Black Deaths in Custody — what have Australian governments ever done?

There’s a cold rain on the Autumn wind
A brother murdered in Sydney Town
Marrickville brother under supposed legal cover
In his home they gunned him down
We say oh oh oh oh oh ooooooh
Gunned him down
Sad river of tears
Two hundred years in the river of fear
Gunned him down
Kev Carmody


About 150 people rallied in Queens Park and then marched to parliament on 10th October 2006 tp present a petition of 1160 names to the Premier of Queensland, Peter Beattie.

At the gates of parliament house on Tuesday, 10 October 2006, after receiving a petition from eric-doomadgee-hands-beattie-petition-to-sack-and-charge-snr-sgt-hurley.JPGMulrunjie’s cousin, Alex Doomadgee, calling for the sacking and charging of Snr Sgt Hurley, Premier Beattie stated over the PA system:

“Many people said at the beginning (when Mulrunji died) that there would not be due process…I said at the time that the coroner would go through due process and the matter would be followed appropriately and that’s what has happened.” He had been briefed by his minders to offer condolences to the family; it was only as an afterthought that he offered these.

What is the ‘due process’ of which Beattie spoke? His reply to petitioners in a letter dated 31 October 2006, two years after the death of Mulrunjie:mulrunjie-petition-letter.jpg

“A high-level response team is currently undertaking an urgent assessment of recommendations of the Acting State Coroner’s report into this tragic death.”

In a year’s time will Beattie be hiding behind the unjust acquittal by a jury instructed by a judge of the doubt created by police, the police union, and the Premier?

What of the human rights of a man who went to buy a loaf of bread and a can of meat at the local shop on Palm Island only to find one of his Murri brothers being arrested by police. It was a Police Liaison Officer, Bengaroo, who was assisting Snr Sgt Hurley in this arrest.

Mulrunjie said what many aboriginal people have said: “What are you doing arresting a black fella?”

As Sam Watson told the crowd at the gates of parliament: “He was a healthy, fit man who had committed no crime.”

Within an hour Mulrunjie was on the floor of the police watchouse being punched by Snr Sgt Hurley so hard that he bled to death minutes after.

The Director of Public Prosecutions may now charge Hurley with manslaughter or murder. But it is very hard to prove guilt. Snr Sgt Hurley and his police backers have been trying to create doubt in the mind of the public.

But at the gates of parliament the murri protesters called out for “Justice!”

Sam Watson called out the names of those killed by police including:

  • John Pat, a boy of only 16 years, died in in the lockup of the Roebourne Police Station
  • Daniel Alfred Yock, seven police were involved in the killing of Daniel Yock, crash tackled in Musgrave Park on 7th November 1993. Not one police officer charged.
  • TJ Hickey chased by police and died without getting any assistance from police in attendance in Sydney.And so the list goes on.

It is likely that Snr Sgt Hurley will escape a guilty verdict even if he is charged with murder. Under Beattie’s ‘due process’, he will escape punishment for the killing of Mulrunjie. We may never know the deals that are being done behind closed doors by Warren Pitt and Peter Beattie. What interference have they had with the Director of Public Prosecutions [DPP] already?

Just look at the backroom deals Beattie did with the DPP over Dr Death — [Beattie scuttled Dr Death Deal – on the front-page of the AUSTRALIAN 12 October 2006].

Premier Beattie and former Attorney-General Lavarch have been wheeling and dealing with the Director of Public Prosecutions in the Dr Jayant Patel case. One of the women from the Bundaberg patient group, Beryl Crosby, said this about the government’s heartlessness about the victims of that surgeon on ABC Radio National AM on Thursday, 12 October 2006: “I mean we lost another patient the other day that passed away. I mean, we’ve got to deal with that tomorrow night. She only died a couple of days ago.”
You know, we’re dealing with deaths all the time and to think they may have made a political decision when the patients are still suffering and passing away has really devastated us.”

There is a lot of secrecy in the deals the government does with the DPP. These new magistrates (like the Mulrunji coroner, Christine Clements) that former attorney general, Matt Foley, appointed are causing the Beattie Labor government difficulty because they are making findings based on evidence not based on what the police say. What deals is the government cutting for Snr Sgt Hurley right now? For example, the people concerned with the deaths in custody need to know answers to these questions:

1. Whose idea was it for Snr Sgt Hurley to stand down on full pay?

2. Will the government orchestrate a resignation by Snr Sgt Hurley?

3. And with the DPP will the government do a kind of ‘plea bargain’ with Snr Sgt Hurley on the charges? [Plea bargains are illegal in Australia].

4. Or will the government refuse to allow the DPP to charge Hurley with the murder of Mulrunjie from the outset in favour of a lesser charge e.g manslaughter?

One thing may be certain, whatever Premier Beattie, Attorney General Lavarch, and the man that Beatiie refers to as ‘the responsible minister’ [Warren Pitt] do, the government will be covering-up big time.

And in doing so, the government will never have to explain why the political system failed Mulrunjie and the people of Palm Island — how ‘due process’ was corrupted by Senior police defended by senior politicians.

It is a shame upon senior public servants that have remained quiet for so long about this affair – knowing, as they do, that they would have been stood down straight away in the similar circumstances.

Teachers, nurses, doctors and public servants all would all have been stood down after far lesser allegations. And these public servants do not have the authority to hurt, mame and kill that police have.

Even under Beattie’s ‘due process’ many things that could have been done have not happened:

  1. There is a police internal unit that could have charged Hurley two years ago.
  2. The DPP could have charged him long before this.
  3. The police commissioner could have stood him down from day one in the same way as public servants would have been.

With Beattie’s claims at the gates of parliament, his government is saying that the Coroner’s findings produced the right result (if belated).

By what measure is this the right result? By white fella law? The voice of aboriginal people has been frozen out by this government. There is no longer even a minister dedicated solely to aboriginal affairs that there was in the Joh government. I remember in 1977 when that old racist Charlie Porter was the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs.

This Labor government has pandered to mining and tourism interests and forgotten about the land rights of the aboriginal people.

Native Title is a lie. What is native title without an economic base? Palm Island is a penal settlement in the same way it was in the Joh days and the times before that.

beattie-takes-away-petitions.JPGBeattie said that a delegation from the rally was welcome to come into parliament to speak with the ‘responsible minister’ Warren Pitt and himself. A voice from the crowd (Brian Laver) yelled out: “We are the delegation!”

Both Sam Watson and Alex Doomadgeee decline the offer. Sam Watson said that “we have our own community business to take care of…we are going to march back to Musgrave Park …how to plan the next stage of this campaign …”

In Queensland it is business as usual — Joh with a Beattie smile.

But Beattie did not smile [see photo oposite] yesterday in front of the gates of parliament after Eric Doomadgee handed him 1160 signatures calling for the sacking of Hurley and him to be charged with murder.

palm-island-demonstration-10-oct-2006-wide-angle.jpg“His memory and beauty, we carry beyond
How long….how long will these killings go on?
We carry in our hearts his dance and his song
For so long, so long, so long, long gone, beyond” — THE YOUNG DANCER IS DEAD by Kev Carmody about the police killing of Daniel Yock on November 7, 1993.


[A recording of the rally at the gates of parliament is on Ratbag radio @]


On Wednesday, 3 October 2006, coroner’s office published the acting-coroner’s findings on the death of Mulrunjie on Palm Island nearly two years ago.

The coroner’s report states that calls for help by Mulrunjie from the Palm Island watchouse cell could be heard by police in the adjoining room after he had been punched three times by Senior Sergeant Hurley, a policeman who is 6′7′’ tall (200.66cm).

The second and third matters raised by the family were that Mulrunji cried out for help from the cell after being fatally injured, and no help came. The images from the cell video tape of Mulrunji, writhing in pain as he lay dying on the cell floor, were shocking and terribly distressing to family and anyone who sat through that portion of the evidence. The sounds from the cell surveillance tape are unlikely to be forgotten by anyone who was in court and heard that tape played. There is clear evidence that this must have been able to be heard from the police station day-room where the monitor was running.(At page 32 of 35 of “Finding of inquest into the death of Mulrunji“)

No help came.

The coroner states at p26 of her “Finding of Inquest”:
I find that he did respond with physical force against Mulrunjie while Murunjie was still on the floor.

“I accept Roy Bramwell’s evidence to the extent that he saw Senior Sergeant Hurley leaning over Mulrunjie with his elbow going up and down three times. In particular I note that Roy Bramwell’s account to the police recorded on the re-enactment video occurred prior to the release of the autopsy information, whereas Senior Sergeant Hurley’s changed recollection and reconstruction of where he had fallen, occurred after he knew exactly what injury had caused Mulrunjie’s death.”

And at p28 of her finding she states:

“It is reprehensible that the detailed recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody should have to be referred to, so many years after the Royal Commission. The evidence is clear however that these recommendations are still apt and still ignored.”

Will someone refer back to this coroner’s findings in ten years time saying the same thing about another death in custody?

The statement by Hurley where he lied to accommodate the medical evidence in the second autopsy cannot be used in evidence against him on a murder charge under the existing law because he was obliged to give that evidence (s39 of the coroner’s act).
The coroner stated at p22 of her finding of inquest into the death of Mulrunjie:

“According to law those answers are not admissible against Senior Sergeant Hurley in any other proceedings except for the offence of perjury”

Mulrunjie had told the Police Liaison Officer that black fellas should not be arresting black fellas. Mulrunjie himself had never been arrested on Palm Island until he said the following words:

“hey Bengaroo (a Police Liasion Officer on Palm Island) you shouldn’t be doing this you’re a black fella yourself you shouldn’t be locking up black people

It is the system itself that is at fault.

The present government is trying to protect that system, their system, and they will not allow anyone else in to have a meaningful say.

Ian Curr
October 2006


More Reports

See Ted Riethmuller photos

3 thoughts on “Black Deaths in Custody — what have Australian governments ever done?

  1. From big things, big things grow says:

    BushTelegraph has received comment that those who rioted on Palm Island following the death have been charged tried and punished while no one has been charged with Mulrunjie’s killing.

    The comment was that the riot occurred because the people of Palm Island knew that a murder had occurred and was going to be covered up while the rest of Queensland was being spoon fed by senior police through the media details of:

    1) What a great bloke Hurley is and how he loved aborigines.
    2) The terrible ordeal Police were put through during the riot
    3) What a disreputable character Roy Bramwell (the witness to Hurley punching Mulrunjie) is.

    All of this occurring under the systemic corruption which allowed the same senior police who were acting and had acted with contemptuous and “reprehensible” disregard of the detailed recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody inquiry.

    “Bury the rag deep in your face
    For now’s the time for your tears. ” – Bob Dylan


    William Zanzinger killed poor Hattie Carroll
    With a cane that he twirled around his diamond ring finger
    At a Baltimore hotel society gath’rin’.
    And the cops were called in and his weapon took from him
    As they rode him in custody down to the station
    And booked William Zanzinger for first-degree murder.
    But you who philosophize disgrace and criticize all fears,
    Take the rag away from your face.
    Now ain’t the time for your tears.

    William Zanzinger, who at twenty-four years
    Owns a tobacco farm of six hundred acres
    With rich wealthy parents who provide and protect him
    And high office relations in the politics of Maryland,
    Reacted to his deed with a shrug of his shoulders
    And swear words and sneering, and his tongue it was snarling,
    In a matter of minutes on bail was out walking.
    But you who philosophize disgrace and criticize all fears,
    Take the rag away from your face.
    Now ain’t the time for your tears.

    Hattie Carroll was a maid of the kitchen.
    She was fifty-one years old and gave birth to ten children
    Who carried the dishes and took out the garbage
    And never sat once at the head of the table
    And didn’t even talk to the people at the table
    Who just cleaned up all the food from the table
    And emptied the ashtrays on a whole other level,
    Got killed by a blow, lay slain by a cane
    That sailed through the air and came down through the room,
    Doomed and determined to destroy all the gentle.
    And she never done nothing to William Zanzinger.
    But you who philosophize disgrace and criticize all fears,
    Take the rag away from your face.
    Now ain’t the time for your tears.

    In the courtroom of honor, the judge pounded his gavel
    To show that all’s equal and that the courts are on the level
    And that the strings in the books ain’t pulled and persuaded
    And that even the nobles get properly handled
    Once that the cops have chased after and caught ’em
    And that the ladder of law has no top and no bottom,
    Stared at the person who killed for no reason
    Who just happened to be feelin’ that way without warnin’.
    And he spoke through his cloak, most deep and distinguished,
    And handed out strongly, for penalty and repentance,
    William Zanzinger with a six-month sentence.
    Oh, but you who philosophize disgrace and criticize all fears,
    Bury the rag deep in your face
    For now’s the time for your tears.

    [ I think that both the melody and the lyrics by Dylan inspired “From Little Things Big Things Grow” by Kev Carmody & Paul Kelly]

    1. Two sides to every story says:

      Related to the comment above is the the death of the man who ‘inspired’ the song by Bob Dylan – Here is the story reprinted from the Times:
      William Zantzinger, inspiration for The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll, dies

      Compare the facts as told by Dylan and those described in the Times.

      Dylan: “William Zanzinger killed poor Hattie Carroll
      With a cane that he twirled around his diamond ring finger
      At a Baltimore hotel society gath’rin’.”

      Times: “A large man, he became aggressive, using a toy cane to hit several employees and insulting them racially. When Ms Carroll was too slow serving him a bourbon, he hit her, too. Hours later she collapsed, dying in hospital the following day.”

      Dylan: “She was fifty-one years old and gave birth to ten children…
      Got killed by a blow, lay slain by a cane
      That sailed through the air and came down through the room,”

      Times: “The real Hattie Carroll was black (although the song does not spell this out), a 51-year-old mother of 11 (not 10, as Dylan sang) who lived in Baltimore, was a pillar of her local church and suffered from heart problems.”

      Dylan: “And handed out strongly, for penalty and repentance,
      William Zanzinger with a six-month sentence.”

      Times: “He was charged with homicide, but this was reduced to manslaughter after the medical report came through citing the cause of death as a brain haemorrhage brought on by the stress of the incident. The lenient sentence was designed to keep Zantzinger out of state prison, where it was feared that the majority black prison population might turn on him.

      Dylan: “William Zanzinger, who at twenty-four years
      Owns a tobacco farm of six hundred acres
      With rich wealthy parents who provide and protect him”

      Times: “In the song, he owns a 600-acre tobacco farm with “rich wealthy parents who provide and protect him”. The reality was slightly less grand: Zantzinger worked on his land alongside black and white labourers.

      What the Times (and therefore the Australian) forget is that the song is a depiction of a political reality and uses a real story to convey that reality. So be careful all those literalists out there, Dylan songs may not be factually correct.

      Ian Curr
      December 2009

  2. In response to the title of the article. Palm Island finally has an alcohol diversion program. That is how many years after the Royal Commission recommended it and how many years after Hurley complained about the lack on Palm Island and how many years after Mulrunji’s death?

Please comment down below