt every customs, culture and laws. They thought these were just foolishness, and would not grasp them. Relationship was cut out of their life. They expected only to love and claim their own parents. But what about the real life that the

tribes had ... the true decent friendship they had for all people, that can make all people love, serve and respect each other as real tribal people, worth while living with the life of the real people who lived to show and teach all they had to pass to us? They were very, very important to look upon and continue living with.

I know that life of my people. I saw the way people lived with all goodness, kindness, helpfulness, lovingness, relationship. People were real to each other. You could not tell who was your near relation to our parents, because everyone was my uncle, auntie, cousin, brother, sister, grandparent. No one I knew was my half relation. They were all my full blooded relation, even to other families because there was that love. Relationship was firm with respectfulness . Everybody was same. No others were

different to be known as an outcast ...

(Roughsey 1984:182.)

The rejection of the old ways by the youth of Gununa is reflected in the

title of a paper which deals with this subject in Labumore's book: The reckless

life. Forgetting the life they should have. and losing control they should have.

Change in Social Organization, North-west region - Summary

Although the communities of this region have participated in a culturally

unifying regional pattern of travel and social interaction in recent decades, deeper

historical processes of cha11ge have culturally differentiated these communities

into two categories:-


(a) Rural town communities, of which there are nine,91 whose populations,

for the most, no longer maintain tribal identity or knowledge of traditional

forms of land-based social organization, but maintain distinctive cultural

identities through association with their home communities, and extended

family units, (as well as through behavioural mechanisms). Kinship ties

inter-link such family groups, but the effectiveness of their combined social

action as a community, involving the operation of housing and enterprise

associations or co-operatives, is often limited by factional conflicts.

(b) Reserve communities, of which there are two, have older members who

have maintained a sound knowledge of traditional language groups, land­

based clan groups and their estates, although younger adults may not have

actually visited their estates in many cases. At Gununa, unlike

Doomadgee, such larger-scale social units manifest themselves in some

forms of collective action, and their elders have maintained a significant

social role as heads of domiciliary groups, although their political powers

have waned in recent years. Breakdown of social organization has been

more severe at Doomadgee where only kinship structure is employed as a

vehicle for informal social action. In both communities the political power

of elders and the value of family authority in the socialization of children

are aspects that have been severely undermined by the reserve

administrations. In both places, community councils have operated for less

than twenty years and are only slowly being empowered by government


In the regional centre of Mt Isa, the regional communities have been

reproduced in the residential patterns of town camps and other informal settings,

but at the same time marriage between members of these community groups is

leading to the dominance of a regional kinship network. Some imposed

assimilation forces have resulted in a continuum of types of Aboriginal lifestyles,

9 1 See Table 2


ranging from the distinct Aboriginality and autonomy of the town camps, to

families integrated into suburban areas in government housing. Such

assimilation processes have been countered by aspects of regional cultural

revitalization made possible by the relaxing of the Aboriginals Act in the 1980s.

The case of Alistair Riversleigh in north-west Queensland

Deaths in custody victim Riversleigh was very much a 'product' of his

region. His lifestyle was typical of many other young Aboriginal people in this

part of the State. He had a tribal identity despite the breakdown in many aspects

of traditional social organization in his home communities. Riversleigh, in his

earlier adult life was a ringer in the cattle industry. In his later adult life he

became a heavy drinker.

Riversleigh is the only deaths in custody victim from North-West

Queensland. He had close ties to Doomadgee and Mornington Island. These

two reserve communities are only 150 kilometres apart, and during their

operation as missions (Mornington Island established in 1914, Doomadgee in

1931-33), they have often interchanged their Aboriginal 'inmates' as part of the

removalist mode of administration. This exchange facilitated inter-marriage

between the mainland and island people.

Riversleigh's mother was a Lardil woman of Mornington Island and

born there in 1920. After travelling to the mainland in 1940 where she had her

first three children to a mainland Aboriginal man, she had a brief elopement with

a Mornington Islander and conceived Riversleigh. Riversleigh thus grew up in

the Mornington Mission in the late 1950s and 60s. He attended a trade school at

Aurukun for a brief period, Aurukun being the ' sister' mission to Mornington

and thereby creating a link cutting across two cultural regions (both communities

were founded and run by the Presbyterian Church). Riversleigh returned to

Aurukun for a while in the 1970s but for most of his remaining life resided at

Doomadgee with his mother, step-father and others in his family.


When Riversleigh and his wife separated in late 1986, the wife and three

children left Doomadgee and resided with relatives in Mt Isa at the Yallambie

Camping Reserve. In early 1987, Riversleigh travelled to Mt I sa also, to visit

his family. He drank heavily during this stay, and one occasion was picked up

on the bank of the Leichhardt River in Mt Isa and taken to the Aboriginal-run

Kalkadoon Sobriety House where he was 'de-toxed'. On one occasion,

Riversleigh was jailed for his own protection as he had tried to commit suicide

after drinking (ACC 1990:35).

Between 1974 and 1986, Riversleigh was arrested 48 times in Mt Isa for

drunkenness. These charges would have been incurred during periodic short

visits for holidays and to visit relatives. Other destinations for drinking and

recreation used by Riversleigh were the Gulf towns of Burketown and

Nonnanton. Riversleigh's travel patterns and cultural environment were largely

contained within the north-west region. The police records at these places also

reveal that Riversleigh had accrued miscellaneous alcohol-related charges

(including alcohol violence). Throughout the region there were in fact several

distinct drinking styles in which Riversleigh came to participate.

Aboriginal drinking behaviour in a regional centre

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, all of the Aboriginal communities in

the rural towns of North-West Queensland have maintained regular styles of

drinking behaviour. Many of the residents of the two reserve communities have

also carried out regular drinking at Burketown, Nonnanton and Mt Isa, and

brought liquor back to consume in or near their communities.

During the 1970s, a distinctive and popular 'hotel style' of drinking was

to be found in Mt Isa. 92 There were three hotels in which Aboriginal locals and

visitors regularly drank. Two of these venues were mixed drinking situations

with a majority of White males and pool playing facilities. Drinking behaviour

92 Taken from Memmott (1979:441-443).


was controlled by the hotel staff. Fighting, excessive drinking and loud

quarrelling were not pennitted, and violation resulted in eviction and possible


In contrast to these two situations, the third bar known as the 'Snakepit',

was an infamous and ill-maintained, but distinctly Aboriginal bar - territorially

so. It was feared or loathed by most White people, although they were not

exempt from entering. Regular fighting occurred between the various Aboriginal

groups in the Snakepit, mostly on a one-to-one basis, but occasionally a number

of kinsmen joined in. As in home communities, fighting was part of the

behavioural routine; however it was more likely to be with Aboriginals from

another community than between 'countrymen'. At times, chairs, jugs and beer

bottles flew as frequently as fists. This was largely provoked by excessive

drunkenness- the Aboriginal people were encouraged to spend as much money

as they could.

There were few real restrictions on behaviour aside from serious

violence. Playing the juke-box, dancing and 'pool' were common practices in

the Snakepit. Behaviour was very much 'Aboriginal' despite the varying

degrees of retention of traditional culture by the different individuals and groups.

Groups of countrymen sat together. Many people had no money, and just

waited and watched, hoping that a kinsman might arrive and shout them a drink.

The two types of hotel drinking styles described here represent two

extremes on a continuum into which the various behaviours in the other rural

hotels of the region could be slotted. For example a close parallel to Mt Isa was

Nonnanton where there were to be found three hotels, one for whites only, one

integrated in the manner of the Mt Isa controlled bars, and a third with a

predominantly Aboriginal clientele and a level of violence and drunkenness

similar to the Snakepit. Camooweal only had one hotel but it contained two bars

and a system of predominantly segregated drinking. These examples point to the

racism which was prolific in some parts of the region.


Throughout the 1970s and 1980s there have also been infonnal drinking

places frequented by Aboriginal groups in the river-bed of the Leichhardt close to

the town centre. of Mt Isa. Although beer and wine is regularly consumed by day

at these places, they are particularly noted as venues for 'metho drinking'.

Riversleigh drank in both hotels and the river-bed.

'Outside' drinking style

Doomadgee, due to Lutheran influence, has never established its own

community canteen. The closest source of alcohol is from the small town of

Burketown, about 100 kilometres away. During the late 1970s and early 1980s,

transport could be arranged with a taxi driver in Burketown. Large quantities of

liquor were purchased and brought back to a crossing over the Nicholsen River,

a kilometre to the east of the Doom ad gee settlement.

The anthropologist David Trigger, who researched at Doomadgee during

this period wrote:

... given the debilitating wider material conditions of settlement life, and the boredom among young men in particular, drunken excitement appears to be a major focus of life for many people ... The predominant pattern of drinking at Doomadgee has been to binge over fairly short periods while stocks of alcohol last, then to enter the community from a drinking location in the bush or the river bed. Drunken men then often cause considerable conflict in their domestic settings ... Grudges are not usually held against those who have recently been drunk and very destructive. The state of being very drunk is recognised as one in which an individual does not have much control over his/her actions; they are described as being 'mad' (or 'murdun') when drunk.

(Trigger 1988:7.)

This attitude is encountered in other parts of Aboriginal Australia, that

people are not held accountable for their actions when they are drunk. For

example, the Pintupi of Central Australia classify drunks along with the insane as

'ramarama' meaning 'deaf' or 'oblivious', implying not in touch with reality


(Myers 1986:108). At Yarrabah, it is said there is 'no shame attached to being

drunk in public' (faylor et al1989:15).

Riversleigh's life circumstances demonstrate the above drinking style

had not changed in 1987, except the taxi was not a motor vehicle but a charter

plane. On the day ofRiversleigh's death, a CDEP pay-day, his stepsister hired

the taxi plane and returned to Doomadgee airstrip with a 40 ounce bottle of rum

and five flagons of port. This was consumed in an all-afternoon drinking party

with relatives and friends at the river, outside the settlement proper. This event,

a weekly and often a daily one at Doomadgee, resulted in Riversleigh becoming

highly intoxicated, which combined with other factors (particularly his

depression over family separation), led to his death.

This type of drinking style, whereby a group consumes liquor just

outside the boundary of the settlement and its attached authority system can be

termed 'outside drinking' in the case of dry communities. A style of private

house drinking which has some parallels with outside drinking style, was

recorded by Memmott (1979:408) at Momington Island when it was a dry

community in the mid-1970s. Illegal liquor imports were consumed in residents'

houses out of sight of White staff and Aboriginal police. However this strategy

often failed once people became intoxicated, noisy and aggressive and in so

doing removed themselves to the yards and streets outside to vent their concerns

with the community.

Outside drinking style is commonplace at Wujal Wujal, where the

deceased indulged in such a spree which on the same day, led to his death by

hanging in the watc;hhouse. In reference to this event, Anderson and Coates

(1989:51) wrote:

... There exists a kind of 'group personality' with the young men. It is fatalistic, risk-taking, immature, thrill-seeking, with an ethos of the utmost indifference to life, an aimlessness, and complete disregard for the authority of With else to do, drinking episodes become very excltlng. The planmng and

stealth often needed to obtain alcohol, the sociality of drinking withfriends, age-mates and kin, the fighting that usually ensues


and the reduced inhibitions that allow one to say what one thinks, all combine to make drinking a desired full-time activity for many young Wujalwujal men ...

The Queensland Domestic Violence Task Force (QDVTF) (1988:262)

also report that alcohol prohibition in communities maintains the propensity for

Aboriginals to drink it in order to flaunt authority and rebel against oppression.

Despite the illegality of alcohol at Wujal Wujal, Anderson and Coates note

(1989:35) disturbing changes in its use:

The way people drink and the reasons people drink in general do not seem to have changed over the last decade or so. What is changing is that more women seem to be drinking, people are beginning to drink at a younger age and a 'culture of alcohol' is developing among young men in particular. Our investigations

revealed that around ten young women aged 15-16 years and eight to ten adult women were now regular users of alcohol. This is in contrast to five years ago when there were no regular female drinkers.

A spatially similar style of drinking occurs at Yarrabah. Both

Koowootha and Hyde had respectively drunk, prior to their deaths, with friends

at beach camps near the main settlement. However unlike Doom ad gee and Wujal

Wujal, Yarrabah has its own canteen. The motives at Yarrabah may therefore

relate more to the privacy of drinking and of drinking style rather than evading

authority. It is probably more aptly termed 'private party style' in this case.

Aboriginals in the pastoral industry and their drinking style

Riversleigh, like many young men from Doomadgee Mission found

employment in the north-west Queensland cattle stations in the 1970s. Hyde

was another deaths in custody victim, who after leaving school at about 14, was

sent away in 1959 by the Yarrabah manager to work on cattle stations in the

Central Queensland region.

In those parts of rural Queensland where the cattle industry prevails, one

often encounters an obsession amongst Aboriginal boys to become ringers and

rodeo riders. This aspiration is also encoded into much country and western

· music (e.g. Slim Dusty's, 'Trumby was a ringer who couldn't read or write').


Perhaps this explains why the deceased from Wujal Wujal, after completing his

secondary education to the end of year 9 at a Brisbane school, returned home and

immediately took a job as a stockman on Lakeland Downs.

Aboriginals in the cattle industry maintain a lifestyle whereby they work

in the bush for long periods of up to several or more months and then spend a

week or two on holidays in rural towns, drinking away their salaries, shouting

their friends, relatives, and co-workers. Salt was one who in his earlier life

began as a reputable stockman, but later became intensely alcoholic, a serious

binge drinker. As the publican of the Laura hotel put it, Salt led a classic ringer's

lifestyle .... worked very hard on stations and then came to Laura for a binge. In

his thirties his habit finally lost him his job. Salt then turned to heavy drinking.

He often became violent, and was unpopular in the Laura hotel prior to his death.

The deceased was said to have become a 'binge drinker' when he

eventually returned to Wujal Wujal from cattle work. An Aboriginal observer in

this community made the following comment in relation to binge drinking style.

'You White people, you only drink slow,little bit. Barna, we got to drink it one

time. Right the way through' (Anderson and Coates 1989:34,35).

The Cape York Region

Unlike the North-West region, Cape York is predominated by reserve

communities. These are Kowanyama, Porrnpuraaw (Edward River), Aurukun,

Weipa South, Lockhart River, Bamaga, Seisia, New Mapoon, Umagico, and

Injinoo (Cowal Creek). There is only one sizeable rural town community, that


In the early 1970s, the anthropologist Chase encountered a type of

cultural geographic region in Cape York, once again generated through

acculturated travel patterns, a changed population distribution, social motives and

kinship ties. Such ties extend:

... beyond the immediate classificatory relations of-the-same community and .. . are responsible for really geographically


distant family networks. It is this which unites people throughout the length and breadth of Cape York ... These extended links allow an individual to travel widely and through common relatives at one or another community, he can establish relations from whom he can expect as a right a bed and keep, and some safety against sorcery ...

This process was, of course, taking place in traditional times, though it is believed that the geographic range was more limited. European contact provided greater opportunities for travel, and to much more distant areas, and as well the creation of settlements and missions concentrated peoples of different languages and country through this process and the resultant intensification of relationships within the settlements, it became more easy for strangers to discover common relatives and to formulate a relationship between themselves. This process has been going on in Cape York since the early 1900s, and has resulted in an extremely widespread extended family network. There would be very few adults for example, at Lockhart, who could not establish a relationship in any one of the Cape York communities ...

(Chase, n.d.:8.)

Von Stunner (1973:20-22) also points to broad cultural homogeneities

operating over the entire Peninsula but stresses the subdivision of the peoples

into numerous social groups with distinctive identities based on such factors as

kinship, territory, totemism, language and ritual; such differences being

commemorated in myth, ritual and oral traditions.

Chase noted (n.d.:l) that the relatively small township ofCoen in central

Cape York had an important function in calculating the regional kinship ties.

Coen people were often used as a marker for tracing relationships from the

eastern to the western side of the Cape, i.e. across the Great Dividing Range.

Members of the Cape York network came together at Coen once a year for the

annual races. There occurred regular attendance by Aboriginal people from

Aurukun, Kowanyama, Edward River, Lockhart River, Laura, Cooktown, as

well as from the Cape pastoral properties. Chase described (n.d.:2,4,10) the

social functions of this event as follows:- to renew acquaintance with extended

families; to enjoy the return of close family from the stations; to indulge in

gossip, gambling, and carry out some drinking, to settle family affairs, and to

enjoy customary fonns of dancing and singing.


The intensification of air travel in Cape York in the last two decades has

reinforced the role of Cairns as the dominant regional centre for Cape York

Aboriginals, as well as for the Far Northern coastal region and the Torres Strait


Aspects of social organization and cultural change

in Cape York

The reserve communities of Cape York were not the primary receiving

centres for removals. They were secondary centres to which localized

populations were sent. Combined with their isolation and less violent contact

histories, these factors have resulted in a comparatively high retention of

traditional cultural elements and modes of social organization in relation to the

other mainland regions.

In terms of social structure, a reserve community may be quite complex,

despite having the appearance of a homogeneous community to an outsider. For

example, Martin describes (1988a:14) multiple overlapping social segments at

Aurukun. Although Aurukun people are drawn from what is regarded as a

culturally homogeneous region, important differences:

... underpin social dynamics today; in particular the division between those from the inland schlerophyll forest regions and those from the coastal floodplain zone. A consideration of this dichotomy between 'topside' or timber country people and

'bottoms ide' or coastal ones is basic to any analysis of what constitutes Aurukun as a settlement, and most particularly to understanding conflict and fighting. Even where there is apparently essential cultural homogeneity, there are complex cross-cutting affiliations through kin networks, and to various land-owning clans and to land itself, to language, totemic institutions, ritual cults and so forth that renders Aurukun' s social matrix highly particularistic. Within apparent unity, one might say, there is emphasis on diversity. Only in presenting or defending interests vis-a-vis the outside world- it be the officials and institutions of White Australia or Aboriginal people from other areas, do Aurukun people adopt a more corporate

rhetoric and approach ...


It is the strong identity with such social sub-groups rather than the

community as a whole that has facilitated a strong outstation movement at

Aurukun, more so than anywhere else in Queensland. (However an ongoing

centralizing force is the presence of the Aurukun canteen.)

Most (if not all) of the Cape communities display similar structural

characteristics with a number of social divisions based on past and post-contact

alliances and with links to traditional land-based social organization. For

example, Anderson and Coates (1989:3) describe the Wujal Wujal community,

as consisting of a number of community 'mobs' based on clan, kinship and

earlier camp residence, and who reside together under some social tension due to

the overcrowded settlement and lack of access to tribal lands. The mobs form

the primary economic and political units in the community.

As was the case for the North-west reserve communities, community

Councils had been established in Cape York, as vehicles for community

decision-making, by the late 1960s or early 1970s, although in many cases their

function amounted to little more than tokenism since ultimate power remained in

the control of the reserve or mission managers. For example, for many decades

at Aurukun, the missionaries placed the council positions in the hands of a few

select families or clans. Martin argues (1988a:5-8) that when the dominant

power of the missionary Superintendent MacKenzie was withdrawn, and as

power was gradually thrust upon the modem councillors of the 1970s and 80s,

these individuals were ill-equipped to face the administrative and political

complexities required of the local government system. Increased violence was a

further consequence of these events.

There are now alternative courses of action open to young people as they grow up which allow them to remove themselves not just from the direct authority and control of 'elders' but from the network of social reciprocity and indebtedness that made people

social beings. Young people can now 'go their own ways' and flout their independence of attempts to control them by responsible kin- fathers, uncles, etc.

(Martin 1988a: 18.)


Similarly, Anderson and Coates (1989:30) write of the erosion of the

authority and status of older people at Wujal Wujal. This is partly because the

council positions require the skills of literacy and numeracy, and are thus filled

by younger people.

Most Cape York reserve communities experienced the mission dormitory

systems whereby children were separated from their parents. As Martin

(1988a:4) shows for Aurukun, traditional child rearing and socialization practices

were disrupted and children were denied the full experience of an Aboriginal

domestic and family life.

Mention was made previously of the continuity of a sociospatial structure

in the Mornington community during the mid 1970s, whereby traditional social

groups maintained a distinct residential location which in turn contributed to the

maintenance of their social identity and internal control. Taylor (1979) provides

an analysis of such in Cape York which is of particular potency, because it

involves a comparison of two settlements, in one of which sociospatial patterns

were preserved, whilst in the other they were ignored.

Taylor (1979) carried out comparative socio-spatial analyses of the

Aboriginal settlements of Kowanyama and Edward River (now Pormpuraaw) in

western Cape York. His research period was 1968-1973. Kowanyama was

established in 1905 and became the home of the Koko Bera, Kokamenjan and

Kunjen speaking peoples. Edward River was formed considerably later, in

1938, and became the residence of further Kokomenjan, the Thaayorre and Wik

Munghanh groups. Both settlements were originally missions. By the 1940s

their inmates were .occupying single-roomed framed huts of indigenous

materials. After a particularly destructive cyclone in 1964, the Queensland State

Government (Department of Aboriginal and Islander Affairs), took over

administration of the two settlements and commenced large-scale housing

programmes, installing western houses within a town plan format. (Taylor

1979:207, 211.)


In the mzsszon settlements, (prior to mid-1960s) would-be villagers could choose within fairly wide limits, where and near whom they wished to reside. There was no town plan to which they had to conform and the exercise of this choice resulted in the formation of three distinct residential clusters at Kowanyama

known as Kunjen, Koko Bera and Kokomenjen villages based on traditional patterns of association and with which people identified. Originally there were once three neighbourhood clusters at Edward River and these were known as Kokomenjen, Thaayorre and Mungkanh villages. Over time these three villages resolved themselves into two with the departure of most of the Kokomenjenfrom Edward River for Kowanyama.

(Taylor 1979:218.)

Taylor's analysis of the post-cyclone Kowanyama 'new town' produced

no clear socio-spatial pattern. He attributed this to the lack of attention of the

town planners to the traditionally based layout of the old village, and to the

allocation of houses by the government officers, as they were completed, on the

basis of individual family needs. He notes that a consequence of this was the

rapid decline of traditional language usage. There was little manifestation of

other forms of behaviour to reinforce the social identity of these groups. (1979:


At Edward River, on the other hand, the new town plan incorporated 'by

accident or design' the old settlement layout of the two residential sectors for

Thaayorre and Wik Mungkanh respectively:

Within both [of these new] villages, the vernacular languages were the main vehicles of communication. People identified strongly with their particular side. In private conversation, the men of one side tended to disparage the men of the other, attributing to them many sins ranging from slovenliness, meanness, dirtiness, through to insobriety and pugnacity and

even to sorcery and incest. Like Kowanyama, each side fielded competing 'island' dance teams during festival occasions but the element of competition also extended to adult and children's team sports and traditional secular dances ... Work gangs tended to be drawn almost exclusively from men from one side or the other. Each side maintained its own gambling ground which was patronised by both sides on alternate nights. The division was

maintained during public meetings , at the picture, theatre, in church and even in the order in which groups of people did their shopping. Rivalry between the two sides rarely broke out into


overt Jwstility and violent disputes were usually contained within one section with members of the other section standing on the sidelines playing the part of virtuous onlookers.

(Taylor 1979:220.)

The thrust of Taylor's analysis is the critical role that such socio-spatial

layouts play in the support and maintenance of a variety of traditional behavioural

features, including self-identify and the basis for socio-spatial responses in other

non-domiciliary settings. Amongst these behavioural features are leadership,

social control, and options of right and wrong. It is when such things are

stripped away from a group that social problems proliferate. Similarly when the

adequate spacing of such sociospatial units (or sub-camps) cannot be preserved

due to crowding, often brought about by some imposed Western concept of

preferred housing density, social stress is inevitable, as demonstrated for

example at Wujal Wujal (Anderson and Coates 1989).

The following biographical profiles of three deaths in custody victims

from Cape York provide a further index of the region's cultural belief systems,

patterns of social organization and identity, the impact of removalism and the

alcoholic circumstances of the victims' deaths.

Two Cape Yorkers

Only four deaths in custody victims were not enculturated as children in

reserve communities, and two of them are from the Cape York region. It is

therefore worth incorporating some biographical material gathered by the


Example 1. Charlie Kulla Kulla

Kulla Kulla and his ancestors came from Princess Charlotte Bay, some

50 kilometres east of the township of Coen, the place of his death. Kulla Kulla

belonged to the Lamalama tribal grouping, whose land extended southwards

from the Stewart River. Kulla Kulla was born on the bank of this river in 1944

and named Warwara meaning loggerhead turtle. His father's name meant 'cutter


of dugong meat' and he had been born at Port Stewart in c1884. Kulla Kulla

grew up in a small band ofLamalama (25 or more), who had established a semi­

sedentary camp in this vicinity, having moved from their nearby clan lands.

(Rigsby 1990:2,3.) They hunted wild pigs in the swamps and saltpans, and

dugongs from outrigger canoes as well as other seafoods. Kulla Kulla is one of

the few deaths in custody victims who was not enculturated in a reserve

community. He excelled at traditional dancing and story-telling.

In 1961, agents of the Department of Native Affairs. removed this group

by boat to Bamaga on the pretence of taking them for a medical check-up. Most

of their possessions and their dogs had to be left behind. Their huts were burnt

to the ground. It was a traumatic upheaval for the group. Kulla Kulla himself

was then 17. A local pastoralist family had precipitated the removal of this group

by constant complaints to the Department of Native Affairs and Lands


Some time after the Lamalama group arrived at Bamaga, a number of

them attempted to walk back home, such was their attachment to their country.

They were intercepted and turned back about 180 kilometres south of Bamaga.

In the following decades individuals were permitted to visit Coen for a holiday,

but not to return to their country. The Lamalama remained a socially

marginalised group at Bamaga.

In late July 1984, Kulla Kulla flew from Bamaga to Coen where he

stayed with relatives whilst attending the annual race meeting. The presence of

relatives at Coen is not surprising for the home country of the Lamalama is to the

immediate east. Kulla Kulla and other Aboriginal people were arrested, mostly

for drunkenness and/or alcohol related offences. Kulla Kulla himself had

become drunk, and there was a suggestion that he had fallen into the creek

behind the hotel and laid there all night. Twelve of the fourteen people in the

cells were from the Cape York region. Kulla Kulla died in his cell of



Example 2: Monty Salt

Another Lamalama victim of deaths in custody was Monty Salt, who

took his surname from his paternal grandfather and which was derived from

regular employment at gathering salt from coastal salt-pans for pastoralists to salt

their beef. Salt was born (apparently in the bush) on the Annie River which runs

into Princess Charlotte Bay. This was in 1947, three years after Kulla Kulla was

born, also in the bush and not far to the north. In later life, Kulla Kulla and Salt

were to become close affines, for the former's brother married the latter's sister.

In fact from Rigsby's account (1990:2,3), the Salts and Kulla Kullas were

descended from two neighbouring exogamous clans. A bush birth implies that

the women of this Lamalama group had retained their traditional medical and

midwifery skills. Rigsby mentions (1990:4) a 'birthing tree' used for the

delivery of Salt's eldest brother.

Salt's clan was named Bighurrnggudin and the clan country was located

on and near parts of the Annie River drainage basin (Rigsby 1990:1). Salt's

father had been born in this locale in c1907, whilst his mother was born in

c1912. His mothers' people were from another Lamalama clan whose land is

located on Marina Plains Station (Rigsby 1990:4). Salt's father had several half

siblings of mixed descent, the offspring of his mother and local pastoralists.

These individuals were removed and sent to such places as Barambah (later

Cherbourg), Yarrabah and Palm Island. As a child Salt experienced two

dominant types of lifestyle: residence in a cattle station camp on Violetvale

where his parents worked, and then during the wet seasons, a traditionally

oriented lifestyle with his family along the coast and hinterland of Princess

Charlotte Bay. (Rigsby 1990:2.)

Salt, his siblings and other close relatives came to reside within the wider

Cape York region at places such as Mossman, Ayton, Wujal Wujal, Laura and

Lockhart River (Rigsby 1990:4-6). Salt was engaged for most of his adult life

working on Cape York cattle stations until the award wages were incorporated


into the local pastoral industry in the early 1970s (Rigsby 1990:5). As his

alcoholic problem grew worse, Salt settled in Laura, as well as visiting other

Cape York towns with hotels, viz Cooktown and Cairns. His stay in the last

two towns may have been short, but it was sufficient to be charged by the police

with drunkenness and obscene language. It was after a drinking bout at Laura

that he was taken into custody and died of pneumonia in the back of a police

vehicle en route to the Cooktown hospital.

Both of these men experienced a traditionally oriented upbringing in their

tribal countries, albeit one which was abruptly terminated for Kulla Kulla by the

State Government. Both of them became attached to the cattle industry,

participated in ringer's drinking style and eventually died, partly as a result of

such drinking behaviour.

Aurukun and the Young Man Who Died There

The young man who died at Aurukun hanged himself in the Aurukun

watchhouse. Aurukun is a remote Aboriginal community on the west coast of

Cape York Peninsula. It has a population of about 940 people of whom

approximately 900 are Aboriginal. They are commonly referred to as the ' Wik

people', a term that refers to the word 'wika' meaning 'speech', which is

attached as a prefix to the language names of the region (thus the Wik Mungkan

language). The territory of the Wik is indicated in Figure 3.

Established in 1904 by missionaries, Aurukun is now a local

government authority which was set up under special legislation (along with

Mornington Island). The little available employment is associated with the

administration and functioning of the community. Social security benefits are the

principal source of income. Economic poverty, a severe housing shortage,

rampant crime rates, sexually transmitted diseases, alcoholism and malnutrition

are but some of the more serious matters confronting Aurukun people.

However despite these negative aspects, as Sutton points out (1990:9),

there are marvellous and wonderful ways in which Aurukun people engage with


life and the world and which are not easily visible to the outsider. They still

retain, to a:

... significant extent ... a rich traditional-oriented Aboriginal culture and one that is of a kind that is so rare in the world ... in which accumulation of commodities is not the focus of life or the under-pinning of value or effort but one in which social relations and spiritual values are still vital to and central to the definition of what constitutes human value and the value of place.

(Sutton 1990:10.)

Indeed, Aurukun must be ranked amongst other communities, as having

one of the highest retentions of traditional cultural elements and patterns in the

State. For example, it is believed that one's life essence divides into several

aspects upon death, one aspect going to a far-away place to the west, whilst

another aspect is the 'spirit-image' which communicates with and torments the

living until it is ritually sent to the homeland of the deceased. ' House opening'

rituals are performed as part of this process, allowing people to reoccupy the

house of the deceased (as in most other parts of the Cape York region). The

rituals surrounding death have become the major ceremonial form at Aurukun.

The name of the deceased is always suppressed in the community. If an

individual dies in the prime of their adult life, the reason is considered to be

sorcery inflicted by their enemies, irrespective of the apparent causal

circumstances in many cases. (Sutton 1990:1, Anderson 1986:312.) Sorcery

was also a popular local theory of explanation for the death of the young man

who died at Wujal Wujal (Anderson 1990).

This use of sorcery represents one of a number of ways in which the

occurrence of a death is incorporated into the broader network of social meanings

and relationships. A second method of ' socializing death' occurred in the case of

the young man who died at Aurukun, when various rituals were performed to

cleanse his watchhouse cell and release his spirit from inside (Sutton 1990:6).

Martin (1990) in a separate informative submission to the Royal

Commission describes in detail the entire set of complex mortuary ceremonies


which occurred for the young man who died at Aurukun. These included: the

initial mourning practices, the speech and dietary restrictions placed upon certain

relatives of the deceased, the experiencing of the image aspect of the deceased in

dreams, the ritual of returning the spirit to its homeland, the removal of the spirit

from the young man's familiar objects, the cell opening ritual, the opening ritual

for the deceased's house, the purification rituals for particular kin, the ritual to

facilitate the public re-use of the deceased's name, and associated Christian

rituals. These extended over many months.

Change in Social Organization, Cape York - Summary

This region largely consists of reserve communities in which minimal

removalism and social disruption occurred compared to other areas. Links to

land have thus been maintained by many groups and the ideologies of land-based

systems of social organization are strong.

At Aurukun where retention of traditional cultural element is at its

strongest, the presence of language groups, land-based clans and their senior

leaders is expressed in public ritual, dancing and outstation movements. The

internal complexity of social organization in Cape communities precludes social

unity on many issues. Community councils only have partial capability of

dealing with local problems due to their incomplete empowerment by

administrators as well as factional tendencies. The pressures of assimilation

have been more effective in some communities than others due to local variations

in processes of cultural change. For example the destruction of the sociospatial

structure at Kowanyama appears to have accelerated loss of cultural elements

including traditional group behaviours, compared to Edward River.

As for North-West Queensland, the reproduction of regional social

organization patterns occurs in various forms in the regional centres of Coen and



Canteen drinking style

In 1988 the Aurukun beer canteen, operated by the Shire Council, was

open from 4.30 pm to 7.00 pm on Tuesdays, .Wednesdays, Thursdays and

Fridays, and on Saturdays, for take-away bottle sales. The only alcoholic

beverage sold was beer. The consumption rates were (and continue to be) very

high. In the ten hours of business on week days, up to 72 18-gallon kegs of

beer (130 gallons per hour) were consumed by this small community of about

900 Aboriginal people. Up to 22% of the community's income was spent on

alcohol (including sly grog), compared to the national average of 2.4 percent

(Martin 1988b:5). Binge-drinking accompanied by drunken fighting

characterised most canteen sessions.

Martin describes (Ts, 29/08/88) binge drinking as the accepted

community norm. It involves sharing and 'shouting' amongst a group of

individuals who are by and largely kin. As with the distribution of food and

money in this community, the available liquor is totally shared up and consumed

straight away in its entirety. This style of disposal of consumables is a process

of obtaining social capital, of investing for the future amongst one's kin and

friends, i.e. reaffirming the practice of reciprocity of resources for ongoing

occasions (Martin Ts, 29/08/88).

Of the drinking style of the young men at the Aurukun canteen, Martin said:

... there is direct pressure to drink and to drink to the same quantity as the others with whom you're drinking ... such acts as heavy binge drinking are the new stages on the road to a contemporary form of manhood.

(Ts, 29/08/88)

Taylor et al note (1989: 14) at Yarrabah, that a heavy drinker who loses

the support of his drinking group was 'really lost'. Gibson (1987) points out

that although this style of drinking reflects traditional sharing practices, it

simultaneously violates such practices because the drinkers often refrain from

sharing their money with children, wives, the elderly etc.


Besides the binge drinking style, there is also social recognition of a

'good' drinking style at Aurukun. This involves people who have one or two

jugs after work and then go home without getting drunk or causing trouble.

Attached to the Aurukun canteen when it is operating, are a number of gambling

circles for both adults and children (as young as seven). (Martin Ts, 29/08/88)

Many pe<;>ple gamble for their 'beer price'.

For those who wish to drink at Aurukun when the canteen is shut, there

is the option of procuring sly grog. The standard prices for 'sly grog' at

Aurukun were, at the time of the Commission's hearing, around $250 for a

carton of 24 stubbies of beer, $100 for a bottle of spirits and $60 for a cask of

wine. Sly grog has in the past been more commonly associated with dry

communities and consumed in a binge drinking style (e.g. see Memmott

1979:408). However its trade appears to have been maintained in a number of

communities with canteens. At Yarrabah, Taylor et a1 (1989:11) noted that the

'sly grog' industry persisted despite the canteen being open twelve hours a day

and six days a week, because the sellers offered credit. The QDVTF (1988:260)

reported similarly for Palm Island where pensioners must hand their whole

cheque over to pay off their debts and obtain credit for flagons for the coming


In his evidence to the Royal Commission at Aurukun, Martin

(Ts, 29/08/88) gave the following figures on drinkers at the canteen during mid

1986:-[In] the order of 87 per cent of men over the age of 18 drank, and of those a total of 84 per cent drank regularly, whereas the percentage of women over 18 who drank was far lower - around 34 per cent. 1 should add that when I first came to Aurukun

virtually no woman at all drank, and that this drinking ... [by] women, has occurred only since the canteen itself was opened. My figures also show an increasing number of young men who drink,for instance, boys 13-18. Of boys 13-18, some 40 per

cent drank at least occasionally, whereas only some 12 per cent of girls in that age group drank.


Martin also ratified the following account by Von Sturmer of what one

might very well observe when a drunk person awakes after heavy drinking in an

Aboriginal household:

They begin calling on and crying to relations. A likely sequence might be calling out to wife, calling out to mother, calling out to granddaughter; threats of self-destruction are made and dealt with by respondents, 'What would we do without you? I wouldn't stay in this place if you weren't here'. People talk and

cry their way back to a state of social integration. The social environment of reintegration is assumed always present. Drunken people are able to project their aruieties immediately outwards on to other people.

In Aprill987, the young man who died at Aurukun was arrested on two

successive nights for drunkenness after binges at the Aurukun canteen. On the

second night he was involved in a fight. He was placed in the watchhouse,

attempted to hang himself, fell, bit his tongue and drowned in hi s own blood. A

comparative case is that of Deidre Short of Lockhart River. She drank at the

Lockhart canteen every night and spent a large portion of her weekly pay there.

On the evening of her death, Short consumed about ten cans of beer and then,

because her spouse refused to give her more liquor, became argumentive,

aggressive and noisy, leading to her arrest. Short died in her cell from a blood

clot in her heart artery.

The AIU have described (p.c. 08/06/90) how at Momington Island,

daily life revolves around the canteen for most of the adult population, who

seldom return to their home countries for hunting or recreation except perhaps on

Sundays when the canteen is shut. The QDVTF (1988:260) reports that

community life at Palm Island also revolves around the canteen. Of the 33

reserve communities in Queensland, only eight do not have canteens

(Doomadgee, Wujal Wujal, Hopevale and five Torres Strait Islanders

communities). Canteen drinking styles are thus a feature of most reserve



Home drinking style

Drinking at home is common in rural town communities and increasingly

so in reserve communities where canteens have operated for over a decade. For

example at Yarrabah, 75 percent of canteen sales are 'take-aways' (Taylor et al

1989: 15). In this manner a drinking session occurred at the Koowootha

household on the night of Koowootha's death. A number of people became

quite intoxicated, especially Koowootha himself. He was physically aggressive

towards a couple of the others including his father. Koowootha was

apprehended and found hanging in the watchhouse. Similarly, Noble and Hyde

respectively had been drinking in people's residences at Yarrabah in the early

morning. Hyde had consumed methylated spirits. They were arrested and

hanged themselves. Their alcohol blood levels were .28% at the time of death.

The institution of Cherbourg in the Mary/Burnett region

The original Cherbourg was known as Barambah, being established on

Barambah station near Murgon in circa 1901 under the auspices of the Ipswich

Aboriginal Protection Society. Local Burnett Aboriginals, probably of the Kabi

Kabi and Waka Waka tribes were placed there. In 1905 the administration of the

newly formed reserve was taken over by the State Government. The settlement

was renamed Cherbourg in 1931. Its location is on an original Waka Waka

campsite (Tennant Kelly 1935:464). Nevertheless throughout most of the

century Cherbourg acted as a 'population sink' under the State's removalist

policies, a 'dumping ground' for the Queensland tribes. It is included herein for

analysis as an example of four such receiving centres on the east coast (the others

being Yarrabah, Palm Island, Woorabinda).

One social analysis of the early 1970s (Koepping 1976) models

Cherbourg as a type of asylum (its population being inmates), using the

sociological theory of 'total institutions' developed in the 1960s by Erving


Goffman and others.93 At Cherbourg, the traditional Aboriginal cultural

systems of social organization, economy, government, politics and religion were

gradually dismantled either by direct or indirect means and replaced by the

State's own systems. These systems controlled in a discriminatory and

deleterious manner, ·'life, liberty, movement, marriage, adoption, acquisition and

disposal of property, trial and imprisonment, wages and accommodation - to

name but a few factors ... ' (Tatz 1981 :50).

Control over the lives of the Cherbourg inmates is clearly illustrated in

the history ofremovals of the family members of the deaths in custody victims,

who identified with Cherbourg:

(a) Removals to Cherbourg

West's maternal grandmother came from Mitchell, whilst his maternal

grandfather was removed from Chinchilla in 1933 for ' being abusive and

insolent, and [for having] attempted to strike [the] Superintendent' .

Dunrobin's mother was born in Clermont, whilst his father was from the

Birigaba people of the Bowen River, his mother's second husband was

also from Clermont, having been removed by the Department of Native

Affairs when his mother and elder sister were accused of opium smoking

in 1924. Pilot's mother was said to have been a member of the

Bunthamera tribe from the Quilpie-Windorah region, whilst his father was

from the Kullilla tribe of the Thargomindah-Cunnamulla area. Pilot

himself was born at Quilpie, but as his mother died in childbirth, he and his

siblings were sent to Cherbourg in circa 1954.

(b) Removals from Cherbourg

Lacey's father was removed from Chcrbourg to Woorabinda as a

disciplinary measure against his worsening drunkenness. There he

93 Trigger (1985:246) has also made similar comparisons and refinements of this theory at Doomadgee.


attacked a policeman and after a period of imprisonment was removed to

Palm Island. Lacey himself, after being sent from Cherbourg to

Westbrook twice, was removed to Woorabinda (age 17). Johnson's

mother was removed to Palm Island from Cherbourg in circa 1945, age 20.

Forty years later her niece recounted this event:-My aunt (or in kinship terms my mother) refused to put on the khaki clothes we were forced to wear. Instead she wanted to put on the nice clothes that my grandmother had sent her - these clothes were confiscated and she was sent to Palm Island. My mother and her sister were family in the girl's dormitory and because her sister was the eldest (my second grandmother) she became mother to my mother. My mother didn't even know what had happened but was later told by the European matron that Ada was sent to Palm Island to quell her rebellious ways. My mother was left alone without any family.

(Neill 1988:23.)

For many years Cherbourg's Aboriginal Chairman was a man who had a

close and loyal relation with the Director of the Department of Aboriginal and

Islander Affairs. It seems he perpetuated part of the removalist policy that had

been established by the Department in previous decades. According to West's

mother, he maintained a rule at Cherbourg, during the 1970s, that once one left

Cherbourg due to some conflict, one was never to return (i.e. a form of

banishment).94 When problem children demonstrated a pattern of recidivism,

accumulating assorted offences, the Chairman wrote on behalf of the Council to

various government departments, requesting they take such children into their

custodianship. This also occurred in the case of West.

Cultural change at Cherbourg

In 1976, the anthropologist Koepping analysed the tribal origins of the

Cherbourg population, a task that had also been performed forty years before by

another anthropologist, Tennant Kelly:-

94 Also see Watt, Dennis, 1983, '32 metho deaths in 14 months', Telegraph, 14 April (Lofgren, 1990b p 7).


The present population of Cherbourg consists of the descendants of twenty six tribal groups, most of them with their original tribal background in the central and southern Queensland regions. The research by Tennant Kelly in 1935 identified twenty eight groups; out of these ten are still represented. This means that sixteen new tribal groups arrived on Cherbourg between 1935 and 1974. Many of these are from the more northern tribal groups from

Cairns to Cape York. The bulk of the original population of Cherbourg consists of the tribal remnants of the groups that originally occupied the region of the South Burnett, in particular the W akka Wakka ...

(Koepping 1976:33)

Koepping listed (1976:35) the following five tribal groups as having the

largest representation in the community:

Waka Waka: Central Burnett River Basin vicinity of Cherbourg

Gureng Gureng: Upper Burnett River Basin vicinity of Cherbourg

Kullilla: Bulloo River south-west Queensland

Gunggari: Lower Thomson and Barcoo River central west Queensland

Birrigabba: Bowen River Basin central coastal interior

Internally there is a certain persistence of rivalry between the South Burnett tribal descendants and the Northern groups in particular: the descendants of the Wakka Wakka group strongly stress their 'primacy'. The native populace divides the whole

settlement into three broad categories, namely 1) the W akka Wakka group; 2) the sun-downers, who are from the West of Queensland, and 3) the Northerners.

(Koepping 1976:33.) 1

When Tennant-Kelly visited Cherbourg in 1934, he noted (1935) a high

retention of traditional belief systems. He recorded not only the use of the

section class system by the Cherbourg people (four classes), but also a mutual


understanding of the differing class tenninologies amongst the different tribal

groupings. Associated with the classes was a knowledge of class marriage rules

and totems. There was also a knowledge of burial rituals, increase (or fertility)

rituals, legends, food taboos, use of totemic personal names and an emphasis on

the totemic interpretation of dreams.

As these totemic belief systems all incorporate references to sacred sites

and to the travels and activities of ancestral heroes, it is not surprising that they

were vulnerable to change. When a site-specific set of knowledge has to be

transmitted from one generation to the next without the younger generating

having ever visited the sites involved, it is not surprising that an erosion of such

knowledge and its value occurs.

When Koepping visited Cherbourg forty years later there were only a

very few fluent speakers of Aboriginal languages left, mostly in their 60s and

70s, although a few words were known to everybody (Koepping 1976:33).

Detailed knowledge of traditional tribal life and the Law had almost ceased to be

transmitted to the younger generations. Another anthropologist, Eckennann

found (1971 :71-73) that people indulged in a range of superstitious or

supernatural beliefs, some of which had derived from traditional beliefs systems,

including sorcery, sorcery cures, love rituals, death omens, guardian spirit­

beings of children, local ghosts and flying coffins. Eckennann argued (1988:37)

that the transmission of folklore in Aboriginal communities carries significant

social functions, such as providing a sense of history and group identity, one

which is incorporated into child development, and also in providing a social

meaning to the circumstances and reasons for death.

0 'Sullivan, writing in the mid 1980s described a number of beliefs to

illustrate the persistent retention of past habits, beliefs, and values even though

an understanding of their origins may have been locally lost:- (i) belief in

spirits, some of whom are in contact with the living, especially dead relatives;

(ii) beliefs in omens signifying the imminent arrival of a visitor; (iii) avoidance

of male initiation (bora) grounds by women; (iv) avoidance of the local Waka


Waka sacred sites by non-Waka Waka Aboriginals for fear of disturbing the

spirits at such sites. ·

O'Sullivan (1986) also wrote of the retention of a love of ritual,

symbolic action and ceremony, and the need to commemorate life's events and

relationships. She described a number of contemporary Cherbourg rituals and

festivities:- the bunya nut harvests in keeping with the tradition of the Bunya

Nut Festival, a ritual fishing excursion on the night prior to Good Friday,

funerals with their customary procedure and pattern for the placement of

wreaths, the annual Debutante Ball, the Murgon Show, and the football games

involving the local Aboriginal team. O'Sullivan (1986:4,5) obseJVed that:

In contrast with the often embarrassment and awkwardness of White youths when having to take part in a public function , most Aboriginal young men enter into the event with a dignity and grace and unselfconscious wholeheartedness which speaks of

their appreciation of the importance of the occasion, whether it be guard of honour at a funeral, or simply accepting a birthday gift. There seems to be a keen awareness of the deeper inarticulated meaning of the event and its significance is held in respect.

O'Sullivan observed (1985:15,1986:10) that all of the Cherbourg people

identified with one of the four or more Christian faiths in the community, even

though this was not expressed through regular attendance. All read and

respected the bible- she attributed this to an attraction for the spiritual world and

to spiritual phenomena.

The loss of much traditional knowledge was partly due to the

administrative policy which frowned upon its use, regarding it as something that

hindered assimilation. The school curriculum made no reference to the traditions

or history of the constituent groups at Cherbourg. (Koepping 1976:35.) Neill,

who grew up on Cherbourg, returned there as a teacher in the 1970s and noted

(n.d.: 12) the same:

The children agonised over 'How now Brown Cow' and 'Peter Pepper', and each child expressed embarrassment throughout the whole exercise. These children were being placed in a position where they were made to feel ashamed of their own language .

Consequently these feelings affected their ability to learn anything


else. The children were being taught a strange culture and there were no positive and meaningful experiences that related to anything within their own culture ... Because they were so negative about their own culture, it took a lot of time before they felt good about their own culture and also to gain back their self­

confidence and feel really good about themselves. I felt really angry that teachers had this power over innocent human beings. It was evident that the values and the expectations of the teacher which were being forced upon this group of children created cultural conflict and caused great anxiety in the children.

Despite the application of these methods of eradicating cultural

knowledge over several generations, Koepping noted (1976:35,36) that the older

generation were still in possession of much of their traditional knowledge but

were not transmitting it because of the lack of respect for such traditions amongst

the younger generations. However writing a decade later, O'Sullivan (1985:16)

stated that those tribes who can 'still speak their own language and know their

own dances are admired'. It seems there had occurred a shift in the value of

traditional customs during the 1980s, coinciding with the withdrawal of the

institutional practices under the Act.

Neill also notes (n.d.:6,7) the disappearance of many traditions but she

describes how the oppositional reaction to authority assisted in preserving some

of them :

As a child I grew up in an environment which forbade us to speak our own languages or to actively practise any part of our culture. Yet this oppression created a bond so strong between the oppressed, that our stories, dances and ceremonies were secreted away - they went underground .. . I can truly say that as oppressed people, the bonds that grew between each individual upon Cherbourg became more than bonds of friendship, but extended to make up the family of Cherbourg. The number of our brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers grew to include all members of the dormitories and reached out to embrace other families of the mission.

Social organization at Cherbourg

Koepping (1976:30) found a close-knit kinship structure at Cherbourg of

an endogenous nature. There were limited choices of available marriage

partners, and the resultant cross-linking family ties had led to an increased form


of co-operation and overall identification of all the Cherbourg people, tending to

break down the old tribal group identities. However these close ties also led to a

certain amount of interpersonal and family friction. The continued practice over

many decades of sending men out to work after marriage, appears to have led to

strongly matrifocal type families according to Koepping (1977:171).

Eckermann also wrote of social organization at Cherbourg. Writing

from her research experience in southern Queensland she (1988:35) comes to a

similar conclusion regarding social segmentation within urban (Brisbane,

Ipswich) and rural communities (Cherbourg, Mitchell):

Any rural/urban Aboriginal 'community' is composed of a number of family groupings. Some of these are aligned. Others, though related, are long-standing antagonists. The collectivity of family groupings in any one geographic location may be labelled

as 'the Aboriginal community' by the researcher, but it may have only limited reality to its Aboriginal constituents. Rather, Aboriginal people may be viewing their collectives in terms of family alliances, which are fluid and may go far beyond any one

locality but which may not include all members residing in it, while 'community' has become a convenient label to facilitate negotiations with the majority.

(Eckermann 1988:35.)

Eckermann goes on to note that even in rural towns where race relations

were regarded as 'good', non-Aboriginal people were seldom contained in the

primary social networks of Aboriginal families. Thus many Aboriginal

communities have maintained a discrete social distance and identity within

broader town populations. In some cases this . social distance has also been

maintained by multiple forms of discrimination.95

It is clear from the foregoing that the social structure at Cherbourg was

also characterized by a dominant oppressive Department of Aboriginal and

Islander Affairs management. It is worth comparing the findings on another

receival centre in this regard, that of Yarrabah.

95 See Appendix 1


At Yarrabah, Craig (1979:70,71) states that in the late 1970s, the

relationship of the managerial elite of predominantly White bureaucrats to the

Aboriginal population, went beyond mere domination, and that this power elite

had usurped several of the key functions normally exercised by a community's

heads of household, parents, and patriarches.

The result of Queensland's reserve policy on Yarrabah is a form of enforced parasitism whereby Aboriginals have come to believe not only that the Department of Aboriginal and Islander Affairs will take care of them, but that it should take care of them.

Double standards of behaviour at Cherbourg and Murgon

A peculiarity of Cherbourg is the geographical closeness but cultural

dissimilarity of the town of Murgon, about five kilometres away. According to

Eckermann (1971 :61) there had once been an assimilationist plan for Cherbourg

to grow into an integrated suburban extension of Murgon. The extreme opposite

has occurred. Aboriginal people travel regularly between the two settlements,

switching their behavioural codes in the two settings.

Neill (n.d. :9, 10) has written of the stress and anxiety incurred when she

attended the Murgon High School in a predominantly White environment, and

the development of her double lifestyle.

The pressures from the teachers, the education system and non­ Aboriginal society in general was a little overpowering for a young adolescent at times. The underlying expectation was to forsake my cultural values of sharing and caring, and to compete

in a foreign competitive forum. In my eleventh year of school/ was being mentally torn apart by so many conflicting values. In desperation my parents sent me to board with a Christian family in Brisbane to complete Grade 12. I did so under extreme suffering, loneliness and anxiety.

(Neill, n.d.:lO.)

In the Commission's hearing at Cherbourg (Ts, Neylon 08/03/90 p 162,

Brown 20/03/89) evidence was heard of various forms of discrimination against,

and exploitation of Cherbourg people by some of Murgon's retail business


proprietors. Despite the economic dependence of Murgon on the Cherbourg

community, minimal employment of Aboriginal people occurred in the town

businesses and shops. Businessmen were at liberty to obtain payments incurred

by Aboriginal debtors, from the debtor's bank account, without the debtor being

present to authorize a withdrawal. Hoteliers regularly served underage drinkers.

Change in Social Organization, Cherbourg - Summary

Cherbourg was a receiving centre for the remnants of tribes and clans

from many parts of the State. In 1934, after 30 years of operation, the inmates

had still retained their traditional cultural knowledge and belief systems.

However as directed cultural change was maintained on successive generations

much of this knowledge had been lost by the mid-1970s, although certain

cultural elements had been retained and transformed in various ways as a set of

beliefs about death, sorcery, love magic and other supernatural subjects. These

elements appeared to be undergoing elaboration as group identity symbols, partly

motivated by a need to facilitate the socialization of death. Some elements had

been retained as an oppositional process to assimilation. New social events have

been institutionalized, possibly stemming from a traditional love of ritual


The dominant aspects of social organization at Cherbourg are family

groupings with a tendency to a matrifocal character due to the decreased

dominance of male householders. Tribal identities appear strongest for those

groups from the local region who can still maintain identity with some sites.

Other tribal identities have been slowly eradicated by inter-marriage and

assimilation policies. Nevertheless forms of cultural revitalization have been

noted since the relaxation of the Act.

Assimilation of Cherbourg people into Murgon has been strongly

intimidated by discriminatory practices.

In receiving centres such as Cherbourg and Yarrabah, which represent

the most institutionalized communities, White management usurped the roles of


household heads, parents, and patriarches in various ways for lengthy periods,

probably reducing the sense of social responsibility and self-initiative amongst

many individuals.

Drinking styles at Cherbourg

Prior to the establishment of a canteen at Cherbourg, people also

indulged in two styles of drinking, rural town hotel style and a form of 'outside

drinking' on the reserve boundary. This was described in the early 1970s as


Alcohol is procured in Murgon which is only three and a half miles away and consumed either in the hotel or on 'Petticoat Lane', a strip of land just outside the jurisdiction of the settlement. Huge fires are lit at night by the drinkers while the native police wait on the outskirts to pick up individuals as soon as they cross into the settlement drunk. Bottles are hidden all along the road from Murgon to Cherbourg as soon as the police can come into view, to be picked up again the next night. Alcohol is smuggled into the station as evident in the large proportion of houses sporting empty flagons of McWilliams Royal Reserve Port. In Cherbourg, Beckett's analysis of the social norms associated with drinking, such as defiance of authority, putting it over on the White man, conforming to the White man's opinion of Aboriginals, are very much in evidence.

(Eckermann 1971:69.)

A specific venue for covert drinking on the edge of the settlement was

utilized by West and his companions prior to West's death in the Cherbourg

watchhouse in 1987. It was known as 'Goona Gully', aptly named due to its

location at the sanitary works.

In the year 1982-83, which was prior to the opening of the Cherbourg

canteen, the police placed 3800 Aboriginals in the Murgon watchhouse due to

alcohol-related offences. The majority (over 75%) of these detainees were adults

from Cherbourg. The population of Cherbourg at this time has been given as

1020 (Qld Department of Aboriginal and Islander Affairs 1983: 46). By

comparison, in 1987-88 when the canteen had commenced operation, there was

a total of only 257 drunken arrests. In the pre-canteen period, under-age


drinking in Murgon was rife. There is mention of youths as young as twelve

and thirteen served ln hotels, but the problem age was defined as 14-16 year

olds. Virtually all children were affected by alcohol at some time in their teenage

years and approximately 25-30% were identified· as regular underage drinkers.

Underage drinkers were often shielded from detection in bars by the large

Aboriginal crowds on busy nights. There were at times up to four deep at the

bar in a very noisy setting with a juke box playing and widespread broken glass.

On one occasion the police reported arresting 27 children in Murgon in a single

night, aged 9-17, for breaking and entering to steal liquor. (Cherbourg, Neylon

and Booth, Ts, 08/03/89)

Prior to the advent of the canteen, the consumption of alcohol in

Cherbourg was possible for a few who developed a special relationship as covert

suppliers to the Aboriginal police (Koepping 1976:37). The mother of deaths in

custody victim West, remarked on the policing of drunkenness at Cherbourg,

contrasting it with the proximate town of Murgon: 'It seemed ridiculous that

everyone was free to go into Murgon to drink [after 1967] but then they couldn't

go home for _fear of being arrested •. There appears to have been a marked

difference in the acceptable standards of intoxication in the two environments.

Another type of drinking style was that of the timber-getting teams who

indulged in heavy 'binge' drinking at Cherbourg and Murgon during their off­

week after two months in the bush. In this way their lifestyle was similar to that

described previously, of the western and northern cattle ringers. Dunrobin thus

started to drink at age 15 (c1969) and soon became a very heavy drinker, but

maintained his work pattern for many years. Pilot also worked as a Cherbourg

timber-getter in 1972 ai age 19. Both Dunrobin and West hanged themselves in

the Cherbourg watchhouse after being apprehended in a very intoxicated state. It

is not clear what their day's drinking patterns were. They had access to Murgon

hotels, the Cherbourg canteen and private house style drinking.


Aboriginal migration to Brisbane

In the mid-1970s, Guthrie (1976:43) noted the trend for rural

Aboriginals to migrate to Brisbane 'where they tend to occupy poor housing in

slum areas, receive poor education, have low paid, low status jobs and bear the

brunt of racial discrimination'. Guthrie carried out a study on such migration at I

Cherbourg in 1972-73 (Guthrie 1975,1976). His survey revealed (1975:57) that

the most likely movers from Cherbourg to Brisbane were young single people

not encumbered by dependants, but that such migrants especially lacked the

particular knowledge necessary for survival in Brisbane and that many were

likely to 'find themselves on vagrancy charges and encouraged to return home'.

Guthrie also concluded that 'more important than the attractiveness of the city

was the unattractiveness of Cherbourg'; and that while 'Australian society is

constructed the way it is, adolescents will continue to find Cherbourg


Cherbourg's 550-600 residents considered their home community to

suffer from a poor quality of life and a lack of independence, but it provided

'security'. While cities, including Brisbane, provided some independence, the

racial prejudice incurred was generally sufficient to dissuade older residents from

migration;. other negative factors noted were police, lack of housing and


However,for younger people independence was a very strong attraction. The crucial factor for a successful move was the security provided by personal contacts in cities. Compared to Cherbourg,friendship and racial prejudice ranked particularly low in cities. As older people generally had a great deal of previous migration experience they were fully aware of these problems: in a sense these people were migrant .failures.

They had tried life in the 'outside' and returned because it was not sufficiently attractive.

(Guthrie 1976:47.)

Through a comparison of the 1981/86 census data, Gray (1989:130,141)

demonstrated that a very large proportion (over 20%) of Brisbane's Aboriginal


population had arrived during this five year period, but also noted that this was

counter-balanced by high out-migration. However the in-migration was largely

in the 15-24 year old age group, whilst the net outflow was in other age groups,

mainly 5-14 and 25-34 yearolds. The evidence suggested that the in-migration

population included a large proportion of young single people who later return to

their home communities married with young families. Thus there was a pattern

of circular short-term migration between rural centres and Brisbane. Gray

argued that the initial lack of marital ties probably played an important part in

determining the possibility of young people moving into the city.

Two examples of people who resided in both Brisbane and Cherbourg

were the deaths in custody victim West and his mother. West was removed on

several occasions from Cherbourg to children's institutions and homes in

Brisbane and for a period resided at Goodna with a girlfriend, but he returned

regularly to Cherbourg, despite rejection from certain sectors of its community

who disliked his drunken violence. He eventually took his life in the

watchhouse there. His mother however left Cherbourg when her marriage

became unbearable, and came to live in Brisbane. She participated regularly in a

drinking circle at Musgrave Park.

The above findings illustrate the misnomer or over-generalization of the

term 'urban Aborigine'. Many Aboriginal people in Brisbane and other regional

centres come from rural and reserve (or DOGIT) communities and may resent

being classified as 'urban'. Langton has pointed out (1981: 16) that 'while White

urban life has attractions for most Aboriginal people, a feeling for the people and

country "back home" is always maintained'.

South-east Queensland Region

Population centres in this region consist of Brisbane, Ipswich,

Beaudesert, North Stradbroke Island, and Gold Coast (particularly at Palm

Beach and Southport). The Brisbane population was in the order of 7500 in


1986. The other centres contained much smaller numbers who were closely

allied to their community-based organizations.

It is worth mentioning here that Beaudesert was the home town of the

father of deaths in custody victims Barbara and Fay Yarrie. Their father, Sidney

Yarrie, had been charged with vagrancy there at age 23 and deported to

Woorabinda. One of Mr Yarrie' s primary objectives in life seemed to have been

to return to his home country. Both Mr Yarrie and church members on his

behalf, made applications in writing for him to do so, but they were all refused

by the Department of Native Affairs on the grounds that he would place a burden

on other Aboriginal families (some of whom were presumably his own

relatives), if he could not obtain employment in the area. A condition of his first

period of 'outside' employment in Central Queensland, was that he agree not to

attempt to travel to Beaudesert or Boonah without the permission of the Director

of the Department of Native Affairs. Nevertheless he was to return there within

several years.

The Yarries had kinship links to people in such places as Beaudesert,

Boonah, Christmas Creek, Mulgowie and Ipswich. However the need to find

employment also led them to the low-income outer and inner suburbs of

Brisbane where they resided often in sub-standard crowded accommodation at

Victoria Point, Darra, Acacia Ridge, Paddington, as well as in Aboriginal

Hostels. Mr Yarrie's two daughters were to spend much of their brief adult lives

in inner Brisbane before meeting their deaths there.

In Brisbane itself during 1986, there were Aboriginal and Islander

populations of over 100 residing in 14 Brisbane suburbs, the largest groupings

being at Inala (899), Woodridge (475), Redcliffe (279), Redland (247), and

Kingston (239) (Telecom 1986). The Brisbane people included a number of

core families of long residence, fifty years or more, some tracing back to the

Purga Mission near Ipswich. However there are few who can now claim to be

descended from the original Brisbane tribe.


Aspects of social organization in South-east Queensland

Gravitation of Aboriginal people to specific urban locales is not just a

matter of choosing low rental suburbs and designated Housing Commission

developments, but includes conscious social choices such as returning to old

familiar family residential areas, attaching to kin networks, to reserve community

groups or to others of the same lifestyle kind. A new arrival in Brisbane must

find a point of entry through a known contact (usually a kinsman) into a

household and thence into a social or community group, often that to which the

other members of the household belong. Such a community may not necessarily

be the local suburban residential group e.g. at Inala or Woodridge, but may be a

kinship group, a sporting group (especially football, softball) a government

department group of Aboriginal staff, an Aboriginal association or organization

of some sort, or a street group such as the 'Musgrave Park mob ' . Such groups

are readily visible when they congregate but their social boundaries are blurred

and they are all inter-connected and cross-cutting. For this reason the urban

Aboriginal population might best be modelled at one level as a set of overlapping

communities. Acceptance into the group will partly rely on familiarity with its

social norms including drinking style. Another distinct Aboriginal community of

Brisbane is that of the jail prisoners themselves.

The role of Aboriginal organizations in providing a sense of structure

and community focus can be gauged by their very numbers. In 1987 a listing of

Aboriginal and Islander organizations in Brisbane96 contained over 70

government and non-government departments, branches, units, enclaves,

organizations, co-operatives, incorporated bodies, associations etc. Of these,

many were educational groups (from pre-school to tertiary), health and welfare

agencies, housing associations, church-based bodies, and some seven or eight

hostels. The number continues to grow as Aboriginal tertiary graduates increase

96 Prepared by Queensland Department of Education, Aboriginal and Islander Education Unit.


and opt for employment at the State level of politics, commerce and

admiqistration in Brisbane. The organization network has expanded

tremendously since the early 1970s when the basic legal and health services were

first established alongside the Department of Aboriginal and Islander Affairs­

sponsored OPAL organisation.

The AIU in the Southern-Central and South-West reported that housing

co-operatives and other Aboriginal-controlled agencies were sometimes serving

only limited numbers of families in town communities. Presumably this service

bias was based on kinship and friendship links between such families and the

members of the executives of the organizations. Such factionalism amongst

Aboriginal families and the relation of such families to community organizations

has been addressed by Eckermann, based on fieldwork in Cherbourg, Brisbane,

Ipswich and Mitchell:

Within such 'communities', I have been , told, decisions are reached on the following basis:

(i) individual interest comes first, then family interest in the narrow sense, then family interest in its widest sense and finally community interest.

(ii) individuals rarely give up their right of veto even though a person from the community may have been elected to represent individual views, ·

Thus, even though an individual may have been elected to speak on behalf of 'the community', those who do not fully agree with this person simply disassociate/distance themselves. 'You're not speaking for me' is a common rejoinder, Further, if a family group is opposed to some 'community' venture the most common reactions are to either stay away from the election process, and thus disassociate themselves totally, or to take over

the elections with members of their own group so that the venture then becomes 'theirs', Aboriginal community politics then are similar to a state of balanced anarchy ... Individual family interest must continually exert itself against other individuals' !families' interests, and is kept in check in the process, Only this approach, I believe, explains the deep and persistent factionalism which is also common in most Aboriginal



In explaining such factionalism, Eckennann is alluding to a phenomenon

also noted by Martin (1988a: 16) at Aurukun, viz. that there exists a constant

social dynamic arising from the tension between the strong value placed on

individual autonomy (encouraged from infancy) and that of responsibility to kin,

clan and other social groupings (also compare Edmunds 1990:16,17). Thus

Eckennann says:

If the value plac ed on individualism and family

groupings/alliances is indeed strong among Aboriginal people, it is not surprising that sections will manipulate for control of scarce resources, that people will fail to reach consensus , that debates will continue for or against an issue long after a decision, made by individuals perceived as representing a 'community' , has been accepted by the majority.

(Eckennann 1988 :35.)

Eades (1988:98) outlines the fundamental importance of 'overlapping

kin-based networks' to the Aboriginal people of South-East Queensland:

Social relations are characterised by ongoing family commitments within groups ... Place of residence, travel, social networks, leisure activities and persona/loyalties all revolve in some way around one's kin ... It is significant that Aboriginal kin involves a wide network of people many of whom are related only distantly in non-Aboriginal terms.

One of the most important obligations or expectations of kin is that they maintain contact. Although people participate in mainstream Australian social life in many day-to-day activities, they place the highest priority on seeing relatives. The most serious complaints and accusations about people' s behaviour

usually concern some aspect of family interaction, such as: 'She never visits her people', or 'He talks bad to [swears at] his mother when he is drunk'. Such interactional failings generally cause much more concern and bad feeling than incidents such as an illegitimate pregnancy, being sacked from a job, or failing an


Christie (1986:38) argues that the unique economic adaption within

urban Aboriginal cultures, represents a most convincing demonstration of the

Aboriginality of these peoples. Eades (1988:99) wrote on the subject as follows:


Because of the shared financial obligations within family networks, individual unemployment has neither the disastrous financial consequences nor the negative social stigma common to mainstream Australian society. Here again Aboriginal families

subordinate financial and employment priorities to the important aspects of social relations .. . While the greatest responsibility is frequently to the nuclear family, family responsibilities are generally applied within a wide range of kin. This applies to the

maintaining of social contacts, but also to such areas as the rearing of children, the support of ill or very old people, and the sharing of material resources.

(Eades 1988:98.)

Langton (1981:18) describes the significance of the matrifocal family in

south-east Queensland, and how it arises out of particular social conditions:

... in which Aboriginal men are unable to reside permanently with wives and children because of itinerant labour patterns, unemployment, imprisonment, regulations pertaining to social security benefits for supporting mothers and so on. Aboriginal social and cultural values may also contribute to the incidence of

the woman-focussed family, in that mothers, grandmothers, aunts and other female relations provide a cultural core, remembering and passing on to their children the knowledge that provides them with an identity in a crowded impersonal urban


Cultural change in South-east Queensland

Langton (1981) comments on the paucity of research on the Aboriginal

cultures of the city, and the failure to recognize that there are indeed Aboriginal

urban cultures.

Such paucity prevents any discussion on cultural change for the Brisbane

communities. Perhaps the lack of information reflects the dynamic nature of

these groups. Some comment can be made on other communities in the region.

The Kombumeri of the Gold Coast area and the Nunakal of Stradbroke Island

have both, in recent years, mapped a set of sacred sites in their countries, and

have worked towards a genealogical definition of their group members. These

two groups are of significance in a State overview, because their tribal territories


fall within the area of maximum contact depth. (The Nunakal have had sustained

contact since the 1820s.)

The Kombumeri have identified various Dreamings and oral histories

(myths) associated with their sites, and have attempted to establish a cultural

centre in which to deposit and use their records. According to anthropologist

Peter Whalley (p.c. 30/07 /90), the contemporary descendants of the Nunakal and

other allied language groups from Moreton Bay, debate and calculate their group

identity through links to their islands, and communities (Dunwich, One Mile),

and links to other Aboriginal families or descent groups established in the area.

Descent links to Stradbroke Island can, in many cases, be traced back well over a

century. The imposed processes of assimilation of the Stradbroke Islanders in

the 1950s and 1960s has resulted in many Aboriginal people finding themselves

in Housing Commission homes in lowe r or middle class Brisbane suburbs.

However these people retain their cultural identity and many hope to return to

Stradbroke in their retirement if the housing shortage can be overcome.

(Whalley, p.c., 30/07/90.) Nevertheless it seems such cultural elements as

language fluency, class systems, clan estate identity have been irreversibly lost

by these groups.

Despite the diversity of Aboriginal community and lifestyle in the State

capital, the victims of deaths in custody in Brisbane (except Wouters) all lived in

an impoverished alcoholic manner. Much of their drinking and socializing

focused on Musgrave Park.

Musgrave Park

The use of Musgrave Park as a traditional meeting has been

researched by F AIRA (1986). This study asserts that in pre-contact times, the

area of the park contained a Bora Ground, and was locatetl in the estate of the

Kulperum-Juggin, a clan of the Juggara tribe. A number of camps in the vicinity

of the 'Park' site were utilized by travelling tribespeople from the wider region


who visited in association with the bunya nut festival at the Blackall and Bunya


Back as far as the Dreamtime, the country that is now the Greater Brisbane area was the focal point for many miles- from the Northern Rivers of New South Wales to the Dawson river near Rockhampton, and the west to the Kullillee tribes to the west of

the Darling Downs. They had gathered in the region every four years for Ceremonies involved in the allocation of rights to collect fruit from bunya pines in the ranges. The last unspoiled section of this ceremonial/and was Musgrave Park, a place of strong

'Spirit memories' . When I go to Musgrave Park, I have an instinctive feeling of security. I feel at peace there. That's why just about all blacks coming to Brisbane go to the park.

(Scam bury c 1986 )

In May 1974 Mr Don Davidson, the Brisbane field officer for the

Aboriginal Medical Centre estimated that about 500 Aboriginals in Brisbane were

suffering from alcohol problems out of a total of 5,000 Aboriginals that lived in

that city. Many of these were visitors from rural communities.

These people turn to drink in despair after coming from out of the country andfinding they are discriminated against when trying to find good jobs and good housing. They're dying on their feet. They have nowhere to go but under the bridges and into the parks

where they're picked up dead. The problem in Brisbane is terrible and the medical centre is really concerned about what's happening. But there are no hostels where these people can be housed and Aboriginals are reluctant to seek help from organisations like Alcoholics Anonymous. It was also said at the time that these people are a sizable, visible minority of Aboriginals - the ones who lack skills or find the cultural gap too


(The Courier Mail, 04/0tn4.)

In the 1980s many Aboriginal people have died from regular metho

drinking in Musgrave Park and at other South Brisbane venues. One report in

December 1984 stated that there had been 44 deaths in three years (The

Telegraph, Brisbane, 05/12/84). Aboriginal welfare officer with the St Vincent

de Paul Society, Paddy Jerome, knew most of the people who had died in the

Park, and described the deaths as 'a silent protest'.


They come to the park, the only accessible bit of land they have any spiritual feeling for and they know they're going to die there . They are people with an overwhelming feeling of alienation. Many of them have died after drinking methylated spirits ... They

are people at the end of the road who have lost the battle against the city. They have lost all sense of belonging ... In the city, they become refugees with a new set of problems. More than 80% of the city Aboriginals are unemployed. They can't get jobs and they descend into poverty. Most of all they have this feeling of

not belonging, which is the result of losing their contact with the land.

(Scambury cl986)

As noted by Guthrie and others, lifestyle in Brisbane was not easy for

many Aboriginal people. The AIU have ranked the State's capital as one of the

worst towns for experiencing both direct and indirect discrimination.

Articulated by the police and the courts in the form of 'arrests' , 'charges', and 'verdicts', racist violence is perpetuated everyday. For inner-city dwellers, where this kind of violence is more acute, a life of dodging the police, White hostility, and himself becomes quite normal.

(Mullard 1974:47.)

Change in Social Organization, South-east region - Summary

Research knowledge is poor concerning this region. In Brisbane, social

organization is characterized by multiple overlapping kin-based communities

located in numerous suburbs and largely formed by immigration in recent

decades. They are further characterized by high internal transformation as

members move across the city or return to house communities in many parts of

the State. New arrivals to such communities at first build on kinship and home

town links, but some communities also form around a range of types of other

social bonds such as affiliation to sports clubs, government and community

organizations, Aboriginal residential locales. Group membership may also be

dictated by lifestyle circumstances e.g. as in the case of alcoholic, low-income,

street groups ('drones'). More permanent features of Brisbane social


organization may be stable matrifocal families with long-tenn residential links

(most members of the original tribal groups appear to have disappeared).

It is clear that a high proportion of the Brisbane population, including the

street groups, are from Cherbourg. It is argued that these people represent the

legacy of the State's institutional policies at Cherbourg which have resulted in

community fracturing and dispersal rather than social cohesion based on a

desired quality of lifestyle.

Other rural and urban communities in the South-East region tend to be

made up of multiples family groups with cross-cutting kinship links and who use

housing or enterprise associations or co-operatives as their interface with

government agencies. Some of these communities are characterized by inter­

family factionalism which may lead to family dominance of such community

organizations. Nevertheless many of these communities retain a sense of tribal

or language group identity.

It can be strongly hypothesized that the dynamics of social organization

in Brisbane, the absence of any spatial concentration or focus of community

(unlike other community types), and the presence of a hostile discriminatory

non-Aboriginal environment, contribute to a lack of social strength and an

inability for some groups to effectively deal with social problems. The AIU have

also reported strong factionalist tendencies in this centre.

The drinking lifestyle of the Brisbane 'drones'

In recent years the Aboriginal street and park dwellers have come to be

known as 'drones'. According to the AIU, the drones consist of individuals

who are both immigrants from Cherbourg and other rural centres, as well as

from the 'old' Brisbane Aboriginal families (40 or more years of residence).

Central to the development of this lifestyle has been the role of Musgrave Park as

a meeting and drinking place. According to O'Sullivan (1985:10), the

Cherbourg people had defined a territorial niche in Musgrave Park into which

outsiders sought permission to enter. The park was frequented by deaths in


custody victims West, Lacey, Barbara Yarrie, Fay Yarrie, and Pilot. Of these,

four died in the Brisbane watchhouse, or in hospital after removal from the

watchhouse, or in prison as a consequence of their lifestyle, and one (West)

hanged himself after his arrest on a return visit to Cherbourg. A selection of

biographical material on several of these victims is provided here to indicate the

nature of their Brisbane lifestyle.

In the early 1970s, Fay Yarrie resided at such places as Born Free Club

(South Brisbane), a house in Paddington, Opal House, Wilson Youth Hospital;

and then in the mid-1970s, at various Aboriginal hostels. Fay's lifestyle

deteriorated, and by the late 1970s and early 1980s, she was reported to be a

'typical Musgrave Park Aboriginal'. She in fact left her baby with a relative in a

park and failed to return. (The child ended up in hospital and had to be taken

into government care.) (pp 29,50.) A typical day of drinking in Fortitude Valley

by Fay Yarrie and friends has been reconstructed from information provided to

me by the Commissison. This occurred just prior to her death in 1988:-Early on the morning of 15 December 1988, Fay had apparently packed her belongings and had left the Windsor address intending not to return ... She arrived at the park behind the 139 Club,

Brunswick Street, Fortitude Valley at about 7.30 am, where there were a number of other Aboriginal people there waiting for the Club to open ...

Fay then walked down to the Valley Plaza branch of the Commonwealth Bank and withdrew some money . .. She then, in the company of others, went to the 'early opener' hotel and shouted a carton of stubbies and a flagon of red wine. This was shared amongst a number of people in a nearby park over the course of the next one to one and a half hours ...

After all the alcohol was consumed, most of the group, including Fay, returned to 'the 139 Club where some stayed, had showers and changed. A short time later, Fay and four others walked up to the nearby look-out park. Fay then went to the Brunswick Hotel bottles hop and returned with half a dozen large bottles (of beer) and a small bottle of Royal Reserve Port ...

This was shared amongst the five people over the course of about an hour. Fay then left the park to buy some more alcohol. It appears that she went to the Aboriginal favoured public bar of 'PC', the Prince Consort Hotel in Wickham Street, Fortitude Valley. In fact Fay had been barred from that hotel because of


previous drunken, rowdy behaviour including breaking glasses and on two occasions pulling a knife on the Manager. But this did not deter Fay from returning to the public bar of the PC at about 11 .OOam. A friend, who also attended the PC at about this time stated that Fay was already 'pretty pissed' ...

The Manager, upon noticing Fay 'obviously drunk', went over to her and asked her to leave. She did not oblige at first. He went away to attend to other business. When he returned to the public bar a short time later, he observed Fay still there. He again asked her to leave and she did.'

Fay once again bought take-away liquor and consumed it with several

others in the park. She repeated this behaviour again. (Both times six bottles of

beer and a flagon of port were purchased.)

At about 2 pm, Fay and the others set out again for PCs. Fay shouted Jimmy and Darrel some beers. Fay's younger sister, Carmel, arrived and sat and talked with Fay for a while ... Carmel noticed Fay drinking beer and was 'drunk but she wasn't sick and she didn' t complain about feeling crook' ...

Another friend came over and had a talk and a drink with Fay whom she had not seen for about a month. Shirley arrived back at PC and Fay shouted her a 'pot' before she, Shirley, went and sat on her own. By this time Shirley observed that Fay was so drunk that she 'couldn't hardly walk'. Shortly before 2.30 pm, Fay was drunk and 'carrying on real stupid' ... Darrel and Fay

then started swearing and yelling at one another. The bar-person working behind the public bar ... went over to Fay and asked her to leave. Fay swore at him. Jimmy intervened and told the bar­ person to go away and he would take care of Fay. The bar­ person left Fay and returned behind the bar ...

Fay then struggled to get up from her chair by herself but fell back down . Jimmy or Darrel then assisted her up and she staggered un-aided towards the front door leading on to Wickham Street. Darrel followed and as she approached the partition immediately inside the door, she fell backwards striking

her head on the floor. She lay there motionless appearing to be unconscious for '10-20 seconds' before Jimmy went over to assist her. He revived her by putting some cold water on her face. Daisy assisted Fay up from the floor, walked her outside

onto the footpath and sat her down alone on a bench located about 10 metres away from the entrance to the public bar. Doreen went out the front and asked Fay if she was alright? Fay said: 'Yeah sister, /'mall right' .


Fay Yarrie's sister, Barbara Yarrie was also a victim of deaths in

custody. She too came to live a drinking lifestyle in Brisbane. The following

notes are reconstructed from information provided to me by the Commission:-She was considered to be a 'drone· , a term used by members of Brisbane's Aboriginal community to describe homeless Aboriginals who slept out in the parks and drank excessively.

The 'drones' were in the habit of sharing their food, money and alcohol. Community members regarded her as being one of the 'Mulinjali mob', a reference to her father's tribe who came from the Beaudesert district. There were approximately twelve people who regarded themselves as being part of the mob. Most were

'drones' who were blood-related .. .

Alcohol dominated her life to such an extent that she spent most of her days either intoxicated or looking for alcohol. All of her money was spent on alcohol and invariably she was penniless on the same day that she received her Social Security cheque. When she had no money she still had access to alcohol through family, friends and fellow 'drones' .

She frequented Fortitude Valley's Prince Consort Hotel and other inner suburban hotels such as the Paddington Tavern, The Sportsman, The Normanby and Newmarket Hotels. She mainly drank flagons of port wine and casks of moselle. She resorted to drinking methylated spirits when she had no access to alcohol from fellow 'drones' or White 'captains' ... Barbara's 'captains'

were mainly White males who provided her with money and alcohol in return for sexual favours. Barbara had resorted to this practice when she was only sixteen years old.

Her need for alcohol and her association with White 'captains' were constant sources of friction in her relationship with her boyfriend. Barbara's sister ... described their relationship as a violent one. Barbara would be bashed at least once a week after

arguments occurred over money, gambling and alcohol. Her boyfriend admitted assaulting Barbara once every couple of months because of her involvement with the 'captains' however, he denied that the assaults occurred in the last few years of their relationship as he realised that it was pointless trying to prevent her from associating with them.

Although her brother and sister portray Barbara as a carefree and 'happy go lucky' person, their assessment is questionable and superficial. Her soul was tormented by a pain that she was never able to express. One can only speculate on the sources and origins of her pain and torment. She sought solace from alcohol to quell the pain and in the process she developed a dependency on alcohol that dominated every facet of her life .


Both Barbara and Fay Y arrie were taken into custody very intoxicated on

the respective days of their deaths. Barbara Yarrie mixed in the same circles as

Pilot, and the two had a brief relationship when she was 17. When Pilot of

Cherbourg first began residing in Brisbane in circa 1980, he and a drinking

companion withdrew from the inner city lifestyle by taking train excursions to

Shomcliffe where they swam in the sea and subsisted on fish, camping out-of­

doors. The only drawback mentioned with this lifestyle was the rough treatment

at times from the local police who it seems were not anxious to encourage

Aboriginal campers in their quiet suburb.

In the period 1982-86, Pilot lived in a defacto relationship with a

partially blind Aboriginal woman, residing for part of this time at Opal House.

Pilot's lifestyle was relatively stable during this period but nevertheless in 1983

he was reported to consume two flagons of wine per day. After this relationship

was terminated by his violence towards his partner, he became a hardened

alcoholic, a member of the 'Musgrave Park mob', a 'goomie' drinking metho in

the park daily, as well as at other well known venues, e.g. King George Square,

Albert Park, Botanical Gardens and on the river bank at South Brisbane. At

night he often slept in these parks or in abandoned premises, or found refuge at

St Vincent de Paul. During this period of street existence Pilot contracted

pneumonia, hepatitis and syphillis and was regularly with the delirium tremors.

At the time of writing, a recent Brisbane newspaper report, described a

group of about 30 Aboriginals as the 'Valley Drones' who were squatting in a

dilapidated unoccupied furniture-less building in Fortitude Valley and leading a

heavy drinking lifestyle. Their ages ranged from 20 to 57 and many had come

from Cherbourg in search of city 'excitement'. Despite the alcoholic,

unhygienic, uncomfortable lifestyle, a leader of the group described his

companions as 'one big happy family' and said everybody was related and loved

living there. Nevertheless a quotation in the newspaper from one of the

company, indicates an underlying depression and despair, despite the security of



[One woman], 28, could not hold back the tears when describing her situation. She said she suffered from asthma and bronchitis and had been beaten repeatedly ... I love it here because it's the only place I got and when /' m with family I'm happy .. . We want

to stop the drink but we are addicted and it is killing us. We love the drink because it fixes us up and we got nowhere else to go ... /' ll stay here till/ die.

(Courier Mail, 28/04/90.)

Park drinking style in Brisbane is replicated in Rockhampton and

Townsville. For example Barney, prior to his apprehension and death had been

drinking at Anzac Park in Townsville. O'Rourke was raped by her drinking

companions in a Rockhampton park, three weeks prior to her death.

South-West Queensland Region

The South-West Queensland region takes in the rural town communities

of the contemporary Aboriginal population, as well as the river basins on which

their traditional lands lie. The tribal groups from this region include the Kunja,

Budjari, Kullilla, Wangkumara, Mardgany, Kunggara, Kooma and Muruwari

and they occupied the mid-reaches of Nebine Creek and the Warrego, Paroo,

Bulloo and Wilson Rivers (McKellar 1984:38). The frontier expanded into their

territories in the 1860s. The regional centre is now Cunnamulla and there are

small Aboriginal communities in Quilpie, Eulo, Thargomindah, Wyandra, and

Windorah. The Aboriginal population of Cunnamulla had risen to about 300 in

1981, in a total town population of some 1700 (McKellar 1981:61). Other

centres in the region had less than 100 Aboriginal residents.

There is social interaction of any consistency between the

Cunnamulla Aboriginals and those of Charleville to the north. These latter

people have migrated south from the Central Highlands over the last 100 years,

some via Augathella. There is some contact with the Mitchell community further

east however, due to the migration there of some of the Nebine Creek groups.

Similarly to the north-west of the region there is negligible interaction with the

isolated pocket of Aboriginal people at Birdsville and Bedourie. They are


oriented down the Birdsville track and travel more frequently to Port Augusta


The Wangkumara from the western edge of the region moved south

across the border in the early 1920s to Tibooburra. They were then moved by

the NSW Aboriginal Welfare Board to Brewarrina in the 1930s, and thence

many went to Bourke. Some Kunja tribespeople from immediately south of

Cunnamulla migrated from Tinnenburra to Enngonia in the 1930s and then on to

Bourke. There are thus strong social links from the Queensland side of the

region to Bourke and Enngonia in NSW. Bourke is also a destination for

seasonal agricultural work. Oose links between the Kunja and Murawari people

have also been retained over the years with a result that Goodooga in northern

NSW is also considered to be part of the 'beat' of the people in this south-west

region. Relatives also reside in Toowoomba and Oakey, having moved there to

obtain employment in the early 1970s. This migration did not extend to Brisbane

due to the preference for a countrified residential setting.

Removals have also played a role in dispersing kin away from this

region. In 1898-1902, Queensland Aboriginal Protectors visited the south-west

and removed a number of Aboriginals to coastal reserves from Thargomindah,

Cunnamulla and cattle stations in Mardgany tribal land (north-west of

Cunnamulla). A second major removal occurred in the early 1940s, recalled by

Hazel McKellar (1984:59, 61):

In the early 1940s a large group ofwomen, children and old people were removed from Nockatunga. Two cattle trucks were sent out from Cunnamulla to round everyone up and take them to the train at Cunnamulla .. Meanwhile back at Nockatunga, the men who had been out working all day came home and found the

camp deserted. There were no messages left - all they saw were the marks of the tyres. The men were not sent away because it was war time and there was a shortage of labour. This sudden moving of the women, children and old people was indeed a great insult by the Queensland Government. One can only imagine how the men must have felt on returning to their camp­ no camp fires, just a vast emptiness in the camp and their hearts. This spelt the end of Kullilla and also Wangkumara tribal traditions.


McKellar mentions (1984:22, 37, 38) other individuals being removed

from time to time in the first half of the century. One example is the deaths in

custody victim Pilot, who was born in Quilpie in 1953 and went to Cherbourg as

a child. Many of the descendants of these people who were removed are today

to be found at Cherbourg and Woorabinda, and the corresponding large regional

centres of Rockhampton and Brisbane. An example worthy of attention is that of

the family of deaths in custody victim Patrick Booth.

Case of the Booth family

Booth's paternal grandfather was born on Nockatunga Station on the

Wilson River in South-West Queensland. This station lies in Kullilla country,

and it seems that Booth was patrilineally descended from this group. Booth's

grandfather and family were removed to Cherbourg in 1930 because he 'refused

to sign a work agreement and for the benefit of his family'. Booth's parents

married at Woorabinda in 1963. The Booth family left Central Queensland in

early 1971, the year of Booth's birth, and reactivated kinship links on the

Darling River basin.

Descendants of the Kullilla had interspersed and inter-married with other

Aboriginal communities in northern NSW. The Booths joined some of these

relatives. They came to reside at the humpy settlement on the Bourke Aboriginal

Reserve, and members of their family were to stay intermittently at other places

in this region such as Byrock, Wee Waa (Tulladunna camping area-another

humpy settlement), Goodooga. The children (including Booth) were eventually

placed in the care of a great aunt and uncle on the Bourke Reserve, due to

Mr Booth's heavy drinking, his marriage break-up, and Mrs Booth's

subsequent demise into drinking and poverty herself. Booth grew to age 11 in

the district (1983). Various members of the family then gravitated to Sydney and



Social organisation in Cunnamulla

During the 1930s, the combination of the depression and the breakup of

large holdings saw the beginning of Aboriginal migration to the fringes of towns

in the region. By the 1940s, three camps had been established on the outskirts

of Cunnamulla near the Warrego River. Division was along tribal or regional

affiliation. The northern camp on the west bank consisted of the Paroo and

Bulloo tribes from the west, whilst that on the east bank opposite, contained

Goodooga people (Murawari). The southern camp consisted of people from the

Nebine Creek area (the Kooma and others). (McKellar 1984:72,74.)

In 1960, a report by the Paroo Shire Council's Medical Officer

recommended a program for gradually disbanding the camps and assimilating

members into the town. No action was taken however. Then in 1968, Nancy

Young, a camp dweller was tried and convicted on a charge of manslaughter

after her four-month old child had died of malnutrition. A later review -of her !

case led to her being pardoned. As a result of this case, the town camp received

national attention on television. The local White population were portrayed

unfavourably. As a result, the State government began a program of building

houses for Aboriginal people in the town. Families progressively moved into the

new houses. By 1975, when the last families moved from the camp, 26 State­

owned houses had been built or acquired in Cunnamulla. (McKellar 1984:83,

Schultz 1977.)

The increased availability of housing catalysed a return of significant

numbers of Aboriginals from Bourke and Brewarrina in the mid 1970s, adding

to the White racist backlash and exacerbating the already high Aboriginal

unemployment. The houses were poorly designed for the needs of their

residents and were scattered throughout the town disrupting the functions and

identity of the town camp communities. An index of the racist tension in the

town was the lack of any interracial marriages for twenty years. (Schultz

1977:13, 14.)


The Cunnamulla Aboriginal population of the late 1970s consisted of

predominantly six principal descent groups or extended families, as well as

several more isolated families with only distant kinship ties to the others. The

geographic origins of the six main descent groups were:

(i) from the lower Warrego River, Kunja people (Tinenburra)

(ii) ditto, but with links to Murawari also (and hence to Goodooga),

(iii) Nebine Creek, Kooma people

(iv) from the vicinity of Cunnamulla itself,

(v) from between the Paroo and Bulloo .. . Budjari and Mardgany,

(vi) from the Bulloo ... Kullilla.

Group (iii) had over 100 members, groups (ii) and (iv) over 30 and the

others between 10 and 20. Strong family ties persist today. Family alliances are

visible at the levels of household interaction, funerals and fights, but this is

offset by family exogamy.

The dominant Aboriginal organization in Cunnamulla is the South-west

Aboriginal Housing Co-operative Society, established in 1973, and responsible

for purchasing houses. Membership of its board fluctuates between different

family factions who vie for power, although no one group has been able to

totally dominate. McKellar has stated that the women are really the most

powerful people in the community. They hold it together ... they are the ones

who get up and do something when it has to be done (Schultz 1977:14). The

AIU have noted during their travels for the Commission to communities all over

the State, that it is the senior women who are the most outspoken on social

issues, who run many of the organizations, and are most active in analyzing their

community's social position and problems.


Cultural Change at Cunnamulla

The oldest Aboriginal people at Cunnamulla in the 1980s possessed

memory knowledge of many traditional customs and sciences including such

things as languages, bush foods and medicines, midwifery, marriage laws,

environmental laws, geography, legends, male and female initiation rituals,

rainmaking rituals, 'smoking rituals', sorcery, family genealogies and tribal

origins of families, contact history and languages (McKellar 1984). Much of

this knowledge is no longer actively used, nor is it being transmitted to the

younger generations. However some important steps have been taken to start

reversing this trend in the 1980s, viz the teaching of Aboriginal culture and

history and the recording oflocal Aboriginal sites (McKellar 1981:62).

Nevertheless in the late 1970s, McKellar hjid noted that most of the

Aboriginal children had neither any concept of their own culture, nor any strong

sense of cultural identity. She lamented that since the dismantling of the camps,

children were no longer enculturated into a sharing ethic. Lack of self-respect,

lack of employment and alcoholism were observed to go hand in hand. (Schultz


Change in Social Organization, South-west region - Summary

The population of the South-West is largely derived from the original

tribes of the region, although there has been a lengthy history oflocal and wider

removalism and migrations of various sorts.

In the regional centre of Cunnamulla, between the late 1960s and early

1970s, the social organization transformed as the occupants of three fringe

camps who were divided on a tribal and regional basis, moved into town houses.

The sociospatial patterns, kinship networks and lifestyle autonomy of the camps

were somewhat disrupted. The Aboriginal population was then characterized by

six descent groups or extended families of distinct tribal and regional affiliation,

and of varying size (10 to 100+). These family units were visible at the levels of


household interactions, conflicts and funerals, whilst inter-marriage inter-linked

such units (family ·exogamy). Family leadership was largely in the hands of

women. As in other regions, the community housing co-operative is subject to

fluctuating factional control by different family alliances.

A loss of traditional identity systems is reported amongst the young

people of Cunnamulla. Traditional cultural elements are retained in the memory

knowledge of some older people but have not been transmitted to the younger

generations in any systematic or sustained manner since the upheaval of the town


Drinking style in rural towns

During the 1970s the social pattern of drinking involved congregating

consistently at one particular hotel. Cunnamulla has seven hotels and two clubs.

The 'Blackfella' pub has changed over time, there having been three consecutive

venues over the last 15 years.

In 1977, drunkenness was a regular offence as were obscene language,

resisting arrest and behaving in a disorderly manner. During a six month period

there were 278 convictions for drunkenness of which 221 were incurred by

Aboriginal people. About a quarter of these were women and it was reported

that the number of female problem drinkers had increased over a period of 20

years by 70% (13-40 year olds). On Friday night virtually all men in

Cunnamulla (black and White) drank at the hotels. (Schultz 1977:14,15.)

It seems that having the run of a particular hotel gives people the freedom

to engage in a preferred Aboriginal style of drinking and socializing in a

relatively unrestricted manner (much the same as at the Snakepit in Mt Isa).

Reciprocated shouting at hotels continues to revolve around the arrival of welfare

cheques at staggered times during each fortnight.

In more recent years this style has been augmented by more frequent

habitation of the other hotels in Cunnamulla due to the development of hotel-


sponsored football teams, most of which have a large proportion of Aboriginal

players. In fact participation in football and basketball are now principal modes

of enculturation of drinking style for young adults in Cunnamulla. Vigorous

drinking sprees occur at the various hotels after such sporting fixtures. Further

recent additions of drinking venues have resulted from the holding of late-night

discos in some hotels and the occurrence of after-hotel drinking parties in private

houses. Fighting at the 'Blackfella pub' is allegedly fairly contained compared to

the fights between Aboriginals and non-Aboriginals at the discos. Fights are

usually started by the women and spread to the men.

As in Mt Isa, there are distinct river-bank styles of drinking at

Cunnamulla. One group of men regularly procure a flagon or two of wine at

8.00 am from an unscrupulous publican and retreat to such a setting to become

intoxicated. Underage drinking is also rife and parties are held at the river when

young teenagers obtain money from parents on cheque days. In both cases,

these styles of drinking would not be tolerated in hotel settings.

Eckermann (1976) gives an indication of the intensity of drinking to be

found amongst the Aboriginal community of a small rural town in the southern

central inland region. In Mitchell, during the early 1970s, 45% of the adult

Aboriginal population drank to excess either every week-end or every pension

day. J;Ialf of these did so more than once a week. All of the men drank at

weekends which they saw as a time to get drunk and stay drunk. Eckermann

describes (1976:23) two periods of particularly heavy drinking at Mitchell during

Easter rodeo time and from early December to Christmas. 'During the Easter

Rodeo break a number of men and women drank so heavily that it took six

weeks of drinking, fighting and finally, total physical illness before they "swore

off the grog" again ... ' One of Eckermann's Aboriginal consultants explained

(1976:21) that many of the men who came in from bush employment drank out

of loneliness, and spent their money shouting other Aboriginals to 'buy friends' .

Eckermann also indicates (1976:22) that almost half of the men who got drunk

on a weekly basis were single and hoping to find female partners in the town



It was during holiday times at Mitchell that individuals were most likely

to 'bust' and 'go on a drunk'. Such individuals may have been weekend

drinkers, heavy drinkers, occasional drinkers, even, but more rarely tee-totallers.

Some women who rarely drank except with their husbands, 'busted' when there

was unusual family tension or financial problems, or when the monotony and

repetition of their lives became too much for them. This drinking style involved

continuous consumption of liquor, day and night without eating for a least

several days. (Eckermann 1976:22, 23.)

It is unclear how many of the deaths in custody victims were drinking in

rural town hotels prior to their deaths. Kulla Kulla is alleged to have become

drunk behind the Coen hotel. But it seems this was in a regular creek-side

setting in much the same style as river-bed drinking in Mt Isa or Cunnamulla.

Dunrobin and West were both detained in Cherbourg on the eve of their deaths

but may have each spent at least part of their day drinking at hotels in Murgon.

Tiers drank all night at a Rockhampton hotel before retiring to a motel with some

friends for a late night and early morning drinking session. Links between hotel

drinking style and deaths in custody are therefore not as strong as in the cases of

canteen style and outside drinking style.


This paper contains limited samples of data on Aboriginal social

organization in Queensland. These data are clearly not comparable in a fine­

grained sense, due to unevenness and differences in their types and properties,

arising largely from the differing interests of the researchers involved. What

then can be concluded from this overview of Aboriginal Queensland?

In the first place, what is clear is that despite the assimilationist policies

of the Department of Aboriginal and Islander Affairs there are widespread

localised Aboriginal communities scattered in most parts of the State. These are

not just confined to reserve or DOGIT communities. In many rural towns it

seems Aboriginal people have maintained a social distance and a distinct social


character, either because of the forces of discrimination, or because of their

substantial numbers in relation to the White population. Only in the regional

centre of Mt Isa with numerous suburbs and a White population of many

thousands has this overview detected effective processes of assimilation to have

been possible. It is hypothesized that similar patterns have occurred in other

large regional centres (Townsville, Brisbane) although such assimilation

processes may vary in relation to the severity of discriminatory practices.

In the second place, despite the diversity of histories of cultural change

in the State's communities, a distinct and shared pattern has emerged from this

survey concerning the transformation of modes of social organization in

communities. This pattern may have important implications for the maintenance

of social control. It can be characterized as follows.

(i) In a number of communities the following attributes are observable:

(a) the retention by older people of knowledge of their traditional land­

based social organization systems and associated forms of

leadership and authority; and

(b) the application of such knowledge in a variety of modes of

collective social action. This second aspect only appears to

continue in certain northern reserve communities which either have

been fortunate enough not to have incurred the strong forces of

change experienced in other areas, or which have been resilient to

such forces.

(ii) In many communities (reserve and rural), one finds the presence of

(i)(a), but not (i)(b). The removal of traditional elders (senior men in

control of land-based ritual and marriages) from the sphere of political

action occurred in reserve communities, as well as the dismantling of

values concerning adult responsibility for the socialization of children.

The destruction of these modes of social control has been further

exacerbated by the dispersal and mixing of traditional groupings. In


these communities, infonnal social action appears to proceed along

kinship lines. However the retention of bodies of traditional knowledge

appears to have occurred in many diverse parts of the State, even if such

knowledge is not being applied in the context of collective social action.

(iii) There appears to have been a failure by older people to transmit

systematically, their knowledge as defined in (i)(a), to younger people,

due to a complex of reasons which involve imposed changes, shifts of

values amongst the younger generations, and a resentment by old people

of the behaviour of youth.

(iv) Despite the process of (iii), there has been a retention and elaboration of

some selected cultural elements as components of individual and group

identity by all age groups in the communities examined.

In addition to these processes, there has, in the last two decades, also

occurred the establishment of new structures intended to be vehicles for

community-based action:-

(a) The establishment of councils in reserve communities by the State

government and missionaries, which are reported in many cases to lack

adequate resources and empowennent, and are at times noted to be not

representative of their constituent social groupings.

(b) The establishment of community-based co-operatives and associations in

non-reserve communities by the Commonwealth government, which

display family factionalism in many cases, also leading to an absence of

effective representativeness.

There are widespread reports of both of these structures (a) and (b) being

limited in the extent of their effectiveness to deal with community issues due to

their incongruence with the actual fonns of social organization present.


The reader should note that the above conclusions only deal with some

of the broader structures potentially capable of maintaining social control.



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