Please note: This story contains reference to people who have died.

 

More than 2,000 people rallied in Perth on Thursday to mark the 30th anniversary of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody handing down its findings.

Herbert Bropho delivered the Welcome to Country and conducted the smoke ceremony.

He said that in the 30 years since the recommendations were made, 474 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have died in custody, including five last month.

“Nothing has been done. I invite you to listen to the stories, to get educated on the prison system and how it is run,” he said.

“We have the next generation of our mob, men, women and children, who are going into prison. Listen to the Elders, this has got to stop.”

“We are not punching bags, we are not images that you can shoot at.”

Winnie Hayward, whose 16-year-old son Christopher Drage, alongside Trisjack Ninyette-Simpson, 17, drowned after being chased into the Swan River by WA Police addressed the crowd.

She said Indigenous children are scared of police and “are not going to stop running, whether they’d done something wrong or not”.

“Our kids are scared, they are scared of police, they are sick and tired of being abused, physically, mentally and emotionally, every time they come into contact with police,” she said.

“They are scared for their lives.”

“[Christopher] was crying out for help. They stood there and let him drown. They pushed them to that river – they were children.”

Director of the Dumbartung Aboriginal Corporation, Robert Eggington, began his speech with a powerful gesture – destroying a statue of notorious child abuser, Christian Brother Paul Keaney.

Deaths in custody anniversary rally in Perth. Photo by Giovanni Torre.

Keaney set up the Tardun farm school near Geraldton and was principal at Clontarf and Bindoon Boys Town from 1942 until his death in 1954, he abused Aboriginal boys and forced child migrant boys from United Kingdom and Malta.

“Through the WA redress scheme there were hundreds and hundreds or stories that were told of how this one man molested, raped and brutalised many of our young people,” said Eggington.

He revealed the bust of Keaney that once stood at Bindoon Agricultural College, where his ornate grave was removed in 2016, and with the help of others smashed it to pieces with a sledgehammer, saying “let’s send the monster to hell”.

Eggington brought a 300-year-old boomerang, made by a Noongar man in the South West, that had been brought back home from Belgium.

“This represents the struggle and the connection of our young people and our people today to the ancestors and our identity,” he said.

“When Charles Fremantle anchored at Bathers’ beach and entered Bibbluman land our people became known as the people of chains and shackles.”

Eggington also held up an iron collar and ball and chain from the era, which were used on Aboriginal people.

“What a shame, what a disgrace to imprison people inside these kinds of apparatus – the apparatus of death,” he said.

“Time is as fickle as it is precious, and we have little time left to fail… We as people mush assert as much power as we can … the three strike laws [mandatory sentencing] must be immediately revoked forever.”

Robert Egginton holding up chains used on Aboriginal people at Perth Deaths in Custody rally. Photo Supplied Giovanni Torre.

Eggington spoke about the virulent racism, segregation and state violence of the period leading up to, during and immediately after the Royal Commission handed down its findings.

He detailed the horrific injuries of the 16-year-old boy violently killed by police in Roebourne in 1983, for which the officers were cleared, which sparked years of protests and activism by organisations fighting for justice.

This event was the catalyst for the Royal Commission in 1991.

Eggington said millions of dollars intended for implementing the hundreds of recommendations of the reforms were “extorted” into expanding police resources and infrastructure.

He condemned a corrupt system that promotes environmental degradation and “sends it children to war” to defend “capitalism fabricated on the back of materialism and white privilege”.

“The tongue of the white man talks about expectations and delivers nothing,” he said.

“His lies are made of dirt … You either stand with the oppressor or with the oppressed.”

He said those who continue the work of the British Empire in Australia “should be charged under international law with genocide”, and linked the struggle of Indigenous people in Australia with the ongoing police violence against the Black communities of the United States.

Other speakers included the Shadow Minister for Indigenous Australians and Wiradjuri woman Linda Burney, and Dorinda Cox, Noongar/Yamatji woman and lead candidate for the Greens WA Senate ticket.

By Giovanni Torre