“The longest river in this country is called denial”

— Wiradjuri man from Central NSW on Invasion day, 26 January 2011, outside Queensland parliament.

Richard (Rain dancer) Saunders was killed in Ewing Park at Woodridge on 25 October 2008. More than 2 years later, on 8 February 2011 begins the murder trial of the accused.

The trial will be held in closed court.

Security at the pre-trial hearing today (7 Feb 2011) on the 3rd floor of the Queensland Supreme Court was tight. Not even pre-trial discussions were held in open court. The accused and their families were not present today. The only people in court were the judge, the lawyers and Department of Justice staff.

Only a few days before, on Invasion Day 2011, Rain dancer’s Uncle Wayne called for justice. Alice Saunders then called on the crowd outside parliament house to come to the court to give support to the family.

Call for Justice by Saunders family on Invasion Day 2011

Why has Supreme Court Judge Atkinson closed the court? Was it her decision? Could it be the chief justice De Jersey who ordered that the court be closed? De Jersey has made some bad judgments concerning Aboriginal people down through the years [see More Murris in Jail — killer cop runs free]

In the absence of any public explanation the decision implies that the people who support the Saunders family will somehow interfere with the court proceedings.

This is absurd. The court has treated, nay insulted, the family. They have endured a long hard wait for justice — through the funeral, police investigation, the coronial inquiry, the committal proceedings and the pre-trial period. Rain dancer’s family and friends have waited patiently for over two years for justice.

What other explanation could there be for closing the court? Does the court’s decision imply that Murri and non-indigenous supporters are violent? What effect will a closed court have on the jury? What will they think as they come and go into a courtroom empty of onlookers? The normal ebb and flow of people in the public gallery will be missing.

Tomorrow, when the jury is empanelled, the public will be again refused entry, only the trial judge, defence and prosecuting lawyers, court staff, the jury and the accused will be permitted entry.

The public can view the proceedings on the second floor in the Banco Court via a projector screen. The Banco Court is usually for ceremonial occasions. The court invites us begrudgingly to view the murder trial as a spectacle on closed circuit TV. The jury will never see the family of the victim. They will discharge their duty, cut off from the world, isolated in a room of lawyers alienated by the lens pointing at them.

If it is the court’s intention to separate the jury from the public gallery (and therefore the Saunders family and their supporters) then it has made a serious mistake. This mistake may arise from a lack of forethought and understanding by the officers of the court. Or perhaps they justice do not care.

The area where the public will assemble just outside the Banco Court is in full view of the jury marshalling area and the bailiffs who call out their numbers.

This is because the area outside the Banco court on the second floor is overlooked by a mezzanine at the George street end of the third floor.

It is here that the jury assembles awaiting to be called into court to be empanelled.

It is not as if aboriginal people and their supporters are strangers to injustice — especially in Queensland courts. Only a couple of years ago we witnessed the acquittal of Snr Sgt Hurley of the killing of Mulrunji. We saw Lex Wotton convicted by an all white jury and sent to prison for making a plea for justice for Mulrunji.

There is no justice, their land was stolen, we were told as kids at school the land was empty, no treaty was ever offered.

As I sat in the huge Banco court at the pre-trial hearing surrounded by the paintings of dour judges wearing wigs, I could only think how right that Wiradjuri man was when he said: “The longest river in this country is called denial”.

The trial commences at 10am Tuesday 8 Feb 2011 at the Supreme Court. The court building is on the corner of Adelaide and George Streets Brisbane.

Banco Court, 2nd Floor Supreme Court Building, Brisbane

One thought on ““The longest river in this country is called denial”

  1. Some points I left out in the above article.

    Firstly there is the intimidation felt by aboriginal witnesses in trials such as these. Without aboriginal support present the witnesses have a hard time. If the court is closed then that support is missing.

    Also I do not like the practice of the prosecution to give the occupation status of the aboriginal witnesses. The Prosecutor read out to the jury the names of potential witnesses in the trial and then said ‘unemployed’ to describe their employment status. This stereotypes the witness in the face of the jury. You would think the employment status of witnesses is irrelevant to the testimony they give.

    The court allowed four people from the Saunders family to be present at the trial. This is still not good enough. They have ample resources, a huge courtroom in the Banco court and security is everywhere. Why does the court still find it necessary to close the proceedings to the public? This is an insult from people living in ivory towers.

    I can’t see how putting Aboriginal people and members of the Samoan community in front of a screen in a lavish ceremonial court helps prevent shocking murders such at this. All the victims of crime volunteers and the community liaison officers can’t repair a system where social justice is incidental.

    Lastly I observed young children of the Samoan community in the Banco court yesterday. Surely a murder trial where there are horrific injuries to be described is no place for children. Perhaps the parents are unable to make other arrangments for the care of their children. If this is the case why can’t the court provide an activity area outside the courtroom for the children. This can not be an isolated instance where working class parents find themselves at court with no one able to look after their children.

    Ian Curr
    9 Feb 2011

What do you think about this article?