Eddie Murray to be remembered 33 years later

One of the custodial deaths that launched the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody will be remembered this year with a national day of action, rallies and marches.

Eddie Murray died while in police custody in 1981 and his family and supporters are demanding a new inquiry into his death. They claim missing clothes and a coroner's report, which proved he suffered a broken sternum while in custody, were proof that he was murdered.

Last year, 16-year-old Yindjibarndi man John Pat was remembered with a national day of action, three decades after his death The coordinated campaign generated a Western Australian government apology for the death of Pat by police officers.

It is 33 years since the police custodial death of 21-year-old champion rugby league player Murray in the northwestern New South Wales town of Wee Waa. His father and mother, Arthur and Leila Murray, campaigned to the end of their lives for public inquiries and proper investigation of their son's death in the belief the Wee Waa police murdered Murray.

The Murrays raised 12 children, within whom the death of their brother and the anguish and racism their parents endured in chasing down justice burns ferociously.

The Sydney president of the Indigenous Social Justice Association, Ray Jackson will be one of the coordinators of the campaign. Recently, Jackson and the Association were awarded one of the French government’s highest human rights awards for their many years of work in assisting families affected by custodial deaths.

Jackson said: "The remembrance, 33 years after the killing of Murray at the Wee Waa police cells, is not only for justice alone but also for the family, which desperately needs closure.

"For far too long, far too many families, victims to custodial deaths have languished in limbo while truths have been hidden or covered up.

"We can never give up on the seeking of justice for the Murray family, for far too many families, they all need to know that justice is possible in this country. We must never give up on justice."

"We have to continue on with seeking the truth and not let the passing of time to be used against us. Every Aboriginal family and every non-Aboriginal family must be shown that justice is there for everyone, that it is possible.

"For Aboriginal people this is paramount because still for far too many the future looks dim, for there is a long history of justice being denied to Aboriginal people," said Jackson.

Anne Murray was the last member of the family to see Eddie alive. She has been passed the baton in seeking justice for her brother. She alleged her brother was bashed to death by the police, his body washed down and his clothes changed. She says and that there has never been a better time for a public inquiry, but wants one independent of police involvement.

"I was the last member of my family to see my brother alive. I was on the corner of George Street [in Wee Waa] opposite the Imperial Hotel, with my baby in the pram. He was fine, happy as always.

"Next thing we get a call that he committed suicide in a police cell.

"It is not true. He was murdered, and everyone in Wee Waa knows it: we know it, the police who killed him know it and it is time Australia should know it. It is time after 33 years, with so much pain and anguish for my mother and father who have now gone, that the first [successful] prosecution of murderous and lying police officers takes place — and we can get it.

“Times have changed and now there may be some hope for true justice in the courts or for a full and proper investigation or some genuine independent public inquiry, with the evidence presented that in more racist times the evidence was glossed over.

"If my family give up, which we will never do, then that first [successful] prosecution of coppers will keep on waiting and there will be more deaths in custody. We get that first justice and the black deaths in custody will stop.

"When I next saw my brother, he was at the coroner's. He was not wearing his clothes. He was bare from the waist up and I could see marks around his neck and bruises on his chest. The pants the coppers dressed him in were too big and too long, hanging over his feet, he had no shoes or socks.

"I asked for his clothes. Where are his clothes? They would not respond. In 33 years they have not responded. What happened to his clothes? What happened to his personal effects? His wallet has never been returned to us. Why?

"The clothes were the most vital forensic evidence, they could have determined what happened, they would have been covered in blood — proof that he did not suicide. Eddie would never take his life, that's a dirty lie by them. He was liked and loved, a champion rugby league player. Obviously the clothes were hidden and then destroyed. We want to know by whom. It's not hard as there weren’t many officers on duty. We get this investigated and we have the murderers."

Murray lived and worked in Sydney and was playing rugby league for the Redfern All Blacks. He had come back to the small town to visit family and friends.

The Murray family was famous in Wee Waa, with Murray's father Arthur leading the fight for award wages and conditions for the Aboriginal cotton workers and for an end to spraying cotton with poisons while workers were in the field. .

The Murrays had also been involved in the fight for Aboriginal housing in town so they did not have to continue camping on a reserve five kilometres away.

Murray's parents often spoke of the racist harassment, including from police, that the whole family faced. Murray was arrested seven times for allegedly being disorderly and convicted of offensive behaviour twice, but in a stark comparison, he was never arrested by police while living in Sydney.

"When I saw him outside the Imperial Hotel he was wearing creamy pants, his red and white shirt with the writing across it, Walgett Leagues," Anne said.

The next day the family, in the company of Lyall Munro Snr, viewed his body. They went to the police station. The police showed them the blanket they claimed Murray had torn strips from to hang himself.

"The cop pulled out the grey blanket he claimed Eddie hanged himself with."

"I tried to tear at it, and I turned around to the cop and said how did Eddie tear this when I can't tear it, it needs scissors to cut through it. And I said to him that we can see by the nature of the broken threads that it has been cut by scissors.

"My brother did not hang himself."

Ms Murray does not want to campaign for justice to just keep up the awareness raising. Backed by the family and a rising number of supporters, she wants in addition to any cold case on her brother's death, a full independent inquiry.

The Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody suggested this but did not achieve it. The Newcastle Legal Centre called for this but it did not happen. The Police Integrity Commission did not want to know about it, and a NSW parliamentarian called for it but to no avail.

The death of Murray was one of the custodial deaths that led to the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.

On February 25, 2004, Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon unsuccessfully called for a parliamentary inquiry into the death of Murray.

She said: "[The police] detained him for being drunk and disorderly. The police could have taken him home but instead kept him in custody. He was heard to cry out from his cell, 'Why do you always pick on me? Why don't you pick on the white people?' Less than one hour later, he was dead.

"Before a police photographer arrived to take pictures of Eddie, his body had been removed from the cell in which he died. The next day his clothes were missing. When the Coroner looked into the matter, he found instances of unreliability in the evidence offered by police to the Court.

"The Coroner's open verdict included that there existed the possibility of 'death at the hand of person or persons unknown'."

In 1997, Murray's body was exhumed and it was found he suffered a smashed sternum — caused by blows to the chest. In August 2000, the NSW Minister for Police, Paul Whelan, referred the case to the NSW Police Integrity Commission but it "declined the case".

[This article was first published in The Stringer. A national day of action will take place on June 12 in every capital city and Wee Waa, with a major remembrance and call for justice to be highlighted at the Sydney Town Hall. For more details, call Ray Jackson on 0450 651 063.]

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