Friday, March 23, 2007

Jury clears four Palm Islanders of 'rioting'

Hamish Chitts, Brisbane

Photo: Palm Island by Kathy Newnam

Scenes of joy and relief erupted outside the Brisbane courts complex on March 21 after a Supreme Court jury cleared four Palm Islanders of charges of rioting causing destruction.

The four men — William Blackman, Dwayne Blanket, John Clumpoint and Lance Poynter — were part of a larger group of Aborigines on the island, 40 kilometres off Townsville, who besieged a police station on November 26, 2004, in protest against the death in police custody of Palm Island resident Mulrunji Doomadgee a week earlier.

During the protest, the island’s police station and courthouse were burned down, as was a police officer’s dwelling. Fire also destroyed a police car.

During the three-week trial, police witnesses had problems identifying individual islanders and evidence indicated that the fires had already been lit before the protesters arrived at the police station.

“I believe justice has been served today, not only for me and my three brothers but also for all Indigenous people”, Poynter said. “I praise the jury for that.”

Socialist Alliance lead Senate candidate and prominent Murri activist Sam Watson told Green Left Weekly that the jury’s verdict was a “wonderful moment” and a victory for the accused men, the Palm Island community and for all Indigenous Australians and their non-Indigenous supporters.

“This verdict represents a pivotal point in the campaign for achieving justice for Mulrunji”, Watson said.

Former police officer Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley has been charged with the manslaughter of Doomadgee and is scheduled to face trial in Townsville in June. Watson is calling on people to demand that the trial be heard in Brisbane.

In 2006, a survey found Townsville residents too racist to guarantee any Aborigine a fair trial. “Townsville’s white community is on par with Alabama’s hateful and racist white community in the 1960s”, Watson said, adding that Murri people have more confidence in justice being delivered by a Brisbane jury.

Watson is also demanding a full judicial inquiry into the actions of police on Palm Island from November 2004 up to the present day. Of particular concern was the heavy handed response days after the “riot” when masked, unidentified squads of police kicked in islanders’ doors and forced children as young as four to lie face down on the ground with the laser targeting devices of police weapons trained on their heads. “Each officer must be investigated and answer for their actions”, said Watson.

Lex Wotton, accused by police of being the “riot ringleader”, pleaded guilty to rioting with destruction earlier this month and is awaiting sentencing. On March 21, he indicated through his legal team that he now wants to withdraw his guilty plea and face a jury trial.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Modern day Dreamtime fable

Hamish Chitts

The Mack
Written by Sam Watson
Directed by Ian Brown
Judith Wright Centre for the Performing Arts, Brisbane
Until March 31
For tickets & information phone (07) 3872 9000

An angry, resentful Murri man in a wheelchair, a hate filled policeman dedicated to destroying the Macks, a woman unhinged and a powerful, deadly sorcerer who comes hunting — The Mack is a play like no other.

Set in inner-city Brisbane, this powerful play, written by leading Murri activist and Socialist Alliance Senate candidate Sam Watson, tells the story of Peacey, who is confined to a wheelchair after a car accident in which his older brother was killed. His father, Bullocky, must place his hand upon the shoulder of the man in the family who will succeed him as the Mack. That man, unquestioned and unchallenged, will be the leader of the family and his community.

Now Bullocky is waiting for Peacey to step up to the mark and claim that mantle that is rightfully his. Time is pressing, he and Nanna must return to the tribal country and “walk the line” to safeguard the sacred sites. But before he can go, Bullocky knows that he must ensure the succession and stabilise his family network.

Peacey, who doubts his ability to lead because of his confinement to a wheelchair, is also feeling tension from the spirit world. The car accident happened after he visited a sacred site with his brother and his brother’s girlfriend Birdie and now a spirit man hunts both Peacey and Birdie. Birdie, who can’t accept her boyfriend’s death and is haunted by the spirit man, has been placed in an institution and it’s up to Peacey to look after her son Corowa. All the while Sergeant Davis is determined to bring the Mack family down and has his hateful gaze fixed firmly on young Corowa. Birdie must come out of the hospital, Corowa must be saved from prison and Peacey must become the man that they all knew he could be.

The Mack’s director Ian Brown believes, “Regardless of the reason you take your seat at this performance, you are engaging in a political act. Watson’s writing is rich with conflict; between traditions and contemporary urban existence; between Indigenous law and a subjugating European law; between tolerance and respect.” Watson says, “The Mack is written as a Murri Dreamtime fable set in the modern day — among bitumen and concrete, rather than red-soil country.”