Palm Island: Lex Wotton speaks

December 7, 2007

Lex Wotton has been portrayed by the Queensland police, government and mainstream media as the ringleader of the so-called "riot" that occurred on Palm Island on November 26, 2004. A police station and residence were destroyed after a police report on the death of community member Mulrunji Doomadgee that concluded that his death was an accident was read at a public meeting. Wotton will face court in April 2008. He continues to be vilified in the media. He spoke to Green Left Weekly's Hamish Chitts.

Wotton is a key member of the Palm Island community. He has been the driving force behind trying to build support for a community-owned and -controlled organisation that can buy the Palm Island store. The store currently has very little variety of stock, is extremely expensive, and not very healthy. The store's profits go to the Queensland government. At the moment, most residents have to catch a ferry to Townsville to do their shopping (the ferry only runs to the island and back Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays, so residents have to stay in Townsville for at least two days when shopping). "We're talking pretty basic items, just groceries", said Wotton. He believes a community-run store will reduce costs and improve the standard of living for islanders.

For years Wotton has been helping run the island's Drug and Alcohol Centre. In 1997, he set up a men's group, which, since the death of Wotton's close friend Mulrunji, runs a cell-watch program and night patrols. He's heavily involved in community activity, has been on council twice, and attends all public meetings. Wotton wants to one day set up a combined library and cultural centre on the island so residents, particularly children, can learn about where they come from. Members of over 40 different Aboriginal nations from all over Queensland were sent to Palm, and some of the descendants are more connected to their past than others. Eighty-six per cent of the community on Palm are illiterate. "We can empower the community to lift itself up. In order to empower the community, you have to educate them", Wotton told GLW.

Police treat the people on Palm Island like inmates and provide a poor response if they are needed. If you phone the police station outside of business hours you get put through to Townsville, 65km away on the mainland.

Three years after the death of Mulrunji, the Palm Island community is still waiting for the truth about his death. Wotton asks, "Why haven't the police officers who botched the initial investigation into Hurley been stood down? People have to question what would have happened if Mulrunji had been white? It's terrible how the police used their own investigators to cover up what happened." (Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley was charged with manslaughter after Mulrunji's death but found not guilty by a Townsville jury. He didn't face court until mid-2007.)

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