Megan Krakouer and Gerry Georgatos work extensively in the suicide prevention space. Here they shine light on one of many Blak lives betrayed. They have supported this family in particular for four years.
Content warning: This story contains details that may be distressing to some readers.
Please note this story contains reference to someone who has died.
Fourteen-year-old Elijah Doughty died on August 29, 2016. Kalgoorlie, Western Australia erupted into dissent. Elijah’s life mattered. To this day, Elijah’s loss casts a dark cloud over Kalgoorlie.
Less than one year following Elijah’s death, a 56-year-old Kalgoorlie resident was acquitted of the manslaughter of Elijah. He would be sentenced to three years jail time on a lesser charge of “dangerous driving occasioning death”. Eight months later, he would be placed on parole.
Kalgoorlie-Boulder has a sinister history. It is a regional town sweltering with racism.
In our work, we often support families who have lost someone to suicide. We have been to the funerals of children in Kalgoorlie. At the funerals, there is barely a white presence in a sea of Blak.
In the 1967 referendum to amend the Australian Constitution, over 90 percent of Australians who voted supported the amendments to recognise First Australians for inclusion in the Census.
However, Kalgoorlie recorded the highest single ‘No’ vote in any electoral division—29 percent.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison acts like there is no racism in Australia. Tell it to the family of Elijah Doughty. Tell it to the family of Mulrunji Doomadgee. Tell it to the family of Ms Dhu. Tell it to the family of David Dungay Jr.
The rates at which we incarcerate First Nations people in Australia is unacceptable.
One in 12 WA Indigenous adult males is in prison. This is the world’s highest jailing rate; higher than the jailing rate of African Americans.
Under eight percent of the Kalgoorlie-Boulder population is Indigenous, but they account for over three quarters of the inmates at the local Eastern Goldfields Regional Prison.
One in five Kalgoorlie-Boulder First Peoples are either in prison or homeless. It is a story of grinding poverty alongside relative affluence, of Blak poverty and white privilege.
We call out the perpetrator of Elijah’s death. He was guilty of racism. In our view, the Court got it all wrong.
Racism the cause of death
When interviewed by police after Elijah’s death, he said, “We didn’t come here to have motorbikes stolen”. Many of us have wrongs done to us, worse than dirt bikes stolen, but we do not chase the culprits to their death or to physical injury.
We feel for everyone involved. We feel for the perpetrator’s family, who will never be the same.
We feel mostly for Elijah whose potential life years were ripped from him in an instant.
We feel for his loved ones, for his mother, father, and grandfather, all of whom we have come to know very well. Elijah is dead. Mowed down over a bike.
He died under a two-tonne ute. The perpetrator was a mineworker, earning a good quid while Elijah’s family were doing it poor.
On the evening prior to Elijah’s death, the mineworker’s family returned home to find they had two dirt bikes missing. That night and the next morning the perpetrator went looking for the bikes. He was advised to go to a patch of dirt at the end of Clancy Street known as Gribble Creek Reserve—a small stretch of uneven earth and scrub where bikes are often ridden.
CCTV footage near the reserve showed the ute at the beginning of the pursuit. It should not matter that there is no CCTV of the impact. Rage-filled, the man responsible for Elijah’s death decided to dangerously pursue, instead of calling police from his mobile phone.
CCTV footage of the pursuit showed the ute’s average speed to be 67 kilometres per hour. The footage showed the driver was making ground on Elijah, who rode a 70CC dirt bike at an average speed of 46 kilometres per hour. He was not wearing a helmet. The closer he got to Elijah; the risk of Elijah suffering fatal harm elevated considerably.
After the incident, the 56-year-old at the time stated to police, “I was hoping that he would take off into the bush and hopefully fall off there”. The prosecution played the police interview to the Court. It is unreasonable to argue the perpetrator did not understand that the boy could be seriously injured or debilitated.
The perpetrator claimed Elijah erred a turn on the bike and pulled in front of the two-tonne ute. Even if true, the unnecessary death of a young boy still occurred. He consciously drove in a dangerous manner that increased the possibility of serious injury occurring at any time—and it did.
Elijah’s body was flung from the dirt bike nearly ten metres. The ute continued on for 30 metres, and went right over Elijah; killing him instantly.
Elijah’s death is a Blak life betrayed.
The death of Elijah, the suffering of his family, remains the story of tens of thousands of Blak families. Prime Minister Scott Morrison has it so terribly wrong.
By Megan Krakouer and Gerry Georgatos
Megan Krakouer is a Mineng Noongar woman from Mt Barker in Western Australia’s southwest. Presently, Megan is the Director of the National Suicide Prevention and Trauma Recovery Project (NSPTRP) and also works for the National Justice Project.
Gerry Georgatos, a non-Indigenous individual and the son of CALD migrants, is a suicide prevention and poverty researcher with an experiential focus. He has a Masters in Human Rights Education and a Masters in Social Justice Advocacy & Civil Rights Arbitration. He is the national coordinator of the NSPTRP.