The murder of Eddie Murray

2014 Sydney Rally for Eddie Murray, second from right the late Ray Jackson (Image: Tim Anderson - Facebook)

Gerry Georgatos The Stringer 15 June 2014

In my view, it is indisputable that Wee Waa police killed 21 year old Eddie Murray on June 12, 1981. In 1986, James Muirhead QC left the Federal Court as one of its Judges to assume a role as the Commissioner into the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody the next year. On October 29, 1982, Muirhead, who had presided over the trial of Lindy Chamberlain, sentenced Ms Chamberlain to life in prison.

The RCIADC is much referred in the presumption that it had the potential to be an instrument of change – but it was lame, par for the course, but the best that could be expected in the racist times that we still live in. Brutal police and prison officers were never brought to account, were never brought to the justice that just about every other citizen on the same body of evidence as was apparent against coppers and screws who have stepped out of line would be indicted with.

Eddie Murray was not arrested but detained under the NSW Intoxicated Persons Act. The coppers, one of them who killed him, said that they found Eddie Murray hanging in the police cell less than 100 minutes after he was first detained. But no other person was witness to this – including the ambulance officers who were called in. At the 1981 Coronial Inquest, the verdict was inconclusive – that Eddie "died at his own hand or the hand of person or persons unknown."

But counsel for the Murray family, Kevin Coorey said it better when he submitted to the Royal Commission in Aboriginal Deaths in Custody that Eddie "died at the hand of a police officer or police officers unknown."

Wee Waa Constable Rodney Fitzgerald was one of the three officers who took part in the detainment of Eddie. Three witnesses presented testimony towards this. I raise this because at the Coronial Inquest Mr Fitzgerald testified that he was not one of the officers present in detaining Eddie, he claimed he had been elsewhere in Wee Waa. But three witnesses were steadfast that he was one of the officers. His whereabouts remained an unresolved issue.

At the time, members of the Murray family, including father, Arthur Murray, "recalled conversations with Eddie in which he stated that he had been pressured and threatened by Constable Rodney Fitzgerald."

At the time, Wee Waa was in the heart of a belt of racism. Eddie’s father, Arthur, had copped a lot of racism, as had just about anyone Aboriginal in Wee Waa. Arthur had been a stalwart as a rights advocate for Wee Waa’s Aboriginal peoples, Aboriginal workers, especially the cotton-pickers who were being exploited by the town’s robber barons, and for the disadvantaged. Arthur pissed off the exploiters and the racists.

At the time of Eddie’s death, according to the 1981-82 Bureau of Crime Statistics report, the rate of detention of Aboriginal people in north-western NSW under the Intoxicated Persons Act was 93 times the overall State rate – astonishingly 1266 per 1000 of the Aboriginal population! They were being locked up around the clock.

The original post-mortem examinations by Dr Eric Mulvey have long disappeared – mysteriously so. They were therefore never presented to the Muirhead inquiry .

Former Wee Waa ambulance officer, Harold Lewis gave evidence that Wee Waa police did not call the ambulance service till after 3:30pm. But police records state the ambulance left with Eddie’s body at 3:10pm. This reminded me of the death of Roebourne’s John Pat two years later – where the coppers washed his body to cover up their crime. It is indeed fact that John Pat was bashed to death and it does not matter that an all-White jury acquitted the bastards.

If the coppers lied and indeed the ambulance officers are correct, then more than twenty minutes has never been accounted for. The clothes that Eddie died in, the clothes he was arrested in, the clothes that I believe he was bashed in, they disappeared. The family has long asked for his clothes. "Where are my brother’s clothes?"

They are ashes, burned. I do not believe I am wrong to hold this view.

A former NSW Health Department pathologist said to the Royal Commission that Dr Mulvey’s post-mortem report was "meagre, incompetent and inadequate." The Coroner’s report failed to evaluate obvious bruises and marks on parts of Eddie’s body other than his neck.

In 1988, Arthur Murray said that despite one year into the Royal Commission and evidence building up as to an unnatural hand by police officers in the death of his son, that no police officer had been pulled up on charges. Mr Murray left this earth a few years ago, with a broken heart, it is now 33 years later and no charges, one of the officers has now passed away.

Around the same time as Arthur’s comments, John Pat’s mother including in her statement to the RCIADC, "I don’t know what’s going to come out of the Royal Commission but I hope it makes everything better for Aboriginal people." In the meetings between us in recent years, Mavis said to me, "Nothing changed, the Royal Commission forgot us."

"The recommendations might have made a little difference but they have never been taken seriously by those who pretended to implement some of them."

2014 Sydney Rally (Image: Tim Anderson - Facebook)

16 year old John Pat tried to rescue his friend Ashley James from a brawl with a drunken off-duty copper. Because John tried to pull him out of the sway of fists from the cop who had chased down Ashley, having earlier said to Ashley, "I’ll get you, you black cunt", John Pat was bashed to death, torn aorta, battered to a pulp. That day in 1983, Roebourne became to Western Australia what two decades earlier Birmingham had become to Alabama. Five off-duty inebriated coppers laid into Aboriginal youth, and three years later the Police Union lawyer, John Quigley, now a parliamentarian, got them off with the help of that all-White jury. Yet, today, there are 300 First Peoples in WA prisons serving time for unpaid traffic fines and the like.

Twenty years ago, in an interview with Roderic Pitty, Eddie’s mother Leila said, "Find my son’s shoes and socks and his shirt and trousers." Eddie’s mother said that a Sydney police officer, Bill Galvin who had been called in to Wee Waa over Eddie’s death in 1981 had suggested "just to leave things alone, just to let it lie."

"Ever since that time we have had trouble in our family with police harassment. Our other son Rodney was bashed by police in 1988, both his kidneys were damaged for life." This was while the RCIADC was in full swing.

Back to the RCIADC, Arthur told Mr Pitty, "(The RCIADC) fell very short on questions." He said that the Commission "wouldn’t listen (to the barristers) because of the restrictions about the Royal Commission."

"In my son’s case it was just like having Eddie dug up and buried over and over again. In terms of justice, well the experience I got out of it was really nothing. The amount of money that they spent on the Royal Commission was I believe just a waste of money."

Leila said of the RCIADC, "They criticised the police and done nothing about it."

Arthur said, "Where’s the justice in this country?"

Frank Doolan penned the poem, ‘Bullshit in Brewarrina’. Brewarrina is nearby Wee Waa. Lloyd Boney died in custody in Brewarinna. The RCIADC let down the Boney family in that they were hoping for justice, just like Mavis, Arthur and Leila, and so many others too. Mr Doolan finished off the poem with, "You’ll never know our pain, The blood is on your hands white man, One day your attitude might change."

During the RCIADC, protests did take place and many described the RCIADC as a failure. In 1992, after the April 15 recommendations were handed down, 339 of them, 338 passed by the Australian Senate, on June 12, Eddie Murray was remembered, 11 years to the day of this murder. More than 200 were present at the Leichardt Town Hall in Sydney. Neita Scott said the RCIADC "had failed" because once again it focused "on studying Aboriginal people instead of seriously investigating the real problems of the criminal justice systems."

This still remains the problem. The following year, 1993, was the Year of Indigenous People, but 21 years later impoverishment has increased, homelessness spiralled, extreme poverty, incarceration at absurd levels, Australia is the mother of all jailers of Aboriginal peoples, and suicide rates are among the world’s highest. Arthur and Leila have gone to their graves, nine of their twelve children remain and they deserve some justice to pass on more hope to their families than they themselves ever had. I attended on June 12, the 33rd remembrance of Eddie’s murder, I left saddened by the family’s ongoing pain.