CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Aborigines and Police Clash in Australia's Palm Island

Australia Outraged over the death of Cameron Doomadgee, a 36 year-old Aboriginal man who died of a punctured lung sustained while in police custody, a mob of angry Australian Aborigines burned a police station and a court house on Friday November 26.  An autopsy showed that Doomadgee also had 4 broken ribs.  All of his injuries resulted from a scuffle between Doomadgee and the police while being escorted from a prison van on Palm Island, a Queensland State island off of the east coast of the state's mainland. 

Earlier this year, riots erupted in Sydney after Aborigines accused Sydney police of causing a young Aboriginal man's death.  The man fell off of his bicycle and was impaled on a fence as he was being chased by a Sydney police squad car.  More... [Mark Godsey]

International | Permalink


Right to 'Riot'
by mick lambe
December 01, 2004

Aboriginal man Cameron Doomadgee was killed in police custody, on the 19th November 2004, on Palm Island off the east coast of Townsville, Queensland, Australia.

Cameron was dead after only one and half hours in police custody.

The forensic pathologist found that 36-year-old Cameron Doomadgee died from a ruptured liver (spleen in other reports) and portal vein (intra-abdominal haemorrhage) as well as receiving four broken ribs and a punctured lung.

Queensland Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson stated that these horrific injuries occurred after a "scuffle" with arresting officer Senior-Sergeant Chris Hurley, as Cameron was being removed from a prison van.

"According to the police, Mr Doomadgee became violent while in the watch-house and was put in a cell. A short time later, he was found to be pale and had a weak pulse."

Another quote from the same SBS report on the 26th of November stated, "He died before ambulance officers were able to resuscitate him."

'Blaming the victim' -- Queensland Police style

Blame is easily (and often) levelled at the dead in such matters,( - - ) but Queensland Police Commissioner Atkinson's 'police-friendly' version of events is contradicted by "Islander Roy Branwell, who was in an adjoining cell when Doomadgee was locked up... (Mr Branwell) he saw police assaulting (Doomadgee) ...sitting on his chest punching him, and calling out "Have you had enough now Doomadgee, have you had enough?",7034,11512454%5E421,00.html

In the context of yet another black death in custody ( - - ) and a further example of the impunity police enjoy when involved in Aboriginal deaths, it is obvious why the people of Palm Island found the autopsy results unacceptable and responded as they did.

People's 'Response'

Hundreds of people mobilised and after a public meeting where doubts were raised about the Coroner's 'police- friendly' finding -- the island's police station, court house and police residences were torched to the ground.

Fred Chaney from Reconciliation Australia commented with great understatement, "...the riots illustrated how far Australia had to go in the reconciliation process."

Mr Chaney's question -- "How many Redferns do we have to have? How many Palm Islands... before we realise there is something drastically wrong?" -- does not take into account a far broader and longer history of Aboriginal oppression and resistance. Things became "drastically wrong" for Aboriginal people about two centuries ago.

The reality is this Fred. Angry responses ( - - ) and resentment of police control are universal amongst Aboriginal communities in Australia.

Rosina Norman a Palm Island councillor had this to say about the police on palm Island. "No one has a good relationship with the police here – no one"

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people have never ceded their land to invaders and in common with most human beings, resent being oppressed and marginalised.

Unlawful behaviour is not excusable

Mr Chaney (a former indigenous affairs minister in the Fraser government) takes the line that "unlawful behaviour" is not "excusable" but fails to suggest how else the Palm Island people could have responded.

As a response to the "unlawful behaviour" of the two centuries of invasion and social control responsible for these police-custodial deaths of Aboriginal people, the Palm Islander's 'reply' to the autopsy results was eloquent and effective.

..."NIC(k)-off from Palm Island"

At least Mr Chaney realises that community representation is essential and that the people's response was "understandable". These are opinions shared by most people who view Aboriginal matters from a social/justice perspective and entirely isolate the National Indigenous Council - NIC. ( - - ) The 14 aboriginal people appointed by the Prime Minister to 'manage' indigenous affairs who have been dubbed the "PM's blacks". ( - -)

The 'NIC(k)-off' camp is far more pluralistic than the economic/political interests that attacked the Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC). ( - - ) "The greatest value to be achieved by such agreements, which must be implemented without causing new injustices, is respect for the dignity and growth of the human person."- Pope John Paul II, 1986. -

The people of Palm Island have made it clear they will not tolerate any more interference in their affairs and have no faith in the institutions that continue to abuse their rights on the basis of 'race'.

"Townsville resident Carl Wyles says people have lost faith in the legal system and do not believe Mr Doomadgee's death will be properly investigated.

"All Aboriginal people know the court process is a sham," he said."


Some history of this continuing 'social neglect...'

Extracts -

"Government refusal ever to adequately fund missions and settlements made life
precarious for the thousands of people removed 'for their own good' into government 'care and protection'. In the 1930s on the government settlement of Palm Island the death rate was over 6%, with most of the ill and elderly slowly starving to death.

Rations at the hospital were so meagre that the matron illegally took money from patients' bank accounts to buy food. A visiting doctor reported that most babies who were not breast fed died from malnutrition; his demands that rations be trebled and fruit juice provided to children were rejected by the superintendent as too costly.

A 1960s medical survey of conditions on missions and settlements revealed that
malnutrition was the key factor in deaths of 50% of children under three and 85%
of children under four; and half of all neonatal deaths and 47% of all deaths under sixteen years were from gastroenteritis or pneumonia, or both.

In the 1970s at Palm Island there were 165 homes for 1300 people - most lacked
fridges, cupboards or beds, and the store routinely ran out of milk and fresh food.

The substandard living conditions were blamed for the massive infection loads of
inmates. During a deadly epidemic of gastroenteritis and salmonella caused by
malnutrition, the clinic registered 75% of child outpatients as severely underweight.

Parents petitioned parliament saying they could not feed their families on 58% of the basic wage.

In the 1980s, when the government handed control of communities to Aboriginal
councils, houses at Woorabinda still had wood stoves and cold water, with the
majority described as in 'dire need of repair'; families at Pormpurraw and
Palm Island were still living in condemned houses because nothing else was available." Work and Wages - National Perspectives -- Dr Rosalind Kid -- Delivered at the University of Adelaide, April 2003

... and a rebuttal to most 'Australians'...

Australian Journalist Questions ‘Stolen Generation’
By Ian S. McIntosh

"Still in existence in Queensland Government filing cabinets are two large bound
volumes from the 1897 to 1970s period which describe, in horrifying detail, the
removal of nation after nation of Aborigines from central Queensland to government reserves including Cherbourg, Woorabinda, and Palm Island, where they would live out their ‘life sentence’ at the pleasure of the director of the department of Aboriginal Affairs.

The tragic story of Aboriginal removal in Queensland, as in other Australian states, is a story not fully appreciated by the general public and people like Bolt. The magnitude of the offence is almost incalculable. The reasons for the removal in the first instance are flimsy and not defendable. Next to a scrawled name in the ledger will be a few short words like: Immoral, or Heavy Drinker, or A Threat To Himself – Sent to Palm Island. And the list includes entire Aboriginal populations, one name after another, man, woman, and child.

This practice broke up families. No-one was spared. Go to the outback towns of Barcaldine,or Alpha, or even Richmond, and ask what happened to the traditional owners. Where are they?

Palm Islanders have nowadays acquired a new local identity, born of the amalgamation of peoples from the four corners of the state, largely because a considerable number of residents did not know where their homeland was located, or even who there parents were."


Return to 'integration'

Integration: the mid-1960s to 1972. "Integration did not suggest the loss of an individual's identity and original language and culture. The Liberal-Country Party effectively ended the 'White Australia' policy in 1966 by permitting the migration of 'distinguished' non-Europeans."

Multiculturalism: from 1972. By 1973, the term 'multiculturalism' had been introduced and minority groups were forming state and national associations to promote the survival of their language and heritage within mainstream institutions.

Australia - March 28, 2002

"Watching events unfold with some sense of vindication was former Aboriginal affairs minister John Herron. While Mr Ruddock said in his announcement "I am not about separateness, I am about inclusiveness", Mr Herron went further.

In a comment that may illustrate the extent of the Howard Government's agenda, he said the "old shibboleths of self-determination" were now recognised to have failed, and "it really has to come down to integration".

"The next phase should be integration," he said. "Giving Aboriginal people the opportunity for education and then allowing them to integrate as part of a unified Australian society, rather than talk about self-determination. That has failed."

As Aboriginal activist, Murrandoo Yanner, stated recently about NIC and the constant attacks on Aboriginal self-determination - "Basically, it is about paternalism, having a great white god watching over us and teaching us to wipe our kids' noses." -

Latest Police theory,4057,11551428%5E952,00.html

A theory has been advanced in the Courier mail (December 01) by Queensland police, that Cameron Doomadgee suffered two broken ribs when hit by a car 48 hours before his death in police custody.

"Police are investigating the claim... (and say it has) ...the potential to become crucial evidence".

The Courier Mail's headline - 'Island man broke ribs in car crash' - is misleading because the claim is unsubstantiated...

"The alleged car accident was not reported to police or medical staff on the island... (and Doomadgee's) family have denied any knowledge of an accident."

(Police now say "a family member" provided this information. The Age - December 02)

Even if true -- (and Police have been branded "liars" - regarding the car crash allegation (NT News December 02). How this helps the Queensland Police cause is a mystery, given the extent of Cameron's injuries...

...a ruptured liver, spleen and portal vein (intra-abdominal haemorrhage) as well as four broken ribs and a punctured lung?

These are not injuries that inspire song, the reason police arrested Cameron for causing a "public nuisance".

More of the same

The police suppressing facts about the response and performance of ambulance officers...

- On December 1st, the Courier Mail reported that a "Queensland Ambulance Service spokeswoman said only police could say if ambulance officers had been called to treat Doomadgee at the watchhouse, and police have declined to comment until a Crime and Misconduct Commission probe is complete." -,4057,11551428%5E952,00.html

...while releasing an unsubstantiated claim in mid-investigation to the press, is inconsistent with the Queensland police's aggressive assertions of there being "no evidence of impropriety on the part of the arresting officers."

These tactics parallel police behaviour at Redfern, ( - - ) Port Keats, ( - - ) ad infinitum... similarities that should be of far more interest to the media, than the uniformity of recent responses by Aboriginal people to the deaths of their people in police custody.

These recurring themes, both Police and Aboriginal, are clear evidence of systemic racism in Australia.

Tangled web of spin

The real dilemma this 'theory' presents for the Queensland police is its inherent challenge to the police-friendly autopsy finding of Cameron's death being an "accident... (and one) ...consistent with a fall on the police station's concrete steps."

Clearly the police believe that the Coroner may have been unable to detect and distinquish a previous trauma, 'inconsistent' with (an accidental) "...fall on the police station's concrete steps."

If the Queensland Police have no faith in the Coroner's ability and findings, why should the people of Palm Island?

Cameron Doomadgee was killed by the actions/inactions of the Queensland police, while in their custody and that is an undeniable fact.

What next from the Queensland police?

A suicide note?

Posted by: mick lambe | Feb 4, 2005 8:30:24 PM

Hi, just thought you might like to investigate my evidence of the degree to which the whole situation could prove that Native rule by Shari'ah (which was prevalent before invasion here in Australia) will be the inevitable victor.

The Mulrunji (the dead one) case is a case to point, and exists in a state in which police can arrest a man for "hesitating with intent to loiter", although the government prefers to try to make out that the arrest was by cause of the "public drunkeness" ruling. Already some Aboriginal owned land has legally ceded soveriegnty over similar matters as the Palm Island one.

As well as the url named which is a weblog with a draft essay in it written partly in language designed for the Indigenous community, there is another url in which there is a letter already made which is evidence. It is written to the professionals involved in a court case which is underway already. The whole of my blogs in respect of these matters are written within a system of allegory being used as the mental mechanism by which reality is comprehended, as that is the way of our culture in Islam.

I only happened across this blog quite by coincidence while seeking another url through a search engine/web crawler. But it is that I am needing to commence a bit of research in respect of the field of medico-legal reporting insurance, so I may try to use the links through your blog to see what, if any matter, is already surfacing in that area of legal consequence. Australia is yards behind North America in many respects of the preparatory work for social change, but on the ground the conditions which demand social change and can afford the risks of, are more prevalent.

The lawyer in the Mulrunji case is named Roe and posts at the Brisbane Institue, what ever they are. I expect it is somewhat of a set up, to put a face of social justice upon a degrading law case in which no lawyer here who is as stable in public identity as Roe would be risking their reputations on taking up the case. So check the Brisbane Institue web site for suicide notes rather than my blogs please. The justiceforthedeadone.blogspot url was made in a great hurry late last night and I might include a link there to this blog if that is good for you, let me know if you would like it removed,

Thankyou for reading this commentary. waram

Posted by: Rebekah Copas | Nov 16, 2006 7:54:26 AM


I sent you a comment in which I spelt the name of the Palm Islanders Legal rep wrong

But am delayed here sending this by another spelling error? What is going on?

Andrew Boe is the solicitor and actually . . .
but to stay in practise here . . .

Posted by: Rebekah Copas | Nov 16, 2006 11:39:21 AM

What the.... is wrong with us...?
I have spent the last hour in my limited computer literate life trying to find somewhere to express my sadness and anger towards the recent Qld Government's so called "legal justice system" and their decision regarding the young man from Palm Island called Mulrunji.
Bless his family and community because I am ashamed today to be a white Australian living in Queensland. I had tears watching the news and my 4 year old son asked why I was crying and I told him that a Police Officer hurt a person and that person died. My son is shattered...he thought Police are there for everyone. Is'nt my son lucky he is white, blue-eyed and blonde. ?


Posted by: tina | Dec 15, 2006 3:34:57 AM

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