“What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!”
This common protest cry was imbued with particular meaning when chanted outside State Parliament Thursday morning. Around 60 protesters gathered to demand justice for the victims of the Bowraville murders and their families 29 years after the murders occurred.
The families of Colleen Walker-Craig, Clinton Speedy-Duroux and Evelyn Greenup, along with community members and activists, called for the NSW Legislative Assembly to change double jeopardy laws. Amending these laws would allow the primary suspect in the case to be trialled again, facilitating evidence not heard at previous trials to finally be put forward.
In 1990, the town of Bowraville on NSW’s mid-North Coast was witness to the disappearance and murder of three Aboriginal children: Walker-Craig and Speedy-Duroux, both 16 at the time, and Greenup, who was four. After an inadequate police investigation, two separate trials of the key suspect failed to result in conviction. Their community still seeks closure.
The mood at the rally reflected the clear frustration and sadness of the victims’ community. Speakers highlighted the failures of the criminal justice system to protect and bring justice to the Bowraville children. They pointed to the irresponsibly minimal police response when the children went missing, and denounced the police’s refusal to sufficiently investigate their disappearances.
A relative of Evelyn Greenup spoke about the attempt to report Evelyn’s disappearance. Evelyn’s “hysterical” mother was told by the officer on duty that he was “about to knock off.” She emphasised that Evelyn was only two years old at the time.
Speeches then turned to the systemic failures of the justice system to provide fairness for First Nations people more generally. The callousness and racism directed at the Bowraville families were taken as symbolic of a broader neglect of Indigenous justice by the police and courts. Speakers pointed to the volume of uninvestigated deaths at the hands of police and correctional officers. They spoke of the constant institutional failures to respect the rights of Aboriginal people, doubting whether representation within those institutions would stop systemic racism.
Speakers called for support from within the general community rather than a reliance on institutional change, thanking protesters for their presence at the rally. They argued that ongoing grassroots pressure is the route to challenge long-term injustices, and invited people to return for the next justice for Bowraville protest in August.
A disproportionate police presence was wryly received by protestors, with several remarks of, “now they send police to protect us.” The excessive numbers of police surrounding the rally contrasted starkly with the speakers’ messages about successive police failures to protect First Nations communities and their widespread abuse of authority.
The rally was optimistic about the power of community demands, particularly upon the news that protest chants could be heard from within the parliament. The protest’s message — that the Bowraville victims are owed justice, and that “black lives matter” — was more than clear.