November 19, 2004: Mulrunji Doomadgee, an Australian Aborigine of around thirty years old, dies in custody in Palm Island, Queensland, Australia.
November 26, 2004: The release Doomadgee’s autopsy report indicating that his death was not accidental (4 broken ribs, split liver and spleen) triggers a riot among the Aboriginal community. The protests result in the damage of several official buildings including a police station, but no serious injuries.
November 29, 2004: Lex Wotton, two-time councillor on the Palm Island Aboriginal Shire Council, is arrested with 16 others and accused of having initiated the riot.
December 2004: Wotton is released on bail and referred to as leader and saviour by the Palm Island community.
2006: A coronary report accuses Sergeant Hurley, present during the custody, of having killed Doomadgee.
2007: Charges against Sergeant Hurley are dropped. Doomadgee’s family appeals.
October 2008: Wotton’s trial for inciting riot. He faces life imprisonment and is eventually sentenced to 6 years of emprisonment.
June 2010: Wotton should be released for good conduct. The inquiry regarding Sergeant Hurley’s possible culpability is still open to this day.
The 2004 Palm Island events have once more brought to mind the tragic fate of Australian Aborigines, especially in regards to their status in the Australian society.
1606: First encounter between Aboriginal people and the European in Cape York, Queensland.
1788: Beginning of the British colonization. Foreign diseases decimate the Aboriginal population who also face slaughter.
1838: For the first time, white men are snetenced for the murder of Aboriginal people after the Myall Creek massacre.
1869: Mixed children are taken away from their families in order to be raised by Christians. This will last about a century, practices nowadays referred to as the Stolen Generations policies.
1962: The Aborigines are conceded the right to vote.
1967: A referendum grants rights to the Aboriginal people, who from this point are tobe be included in the national census.
1999: Vote of a motion of reconciliation, stating that the mistreatments inflicted on the Aboriginal people was the darkest chapter in Australia’s national history.
2008: Prime Minister Kevin Rudd presents a national apology to the Aboriginal people and their Stolen Generations.
Over 40 linguistic groups were displaced altogether, and about 100.000 children were taken from their families. These policies led to a serious loss in Aboriginal cultural heritage, and obviously, to a trauma raging way beyond the scale of generations. Nowadays the Aboriginal population suffers an outstandingly high rate of alcoholism.
Despite an existing integration policies, the situation of the Aboriginal population within the Australian society remains critical: lack of qualified medical staff, isolation, police brutality, etc… Wotton’s lawyer, Stewart E. Levitt, states for instance that 241 Aboriginal people have died in police custody in 15 years time in Australia, without anyone ever being prosecuted.
Lex Wotton recalls the 2004 riots in Warriors for peace, The Political Condition of the Aboriginal People as viewed from Palm Island (Indigènes Editions, 2008), co written with Barbara Glowczewski.
Lex Wotton works as a plumber. In 1997 he created a support group for social, domestic and employment issues. He stands for reconciliation within his community, and believes in a necessity to consider official agreements between the Aboriginal and local landlords. He also wishes for the rise of a cultural and local knowledge center on Palm Island.
Barbara Glowczewski, French ethnographer, has been living among the Aboriginal people of Australia for years. She’s the author, among several other publications, of Angry dreams – Aboriginal alliances in the North-West of Australia and Desert dreamers – the Warlpiri people of Australia. She is also a member of the Sorosoro Scientific board.