Protest against Brewarrina 17 trials

May 15, 1991

By Debra Wirth

SYDNEY — About 100 people protested outside the Supreme Court on May 8, the day Arthur Murray and Sonny Bates were sentenced to 18 months' imprisonment by the trial judge in Bathurst after being convicted by an all-white jury.

Three other members of the "Brewarrina 17", convicted on riotous assembly charges, were given community service sentences. Two others pleaded guilty to unlawful assembly; one was sentenced to six months' imprisonment and one placed on a good behaviour bond. Sentencing of Anna Murray, Arthur Murray's daughter, on a common assault charge was deferred.

All of the charges stemmed from a fight between Aborigines and police in Brewarrina on August 15, 1987.

The clash occurred during a wake for Lloyd Boney, an Aboriginal who had died in the Brewarrina lock-up nine days earlier. Boney was Sonny Bates' brother-in-law. Arthur Murray's son Eddie died in the Wee Waa police lock-up under very suspicious circumstances in 1981.

The trouble began when whites with shotguns gathered at the local pub and fired at least two shots at the mourners. When Aborigines responded by throwing bottles at the hotel, they were attacked by the police Tactical Response Group.

Two of the police who were on duty the night Boney died were also involved in the August 15 events. These same police, who gave evidence at the recent trials, were found to have lied under oath while giving evidence to the hearing on Boney's death conducted by the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.

Anna Murray told the May 8 protest that there was no justice for Aboriginal people in this country and that her father and the others had been framed.

Georgina Abrahams from the Campaign Exposing the Frame-Up of Tim Anderson outlined parallels between this case and that of Anderson. Both men are well-known political activists. Murray has campaigned for the rights of Aboriginal people since the 1960s, when he was an organiser for the predominantly Aboriginal cotton workers in north-western NSW. Neither was afraid to speak out about what they saw as police corruption, the fabrication of evidence and racism in the police force and the law. For these reasons, Abrahams said, they were targeted for harassment and ultimately sent to jail to keep them quiet.

The main police witnesses in the Brewarrina 17 case admitted to being prejudiced against Aboriginal people. Sandra Murray, from the Deaths in Custody Watch Committee, told Green Left that there never should have been a trial in the first place because this case was another example of police racism and harassment of Aboriginal people.

To help with the campaign against the frame-up of the Brewarrina 17, contact the Deaths in Custody Watch Committee on (02) 281 7604.

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