Medical authorities refuse to attend dying man in Yuendumu

Warning: Some of the people in this story have passed away, murdered by a corrupt and racist system.

Into whatever homes I go, I will enter them for the benefit of the sick, avoiding any voluntary act of impropriety or corruption … ” – Hippocratic Oath (Ορκος) taken by all doctors.

The recent death in custody of Kumunjayi, a Warlpiri teenager, resulting in a murder charge against a police officer is a sorry indictment of police but also of medical authorities. Take for example the failure of medical staff to attend to the young man while he was still alive, wounded by police bullets. Reports say the royal doctors flying service and other medical staff would not attend to assist the young man shot citing safety as the reason.

  • The Royal Flying Doctors Service received a brief initial report of a gunshot wound in Yuendumu at 7:45pm
  • The aeromedical team had still not departed at 9pm, when the service was told Kumanjayi Walker had died
  • The Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance NT is calling for an investigation into the evacuation of local health clinics and the aborted aircraft response

Given the urgency why did it take yet another half an hour for a formal request for an airlift to be made to the RFDS by the Northern Territory Government’s Medical Retrieval and Consultation Centre.

In what context was the refusal to attend made? What is/are the relationship(s) between  police and medical staff in Yuendumu?

The NT Health Department spokesperson claimed two clinic workers from Yuelamu who arrived in Yuendumu after the shooting on Saturday night “were injured in community unrest” but did not give any details about what happened. The department did not explain why it closed the Yuendumu clinic.

Are some of nurses at the Yuendumu married to police?

Is closure of the Yuendumu medical clinic atypical or is it a recurring pattern?

Why are the Yuendumu clinic hours abysmal, why do patients have to ring Mparntwe/Alice Springs (300 kms away) after hours?

In response, why do authorities call the nurses at Yuendumu to attend (or not) to medical emergencies?

Given Constable Zach Rolfe fired three bullets into Kumunjayi’s body why didn’t medical staff attend to Kumunjayi’s wounds when asked?

In 2004, during a similar murder-in-custody on Palm Island, Mulrunji was left to die unaided in his cell while police heard Mulrunji’s death throes on the video monitoring system. As a result of this indifferent behaviour, coroner Christine Clements made the following observations in October 2006:

“There is clear evidence that this (the pleas from Mulrunji) must have been able to be heard from the police station dayroom where the monitor was running.

Indeed the timing of Senior Sergeant Hurley’s visit to the cell suggests that the sounds were heard.

But the response was completely inadequate and offered no proper review of Mulrunji’s condition or call for medical attention.” (See page 26 of  “Finding of Inquest”).

Reports say the Walker family and broader Yuendumu community welcome the murder charge against the police officer, but they maintain it is not enough.

The demands of the community are for comprehensive justice including an independent investigation, a coronial inquest to take place in Yuendumu, for 24-hour medical staffing in the community, no police for at least one year and alternative community policing such as Night Patrol.

Sadly it is a typical response reminiscent of the state of emergency declared by Premier Peter Beattie after Mulrunji had been murdered by police officer Chris Hurley on Palm Island in 2004.

On Wednesday 13 Nov 2019, Constable Zachary Rolfe was charged with the murder of Kumanjayi Walker. The 28-year-old police officer was granted bail in an out-of-session court hearing. He has been suspended on pay, to appear in an Alice Springs court on December 19, 2019. You can easily guess the defence to be run by police: there was no premeditation to commit the crime because constable Rolfe did not engage in any action of planning beforehand: there was no intent.

Ian Curr
15 November 2019

7 thoughts on “Medical authorities refuse to attend dying man in Yuendumu

  1. Harry Jakamarra Nelson, senior Warlpiri man says:

    We are hurting and in shock from one of our young men being killed by the police. It was a funeral day, too. Everybody else in the community was at the cemetery. The coppers seen no one around, and that’s when they moved in, to his grandmother’s house. Absolute mongrels.

    Hundreds of us waited at the police station that night where they were keeping that young man in the cells. I don’t know what they were doing with him. The community leaders and even our Aboriginal police officer were not allowed in, we were given no respect at all.

    They expected our young people to riot that night. But they kept their cool and followed our lead. I am very happy with what the young people have done, getting the truth out.

    Now there are police everywhere in our community. We want them gone. They have been passing messages to all the white staff working here – “You better leave, you are unsafe here.”

    What rubbish – they are spreading propaganda. We will be driving into Alice Springs and taking to the streets. I encourage people all around the country to take to the streets as well. We are happy to hear there are lots of rallies planned. We have lots of our people coming into town. People are coming from Tennant Creek, there are Pitlands mob. People coming from everywhere…

    To all the people coming along to protest – I want to say thank you from my people. This is unreal. The Intervention has a lot to do with this, it has set us right back. The last time Warlpiri people were shot like this was 90 years ago, with the Coniston massacre.

    We are hurting. There is no fairness, honesty or respect.

  2. Marly Wells Naparngardi, Warlpiri woman says:

    When I first heard what had happened, I immediately felt outraged, and betrayed, but most of all, I felt sad.

    We came on Sunday morning to stand together in our grief and were presented with smirking police officers and no answers.

    Two mounted police attempted to bring their horses closer – an intimidation tactic. Someone requested them to leave and I heard one of the officers say, “If you had any respect for the horse’s life you would stop waving the cardboard in its face. He doesn’t like it. You’re intimidating him.”

    How dare someone who works for an organisation that attacks, and creates and causes harm, and kills people try to tell a peaceful protester they are intimidating. If you had any respect for human beings, if you had any respect for the traditional owners of this land, if you had any respect at all you would be questioning the systems in place – the systems you benefit from, the systems that keep Aboriginal people down.

    I work in a school. We encourage all of our children to be strong, and to be smart, and to be proud of who they are and where they come from. But are we just raising them to be disappointed, and betrayed?

    I don’t want to live in a world where we have to ask if our nieces and nephews will be next. Our brothers and sisters?

    What has happened in Yuendumu is an outrage, an injustice, and an event that we must not allow to be swept under the rug.


    I don’t know how to trust the systems that have been set up for us to fail. We are hurt. We are angry. We are suffering. We stay strong and we stay together – but we should never again have to be connected by grief like this.

    Thank you for being here. I hope we never have to meet under these conditions again.

  3. Valerie Napaljarri Martin, senior Warlpiri woman says:

    What they done is really bad. We need help and support. We need truth and justice. We aren’t running around with weapons. We want justice for what they done, being shot in front of the mother and wife.

    Our black lives matter. It’s gone beyond too far. This is really happening to our people.

    They could’ve waited for us to finish the funeral. That was his full uncle being buried. Imagine, already in custody, dead on the scene. In front of family.

    We are suffering. The whole community. They gonna take our kids away now. We are very concerned for our young people now.

    They should leave. The police are putting lies against us. We want the truth out to the nation.

  4. Ned Jampijinpa Hargraves, senior Warlpiri man says:

    Yuendumu right now is really sad and devastated. We have lost a beautiful young fella and the family here is not happy. They are really sad.

    We are sorry in Yuendumu and we are really angry with police. This kardiya [whitefella] has lots of questions to answer. The policemen were giving us no information.

    That policeman who shot him, they took him to the police station and they evacuated all the health workers. They shot him in front of wife and family, and then they take him to police station. Policeman is not qualified to look after him.

    We want answers and justice.

  5. Nurses ordered to leave says:

    Nurses did not want to leave but where ordered to by Health department authorities under new directives since a nurse was killed in APY lands – Anon

    Comment: If true, that order doesn’t seem right to me especially taken in the context that the Walpiri people were sad and grieving. The ‘new health directive’ arose from different circumstances where a man on methamphetamines murdered a nurse in APY lands.

    Two mounted police attempted to bring their horses closer – an intimidation tactic. Someone requested them to leave and I heard one of the officers say, “If you had any respect for the horse’s life you would stop waving the cardboard in its face. He doesn’t like it. You’re intimidating him.” How dare someone who works for an organisation that attacks, and creates and causes harm, and kills people try to tell a peaceful protester they are intimidating. – Marly Wells Naparngardi

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