Top blokes, totally out of character: when five white men beat an Aboriginal man to death

These are the facts, as they were agreed to by the perpetrators. After a long night of drinking, Scott Doody, Timothy Hird, Joshua Spears, Anton Kloeden, and Glen Swain left a casino at 6am in the morning of 25 July 2009. They ranged in age from 18–23. Most of them were drunk, but Kloeden, the driver, was not.

Kloeden, in the words of Chief Justice Martin, then thought it would be fun to ‘take on the challenge of driving along the Todd River bed to the Telegraph Station’. Even more fun, Kloeden then ‘made the offensive and stupid decision to harass the Aboriginal people camped in the riverbed’, nearby Schwarz Crescent causeway. They drove towards a group of at least six campers. The campers fled to trees for safety, except for an elderly Aboriginal person, who was too elderly to respond with adequate speed. Kloeden drove within a metre of him, with the intention of terrifying him by narrowly missing him.

Having driven away Kloeden turned the car back to the camp due to a fenced off exit. Kloeden had not yet had enough fun for the night: he drove over the elderly man’s swag as they passed the camp again. One female camper, who saw the young men coming, threw a small log at their car. Some of the men got out of the car and ‘yelled abuse’ at the Aboriginal campers. The form of this abuse was not recorded.

The night, now morning, was not yet over. Kloeden thought there was more fun to be had, so he drove at another Aboriginal camping group. The three Aboriginal people were sleeping. They were woken up by the car speeding towards them, and fled for their lives. Kloeden parked near the campers, and again ‘words were exchanged’. The sort of words exchanged is not yet on the public record.

After this, the group decided to return to the home of Hird and Swain. Fun was still to be had. Once there, the group picked up more alcohol, Hird’s gun and blank ammunition. They drove along and Hird shot his gun, though at one point it jammed. As they approached Schwarz Crescent causeway, they stopped the car so that Hird could fix his gun. Having fixed it, he shot it again. Justice Martin noted that the car was intentionally stopped so that Hird would be able to ‘scare the Aboriginal occupants’ of the first camp they had terrorised previously.

This goal was achieved. As Swain testified to the police, the campers began running, and obviously ‘feared for their lives’, according to the judge’s rendition of Swain. Hird plainly contributed to this by holding the pistol outside the car in the direction of the camp.

An Aboriginal man, Kwementyaye Ryder, was one of the campers who had been terrorised by Kloeden’s driving in the first instance. He responded this time by throwing a bottle, which hit the side of the car.

Kloeden immediately executed a sudden u-turn. He stopped so close to Ryder that Ryder could grab the bullbar. All four passengers raced out of the car, with Hird the first one out. Without checking the damage to the car, they chased Ryder, who tripped and fell. Confronted with a man ‘lying defenceless and incapable of posing any threat to any of the offenders’, they repeatedly kicked him in the head, and Spears struck his head with a bottle. They told him ‘Don’t fuck with us’.

Swain, who had kicked Ryder in the head twice, noticed he was lying motionless, and that something was plainly wrong. He called out ‘Let’s go’, considering that the most appropriate reaction. They got into the car. Kloeden hadn’t gotten out of the car because he was executing a three-point-turn. Apparently untroubled by what he saw, Kloeden was ‘seen to drive away at a leisurely, normal pace’.

The men proceeded to lie to the police over the course of a week. Swain and Kloeden lied to the police, saying they had gone by themselves to a racecourse and fallen asleep there. Hird lied to the police, saying that he had gone to the casino with Doody and hadn’t seen Swain or Kloeden. Justice Martin did not comment on it, but the matching alibis point to some collusion among the defendants.

Justice Martin noted to the defendants that it was apparent they ‘would inevitably be caught’, which may help explain why Swain offered a full confession within a week. Out of the group of five, Swain was the ‘only person who made a full and frank confession to the police and who gave them every assistance possible’.

Those are the facts. Justice Martin then had the task of interpreting them. He concluded that this ‘crime is toward the lower end of the scale of seriousness for crimes of manslaughter’. Not enough violence was inflicted, and the defendants supposedly could not have foreseen a serious risk of death from their violent attack. Repeatedly kicking someone in the head and hitting him with a bottle and then fleeing when the victim was motionless is apparently not recklessness, but negligence to Justice Martin.

Justice Martin then considered the possible value of inflicting a heavier sentence for deterrence value. He dismissed this too. His grounds for this are particularly striking: the violence ‘arose out of an angry and aggressive reaction to a perceived insult’. Plainly, there could be no value in deterrence with a mere crime of violence perpetrated by intoxicated youths responding to a perceived insult.

What didn’t feature in his discussion of deterrence was what he acknowledged repeatedly was the ‘atmosphere of antagonism towards Aboriginal persons’ manifested by the defendants. Nor was this mentioned as an aggravating feature. Which goes much of the way towards explaining his lenient sentencing: Doody, who did not physically strike Ryder, was sentenced to four years imprisonment to be suspended after 12 months. Hird, Kloeden and Spears were sentenced to six years imprisonment, with a non-parole period of 4 years. Swain had half a year taken off both measures, on account of his confession.

Yet there is one other factor which played a crucial role in Justice Martin’s sentencing, and is arguably the most appalling part of his decision. Justice Martin went out of his way to provide character references for every single defendant. Doody is ‘a person of positive good character’. Hird is a ‘solid, hard-working young man of good character’. Kloeden has an ‘underlying good character’. Spears is a ‘person of very good character’. Swain, like Kloeden, was a ‘person of underlying good character’. These men of good character repeatedly terrorised Aboriginal people for being Aboriginal, before getting a gun to terrorise them further, ending the night by beating a man to death, and then casually driving away without checking if their victim was okay.

Justice Martin’s grounds for these conclusions are astonishing. He notes character references in their favour, proving that many of them have friends and employers who think nice things about them. This hardly balances out what they did. He then scrapes the barrel in special pleading on their behalf, holding, for example, that Spears had never previously ‘come into contact with the criminal law’. Considering he was 18 at the time, this is hardly such an achievement. Hird, Kloeden, and Swain, on the other hand, despite their youth had previously had difficulties with the law. Yet Justice Martin was able to claim that this was ‘totally out of character’ for all of them, and also that they were ‘genuinely sorry’. Presumably he was able to judge their tremendous remorse from how they casually left the scene of the motionless man who soon died from their beating. This too was in their character. Or perhaps their remorse was manifested in the lies they worked on together to tell the cops. Or perhaps he judged their remorse in the fact that four out of five of them didn’t cooperate with the police at all, and the only one did when it was already apparent that they would be caught.

What was missing from Justice Martin’s sentencing remarks, and sentence, was a sense of revulsion at what happened. The five young men engaged in recreational activities that wouldn’t be out of place in a gathering of Klansmen.

This disgusting crime was not just an attack on Ryder. It was an attack on Aboriginal people in Australia. It – and Martin’s judgement – was an attack on our decency as a people. I am appalled as a human being to live in a country where such a terrible crime can take place, where the media and public intellectuals – with the honourable exception of National Indigenous Times Chris Graham, who gave me the judgement on Friday – have reacted with complete indifference. I am horrified as a Jewish person to live in a country where a member of a small, vulnerable minority can be victimised in such a shocking manner, and the perpetrators can still be described as basically good people.

And I am ashamed as an Australian that this is the country I live in.

Cross-posted from Michael Brull.

Update: And a week later (Thursday night, the decision was Friday last week), there have been no op-eds run in any paper. NIT, I’ve been told, will cover it. No one has seen anything significant in the decision. There were a few news stories – none of them describing the facts at the length given here – and I found one blog which discussed it (it’s a blog devoted to casinos). No one has seen fit to analyse the decision, and the media doesn’t care.

Update 2: The first op-ed I’ve found in several weeks to even mention the issue. It says an Aboriginal man ‘was killed’ after five young white men went ‘hooning’. It mentions the white guys kicked and struck the victim whilst he was on the ground. This paragraph is the most that has yet been written by any commentator: no one, as yet, has deplored the judgement. Ms Hudson describes this case as ‘tragic’, not outrageous.

Update 3: Chris Graham writes about the case in the latest NIT (‘Deep South justice in the Red Centre’ May 13 2010). Graham is also very critical of Chief Justice Martin’s comments, but largely takes up different points. Also, I noted in what I wrote that the words ‘exchanged’ between the campers and the five white men were not recorded in the judgement. Graham writes: ‘The words that were “exchanged” are not mentioned in the summation. For the record, it was racial abuse. And for the record, it wasn’t just by Kloeden.’ I urge everyone to read the article (and I also recommend subscribing to NIT, which in my view is just about Australia’s only paper worth reading).

This may be the end of the issue, unless we take it up. So, dear reader, now that you know the facts, what are you going to do about it?

Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.

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Michael Brull is a columnist at New Matilda. He’s written for other publications including Fairfax, the Guardian, Crikey, Tracker and the Indigenous Law Bulletin.

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  1. Unbelievable ingrained racism at several levels going by these accounts. I think it needs to be investigated by a journalist in the NT. I would suggest it the The Monthly, but believe they are more likely to take notice of a male. Will go and think about it further now.

  2. I agree that this is shameful and that every Australian has a responibility to speak out and respond. Respond not just to these acts, but this culture, the reaction to it by the law and its representation in the media.
    What will I do? This is a good question. How easy it is for me to turn a blind eye when the media in my state is concerned with which AFL matches are being played this weekend. You have given me something to think long and hard about and motivated me to search harder for the type of media that I hope is out there somewhere.
    What a great aticle.

  3. To be honest jen jewel as someone who lives in the territory there are not that many good journalists. The local papers- Centralian Advocate and NT News- are both murdoch papers and are not going to be critical of the chief justice.

    The Advocate actually run an article a few weeks ago about the chief minister where he stated that ‘Aboriginal people need to grow up.

    The best journalist i think based in the territory is Lindsay Murdoch but I don’t know how interested- and it’s a shame- The Age or SMH are in this.

  4. Someone should make the so called “Justice” Martin explain his words/ruling to the rest of the world.

    I’ve never been to Aus but want to, stories like this put me off.

    I assume they don’t need tourists to visit, share in their culture and spend money….

    • Don’t let this story put you off, because I doubt you’d be visiting anywhere near Alice Springs, which is smack bang in the middle of Aus- unless of course you want to see Uluru..

      • I wouldn’t say that Lauren, Alice Springs is one of the top destination in Australia,whether you visit Uluru or not, and it would be nice for people that visit and stay in town to
        be prepared for what they see in the streets. It would be nice for people to come with an open mind and appreciate the complexity of the situation.
        Many of the overseas visitors get outraged for what they perceive as an injustice perpetrated at the expenses of the Aboriginal people of Australia, but they are also very quick to condemn other minorities in their own country, (one for all think of the gypsies) and if you point it out, the answer is “but that is different…..” There is not difference racism is inbuilt in the humane specie and only each individual can work it out of his own system. When you reach a critical mass, then you will have a real change. No use of condemning the government….because is made of the same people you find on the streets, and if the people in the street don’t change the way they perceive the “diverse” no government can make any rule to force you not to be a racist. Completely off topic here…and excuse the poor English, but is not my first language.

    • What an absolute f.,$@!<£€€%%%ing disgusting disgrace
      Judge Martin you should be struck off &!that group if assholes should all get LIFE behind bars. You obviously need to get down off your high horse & look st the real world Bet it would be different if it had been aboriginal men or men if another ethnic background who had done this . You & that group are an absolute DISGRACE to society

  5. yep, it sucks. alice is a racist town. we need to admit it and fix it or this shit will keep happening. some of us are are trying.

    not to excuse the five racist idiots who did this, but the milder sentencing was partly due to the fact that kwementyaye ryder suffered an existing aneurism which meant cause of death was difficult to prove. charges were also plea bargained down to manslaughter.

    the ABC has been good for updates here, i am sorry that the coverage hasn’t reached the eastern states. the oz has been okay.

    fyi chief justice martin’s “grow up” comments are here: http://www.centralianadvocate.com.au/article/2010/04/16/6901_news_pf.html

  6. I worked, on graduation from University, at a Legal Centre for Aboriginal women. This story would feature amongst the mildest of tales in that place. What I saw and heard there changed the way I felt about humanity. Thanks for this re-post Michael.

    • Thank you for sharing this…..its hard to believe that we still treat people like this in todays advanced society….. this only proves how alive evil is in people…..selfish, uncaring, un-inclusive, spiteful, segregating people. The Judge is the worst, he should know better….. he should have his license taken from him….
      My only saving grace is that although these people may be getting away with this now, in this life, they will die one day and have to stand before the Lord God and he will ask each of them why the did those acts and how did they feel about it afterwards….and they will have nothing but the truth to reply….that is when we all will have our justice served…when they are thrown into the pit with all the other evil doers…for ever. This is the only thing that keeps me calm, to know that they WILL be dealt with and they WON’T be able to lie – all the TRUTH will be played out and they have to answer for it…. ALL OF IT.

  7. Living in Darwin, I watched this case with growing revulsion and was gobsmacked at the senteces these, ‘good blokes’ received. Thanks for filling in the missing details Michael. Upon reading about Justice Martin’s comments and character references in relation to the accused you have to wonder if a mistrial occured-where was the supposed neutrallity of the judge, then again i guess the legal system has never been neautral. You have to wonder what the punishement if it had been drunk indigenous men beating to death some white bloke. As to what to do, where to take it-be nice if 4 corners did a piece on it, dunno if they would. As for the NT News, like scott said, there’s not one good journalist working there and as a newspaper they’re more interested in stories about topless women putting out fires than anything of substance. The whole case makes me ashamed to live in this country and proves that there is a hell of a long way before real justice and equality occurs in their own country despite various marches and commissions. Thanks again Michael for bringing this to my attention.

  8. Thanks for the article.
    I think we should recognise that this attack happened in the context of a climate of increasing racism, led from the top by oppressive and deliberately racist policies that demonise the Aboriginal population of the NT. When our Federal politicians make sport of politically bashing Aboriginal people, they give comfort and encouragement to those in our community who are prone to acting out racist hate in this way.

    • That is pathetic act by peoples who are suppose to be governing us…..watching out for ‘our’ best interest. Aren’t Aboriginal people, people too?? Aren’t they apart of Australia?? So, why then aren’t they afforded the same protection and inclusiveness and protection of policies that the non-Aboriginal people get to enjoy? I thing Justice Martin should be made to tell the whole country why he made such a ruling and with this ruling he should divulge what type of society he is wanting for his fellow Australians…because Martins ruling wasn’t anywhere in line with what the Prime Minister said in his Apology speech, in-fact it was the opposite to those Governmental words, words which touched the Nation and closed the gap that existed for just over 200 years….. only to have a supposedly Justice…HA that is laughable that he can give himself that title…he’s another one that will have to answer to God for this deplorable verdict…..

  9. Thank you for this coverage of the story. A disgrace but one that reflects the genocidal history of this country. The events described reflect the generalised culture of “kill on sight” that characterises so much of Australian history. Just another “camp raid” against Aborigines with a compliant judiciary to tidy up the mess. Sickening.

  10. *sigh* Thank you Michael.

    In 1985, I was in Alice Springs, travelling through, and we stayed for a week with some friends of my (then) boyfriend. Just before we arrived a ute load of white boys and a ute load of Aboriginal boys had crashed. News was, all of them were drunk. One of the white boys, only 16, had been killed.

    Being young and ignorant of the local hatreds, I challenged the idea that ‘fault’ and suffering lay only on one side. I was verbally attacked in the most horrible way and even felt afraid for my physical safety because of the prevailing racist/fascist attitudes and emotions.

    This lamentable story, and the non-outrage of the mainstream makes me so sad – to think that so little has changed.

  11. Commenters on my blog have recommended that letters of protest be addressed to:

    The Director of Prosecutions,
    ATTENTION Richard Coates,
    GPO Box 3321,
    DARWIN 0801.

    Go out and buy the latest National Indigenous Times for Chris Graham’s outstanding article on this, which analyses more of the problems in the judgement, and puts it into proper historical and political context (such as the judge’s previous advice to Aboriginal people, which Scott above noted). One of Graham’s (many) important points (which I didn’t make) is that the judge claims that “none of you intended to cause serious harm”.

    • Thank you for this, I was wondering where I could send a letter of discuss for this situation. Now I have the address and person…thank you, I am definitely going to write to this Richard and unleash my thoughts and feelings.

  12. Absolutely agree, this is systemic and to do with the rotten core of our institutions and foundations – all profiting from dispossession and apartheid systems.

    ‘None of you intended to cause serious harm’

    Because: you’re white? you’re white and well-adjusted? you were just a bit bored, a bit spirited, ‘good characters’ underneath needing to blow off steam so what else could/would you do?

    Didn’t mean to cause ‘serious harm’. Just ‘some harm’? A ‘touch of harm’? Perhaps they only intended to drive the campers out of town, rather than beat someone to death. I’d like to know what driving around drunk chasing and shooting at Aboriginal people in Australia means to the police, the media, the criminal justice system, the government.

    80% of the NT prison population is Indigenous. So we can safely assume that in the NT, white people are good, but occasionally make errors in judgements – hardly jailable offences. Indigenous people, on the other hand? I’d like a breakdown of the offences those 80% have committed.


    Queensland Deputy Chief Magistrate Brian Hine on Friday said he was unable to make a definitive finding into the death of Cameron Doomadgee because of the unreliability of police and aboriginal witnesses.

    So we’re supposed to now accept that Aboriginal people make unreliable witnesses, and the police lie, end of story?

    Queensland Police Union president Ian Leavers said Sen Sgt Hurley was glad the matter was over and it was time to move on.

    As are we all, particularly the dead.

    • Worried that last line, an attempt at sarcasm, could be misread. Maybe I should have said: ‘As are we all, particularly the dead, who have no say in the matter.’

    • Well stated Jacinda….I too would like to know what the authorities think about the actions of those white people, I too would like each authority figure who holds any power in society in relation to this case (and others who are not involved with this case) to view on NATIONAL TV what they think about this case and to voice their feelings. Im guessing what we read in the Judgement would not be the same as what Martin says in-front of cameras airing the the Nation.
      Well said Jacinda xxx

  13. Just as well they weren’t bad blokes. Words fail me. Justice Martin should be removed. He’s not fit to judge a cooking contest.

  14. I am as ashamed as Michael and I thank him for bringing this to my attention. I will do everything I can to publicise this disgraceful judgement.

  15. ‘Justice Martin’ – what an oxymoron. As an Australian, I can not hang me head any lower.

  16. How can the public be plastered with the crap we see on tv every night and when it is time to get real serious news the facts to reflect on reality we are kept in the dark?
    I also am ashamed to be Australian and am embarrassed left not knowing what to say to fellow friends from around the world other than we deny we are a racist culture and encourage this in effect through our larakin patriotic way of life.
    The blood sucking tv networks seem happy to encourage these drunk swirling flag redneck scenes and chants whether it’s at a sporting event or a public gathering of sorts and this distorted so called patriotism based on being the extreme Aussie tough bloke laugh at yourself attitude makes our youth.
    Its evident its not just genetic but also systemically entrenched in this culture but lets not look too hard at ourselves.
    Just ask tourists from overseas who stand aghast at our behaviour in public. seriously we don’t see that?
    Get a grip and wake up Australia! I feel sick… oi oi oi grow up!

  17. What a totally repugnant miscarriage of justice, 21st century Australia, and down the road from a Federal parliamentary apology, and then the judiciary steps in with this blatantly racist judgment. Poor fella my country that in this day and age such flagrant harrassment and violence is condoned by magistrates, all under the watchful eye of Territory and Federal governments. Where is the clamour of outrage from the politicians, Misters Rudd and Abbot,and the public, cosseted away in their houses of shame, all blithely profiteering on land sales, ABORIGINAL LAND, for which the rent is yet to be paid? The statistics of deprivation felt by Aboriginal communities is a running sore, that has festered since the arrival of the first fleeters, when will these problems be properly and finally addressed? I for one am sick of the incessant waiting, I have watched for forty years the continuing problems of government inactivity in implementing community programs, that would benefit health/education/housing/employment/and other opportunities for Aboriginal communities to share in the wealth of THEIR country. The actions of Chief Justice Martin in this case alone are proof positive that genocide against Aboriginal communities is perpetrated from the highest offices in the land. Shame Australia, SHAME.

    • whether your black or white what happened to this poor human bieng was in-humane, and so what if he had a previous aneurism, if they investigated it properly facts would definatly show with todays technology.

  18. I find it almost amusing (if it wasn’t so tragic) that when an aboriginal person commits a similar crime (although admittedly against another aboriginal person) and gets a 4-6 year sentence everyone cries ” if he was white he’d get life for murder but because he’s aboriginal and drunk he almost gets off”……and when white people do it the reverse happens. It has only recently in the NT that being drunk has been removed as “a mitigating excuse” and the actual facts of the case are considered on their own.

    I live in Alice and I see this stuff up close. I am absolutely appalled by what they did, as are a majority of non aboriginal people in Alice Springs. Don’t paint everyone in Alice as racist for the actions of a few. Racism can and does go both ways, especially in Alice.

  19. Jacinta, if you would like a breakdown of the offences of the 80% it’s not hard to find out. Over 90% of them involve being drunk and doing things ranging from driving (usually unlicensed in an unregistered car with other people in the car) to beating their wife, to killing people……many of them can not remember doing it and many of them have manifestly inadequate sentences for their crimes.

    The reason they are in prison is because they have committed a crime, usually repeatedly. It has nothing to do with the allegedly racist legal system and everything to do with the social problems that the government and the aboriginal people themselves seem incapable of changing that. Alice Springs is full of “do-gooders” with rose coloured glasses whose hearts are in the right place but their methods are questionable. I would suggest that unless you have first hand knowledge of the situation maybe you should do some research…..on the ground, not on the net.

  20. After reading this article, I am appalled. How can men who prey on the defenceless be cited as having ‘good character’ particularly when they left a man they viciously attacked to die of the injuries they, in a thuggish group, inflicted while he was helpless on the ground?

    You are, I assume, a much more learned person than I, Justice Martin, which is why you are charged with passing judgement on others in my stead.

    Please tell me, which part of ‘good’ describes their actions?

    Also, the report of racist abuse being used during the attack is chilling.

    Based on the information in this article, this judgement cannot go unchallenged. I hope there will be an appeal against the leniency of the sentencing.

    • I think this is kind of leniency when whites offend against Aborigines is tolerated because we are still a colony. We do not believe we have done anything wrong historically to Aborigines,nor do we believe that Aborigines are not getting a fair go now. In the late 19th century, Aborigines were pushed off their land and starved, as sheep and cattle were brought in – “that’s progress” – and now we push them off and ruin their remaining territory and resources with mines which make multinationals rich but devastate Australia.”That’s progress too”.
      With no acknowledgement that we have placed indigenous people in the horrific situations they now live in, how can we expect our legal system to be any better than a colonial administration? With land rights bills that leak bucketsful they’re so flimsy, how can successive generations feel empowered to do anything? We all know the situation is genocidal – maybe we can’t act because of visceral shame.
      What to do? Start by reading Broken Song by Barry Hill, The Tall Man by Chloe Hooper, Enough is enough by Noel Olive and A Cry in the Wind – and then go find an Aboriginal person and say sorry. Then press for a Truth and Reconciliation process where people like these young men could express any remorse they feel in a public arena and the family of Mr Ryder may have some comfort in knowing that some white people actually feel compassion.

  21. BT: If Aboriginal people make up 30% of the population, and 83% of the prison population, why do you think they are so overrepresented in jail if not for a racist criminal justice system (see, for example, the work of Chris Cunneen among others)? Genetic failures? According to Chris Graham, NT imprisons blacks at a rate about 6 times higher than apartheid South Africa. Do you think *they* had a racist criminal justice system? Are you satisfied with the judgement rendered in this case?

    Paul C: if you live in Alice Springs, it is simply not enough to say “I’m appalled” on the internet. My article was not an attack specifically on people who live in Alice Springs, and I had in mind people here in the cities who don’t care when such things happen. But you who actually live in Alice Springs: if you let this pass in silence, this will be your legacy too.

  22. I’ve been avoiding reading this story because I had an inkling of what it described. It is shocking and sad.

    It is important to follow up and I hope you report again on the reaction (and non-reaction) to the original events and the mis-trial.

  23. I think this is a really interesting post. I’d only say that I’m really disinclined to call for harsher sentencing etc. It’s too easy to blame the judiciary for what goes on in a country that is clearly racist. If we start saying they are too soft, we end up joining forces with those calling for an end to suspended sentences, harsher penalties for sex offenders etc etc.

    I’ve worked for people on death row in the US and I’d make any argument I could to prevent them going to the guerney. Including that they were drunk and they did not have the requisite intention. I understand that judges are racist, and so were the defendants, but the way we solve the problem that we face here is not by calling for the judge to be sacked or for harsher sentences.

    This case reflects the basic and obvious idea that crime is a social problem, not a legal problem, and a complex one at that.

  24. I’m utterly disgusted, but I can’t say I’m totally surprised, especially on the media’s lack of treatment of the case. Indigenous Australia is at the bottom of the heap of what makes “news” to mainstream news producers, except when it’s a scandal and *not* in Indigenous peoples’ favour: pedophilia rife in this community, the kids are sick or running amok in that community, oh and Noel Pearson has this to say about all of it. Another symptom of national amnesia and ambivalence.

    (That’s not a slag against Noel Pearson, rather a comment on the fact that he is the media and government’s go-to guy for commentary on Indigenous issues, and is portrayed by the media as speaking for all of Indigenous Australia, rather than speaking for himself and his own community.)

  25. Really makes you think about what would happen if 5 Aboriginal men went out and terrorized a community and killed a defenseless white man.

  26. This is an abomination,,shame on the Judge,,his crime is just as vile as the 5 men,,

  27. Pingback: An example of systemic racism « Wallaby

  28. Micheal Brill, unfortunately the reason that there are that number of aboriginal people in prison is because there are that number of aboriginal (actually quite a lot more) people committing the crimes. I’m sorry that is the case but I’m afraid it’s true. Surely you aren’t suggesting that there are aboriginal people in prison in the NT that haven’t done anything apart from being aboriginal.

    The reality of living in the NT and especially Alice Springs (I have been here for 10 years) is that there is a much, much higher percentage of aboriginal people committing (mainly) alcohol related crimes than there are non-aboriginal people.

    What do you suggest we do with someone who has been picked up DUI for the 5th time in an unregistered car while having no license……slap them on the wrist because they’re aboriginal. Is it racist to lock them up? Does the colour actually matter…..or the crime.

    I am in no way defending these 5 men, I think what they did is despicable, as do the majority of Alice Springs. But the simple fact is (if you actually read the evidence) Donny Ryder had an pre-existing condition that caused his death. According to the way the Australian legal system works, there wasn’t enough evidence of intent to convict these men of murder. Had they been tried for murder and got off due to lack of evidence, they would have walked…..is that what you want?

    There are many aboriginal men in prison for worse crimes than this one with less sentences. I work with these people every day, I am in a position to know the situation. I’m sorry if it doesn’t sit well with you but that’s the way it is. This whole situation is tragic but having uninformed emotional responses won’t make it any better. If you’re not happy with the media coverage then complain to your local papers, it was covered quite extensively here. Most of Alice Springs thinks they got off very lightly. Incidentally, I do the work I do because I care about these people.

    • I understand where you are coming from regarding ‘does the race matter or the crime’. I admit I’d rather see them walk away with light sentences, they have their case completely dismissed!

      In terms of Alice Springs having a high percentage of Aboriginal people committing crimes, Alice Springs DOES house a high percentage of underprivileged Aboriginals & housing commissions. That’s really where the problems lie.

      The fact is, areas with a high density population of underprivileged/low income/uneducated people often result in violence, drug & substance abuse. Why? Ignorance & lack of community support.

      It could be any race really! Look at Frankston, Cabaramatta (in the 90s) & even the Ghettos in America. Low income, little education, massive social violence issues.

      Anyway, I’m off topic..

      BT, it’s really great to hear someone who cares AND is working to make it better.

    • ‘These people’…’these people’, BT?

      And indigenous lives may be in your hands. Your terminology sends a shiver down my spine.

    • Bt your just another redneck living in your redneck society us aboriginal people get locked up for a minor offence but you get a white person committing a minor offence he will walk away with a fine and no conviction recorded until you walk a day in in the life of us aboriginal person then you might have a different point of view and say maybe they are right Austrlia is one of the racist country’s in the World and wake up to yourself you fucking idiot if they were 5 aboriginal men they all would of got a life sentence each and dont sit there and try and turn things around on us when the headline is about 5 white men getting away with murder and getting slap on the wrist so i think it would be best to keep your degradding redneck comments to yourself so why dont you run on back to your Dog kennel and bark at at something else yaa parisite

  29. Alot of very good points are being made ^

    The fact that as a country we STILL call them ‘Abos’ & claim it’s ‘just a word’ is a reflection of our increasing insensitivity & disrespect.

    Respect is what Australia is lacking. Self-respect & respect for others. It’s as though our culture is based on insecurity.

    What is needed is to work on the SELF-IMAGE & RESPECT between young adults. Why do they feel they need to defend themselves/their race/their status?

    A racially biased judge needs to be dismissed. Where is the justice?

  30. Thanks for this independent reporting, responding to the shameful lack of concern in our national media. I was equally horrified by the absence of reporting on the death of Lyji Vaggs in Queensland, a husband and father of three who was killed after voluntarily presenting at a mental health inpatient section of a hospital. Despite having family who worked in the hospital and being known to hospital staff, Mr. Vaggs apparent “boisterous” behaviour led hospital staff to incite six orderlies to hold Vaggs to the ground and to inject him three times against his will with “antipsychotics”. He was fatally injured in this accident and died within 24 hours. He suffered a second death in national news outlets when the story of this violence was sent to the back pages and, eventually, dismissed altogether. Thank goodness for independent media to let concerned people know of injustice and human rights abuses in this country.

  31. ‘Out of character’?! Most young men 18-25 run on testosterone & pride. Even the most placid male will retort if they feel they are being threatened in anyway.

    I’m sorry, ‘good natured’ people don’t just jump in the car one day & decide to go on a drunken rampage.

  32. Nicely put Lauren. I have never used the term Abo, I find it highly offensive and I find it used a lot more on the East Coast than here in Central Australia.

    And you summed it up very nicely by saying it could be any race. The problem here is social problems, it just happens to be aboriginal people who are suffering them here.

    I have travelled overseas extensively and racism is alive and well in every country I have visited…..unfortunate but true.

    • Really? ‘Abo’ is used around here like it’s nothing. Disgusting word.
      Even ‘fob’ is used like it’s an endearment!

      Racism is alive & kicking everywhere. The sad thing is, I don’t understand where this comes from, because I myself have never EVER been offended by someones race!

      Nor have I ever felt I needed to kick someones head in just to get my kicks because I feel so unstimulated & dissastified with my life.

  33. BT: You didn’t answer the questions I put to you. This will be the last reply I direct to you. You didn’t say whether you consider South African Apartheid to have had a racist criminal justice system. Plainly, this is to address the relevant issue of whether the system operates in a racially biased manner. Even so, that is not the point of the essay above, which is devoted to one decision in particular, which you can judge on its merits. In your final post, you even seem to acknowledge the possibility of a racially biased criminal justice system: you say it comes from social problems. If you agree that the criminal justice system has a class bias, and that this will disproportionately affect Indigenous Australians, then you should agree that the system is racially biased.

    The other thing you say, which is either dishonest or disingenuous, is that Aboriginal people commit more crimes than non-Indigenous Australians, which accounts for their high incarceration rates. You write as though there were no discretion in these matters. I’m sure you know perfectly well that for example, mandatory sentencing was brought in, knowing full well it would exacerbate the problem. In the space of a few comments, I’m not going to change your mind, but talking about your anecdotal experiences does not outweight extensive literature on these issues (not restricted to the NT by any means). I’d just add Coercive Reconciliation includes essays which make the basic points that a) the NT has the highest drinking rate in Australia b) non-Indigenous Australians drink more than Indigenous Australians.

    One more thing. It is not enough to say “we here in Alice Springs are widely opposed to this decision”. You are in a position to actually make this known, and do something about it.

    Or not.

    • Oh the final thing: BT says
      “But the simple fact is (if you actually read the evidence) Donny Ryder had an pre-existing condition that caused his death.”

      No, BT. You should actually read the evidence. The judge said that Ryder “died from a traumatic subarachnoid haemorrhage, that is, bleeding from a blood vessel at the base of the brain. It is not known precisely what caused this bleeding”. So your “simple fact” is already a falsification. The pathologist said a likely cause was the bursting of an aneurysm – a “little balloon-like swelling on a blood vessel at the base of the brain.” The pathologist said this could have been caused spontaneously or by trauma. That the judge went from taking this speculation to established fact doesn’t mean it’s actually true. Furthermore, even were it true, it would not be a cause of his death. It was a pre-existing susceptibility that caused his death at what may have been an early stage in the beating: by itself we have no reason to think it would have killed him. It’s like saying a hemophiliac died because of a pre-existing condition, if the speculation were actually accurate. And overlooking the fact that kicking someone in the head and smashing them with a bottle in the head are actually not minor acts of vioence.

  34. Believe what you like Micheal. I’m not defending the men who did this, I’m not defending our legal system that is far from perfect, I’m certainly not defending the general tendency towards racism in Australia. You can say what you want about comparisons with South Africa and here……all I know is, I work in the system, I see what happens here and there is more to it than a bunch of statistics say.

    Let’s just agree to disagree. Aboriginal people do commit more crimes, more often in the NT. The repeat offender figures are up around 70%, the causes are social/cultural rather than racial.

  35. Pingback: Of good character « blue milk

  36. http://www.culturalsurvival.org/publications/cultural-survival-quarterly/gordon/mandatory-gaol-sentences-minor-property-crime-austra

    Mandatory Gaol Sentences for Minor Property Crime in Australia’s Northern Territory

    Author: Renouf Gordon (2000)

    “The mandatory detention of adults and juveniles in Australia’s Northern Territory (and less drastically in the State of Western Australia) has been the subject of local, national and international controversy. My purpose here is to describe the laws, outline their criticisms and define the response of the Northern Territory and Commonwealth governments.

    The simmering controversy erupted into a national political drama with the death in custody (in February 2000) of a 15 year-old indigenous boy from a remote community who was serving a period of 28 days detention. The sentence was imposed on him for stealing marker pens and paint from the local community council building. The value of the stolen property was A$90.”

    Worth a read for another perspective on the kind of crimes considered jailable in the Northern Territory.

  37. Had heard in town (Mparntwe/Alice Springs) that this was not an isolated incident lately where a white ute was used to attack Aboriginal people, any1 else heard about this sort of thing?

    • Recently this year 2010 white boys drove into a community in the NT while the men were gone and terrorised the women. Only was a quick report in the mainstream news and then silence.

  38. Would love to hear what Martin would have had to say if it was Aboriginal men who had killed a white man. This is absolutely disgusting. Make him go out and tell the family of the man who was killed that the men (that’s debatable) who did it were ‘people of good character’. Australia IS a racist country and the sooner everyone stops denying this, the sooner the racism will start to be recognised and stopped. Being a young Aboriginal woman who many white people think is not Aboriginal due to the colour of my skin, I have had the opportunity to witness how blatantly racist these so called upstanding citizens of our society can be when they think nobody is listening.
    I am sick and tired of reading articles like this one, where this blaringly obvious racial discrimination is brought to light, but is ignored.

  39. Clare if you read up on it you’ll find mandatory sentencing was introduced in 1997 by the CLP and abolished in 2001 by the Labour Party so your link is 10 years out of date.

    As I have said earlier I don’t support or condone any of the people or actions in this case. I do believe Australia is a lot more racist than most people like to believe. I know exactly where Kira is coming from concerning the fine upstanding citizens when they don’t think anyone can hear them. However I don’t think we have a racist legal system in the NT.

    I wonder how much fuss would be made here if it had been 5 aboriginal men beating on one aboriginal man, or five white men beating on one white man……and the sentences where the same. There are plenty of people in prison in the NT for similar crimes against same race people with similar or less sentences. Surely you’re not suggesting that the punishment of a crime should vary depending on the race of the people involved…..that is racial profiling at it’s worst.

    I believe the courts in the NT are too soft….on everyone…..nothing to do with race, colour or religion…..just too soft. A man was recently released on a 2 year suspended sentence for drug dealing….I find that unbelievable.

    • Also Kira, that case is still coming up, two aboriginal men beat a white man to death in Alice Springs last year and still haven’t been sentenced……the circumstances were somewhat different though.

    • I did realise the report was written in 2000.

      Surely you’re not suggesting that the punishment of a crime should vary depending on the race of the people involved…..that is racial profiling at it’s worst.

      Certainly, that is not what I’m suggesting. In fact, I personally don’t believe in punishment for crimes at all. I can’t offer you an alternative, but the punitive approach seems only to create criminals.

      But if we’re going to go for punishment, perhaps if the five convicted men had their income reduced to the average in the camps they terrorised, their property reduced to the average in the camps they terrorised, all land rights removed from their families and their families’ families, and 200 odd years of slavery, colonisation and vilification poured upon their heads – then they might be able find the empathy necessary to make a proper restitution.

      I read the Judge’s comments and it struck me that 63 paragraphs were dedicated to humanising the perpetrators – outlining their good natures, prospects, families, etc., and reinforcing the ‘out of character’ nature of their crimes. Crimes described not as crimes, but as ‘tragedy’. 3 paragraphs are given to the victims – 2, really, as the first of them was hardly personal. The victim is also referred to as ‘the 33 year old male’ and no qualification for this decision (I realise it may be cultural)- no mention of the victim’s prospects, his character; only a brief mention of his mother’s sorrow.

      I don’t think there are easy or blanket solutions to the problems of our historical and current crimes against Aboriginal Australia. I’m not on a high horse imagining that I know anything at all – but BT, despite your best efforts and my research ineptitudes, the Judge’s comments in this case seem outrageously pro-perpetrator and it seems naive to imagine race has nothing to do with that.

      • It’s actually a pretty normal thing in sentencing for not a lot to be said about the victim and a lot more to be said about the perpetrator. Because the decision to be made is about the perpetrator and how long they are going to gaol for, plus there is a strong legal principle that no one human life is worth more or less than another, so the reasoning really needs to be directed at what it is about the person going to gaol that justifies one sentence or another.

  40. “Commit more crimes”? Aboriginal people are targetted by the police (check the incident of the toy gun last year). Many people are imprisoned for non-payment of fines. Are they paying their debt to society? Oppression of the under-privileged, I’d say.
    Consideration needs to be given to the reasons why people are driven to drink and drugs. Yes, poverty,unemployment etc. What about disempowerment, lack of self-esteem, dispossession, despair? We have a crap government who uses tokenistic words and symbols to pretend they care. Shame, Australia, shame.

  41. I give up….I don’t know what it is like where you live but here people get arrested and charged only if they’re doing something wrong…..the rest of the time they don’t. People do not get sent to prison for doing nothing……at least not here.

  42. The only reason the mandatory sentencing was said to target aboriginal people was that they were committing more crimes. Forget all the reasons…..and there are many, many different factors involved. Mandatory sentencing simply stated that if a person committed 3 property offences they got a mandatory prison term. Of course there were people who received a manifestly excessive penalty for the actual crime committed but they did commit a crime. If you think there were people imprisoned for committing no crime at all I’d like to see some evidence.

    Mandatory sentencing was a terrible bit of legislation and was rightly repealed……but it did not involve jailing people who had not committed crimes.

    • I think the problem isn’t that (aboriginal) people who committed a crime were sentenced, it is that other (white) people weren’t.

      I do not know enough about the Australian legal system to comment on the sentence or the fairness of it. So I won’t say anything about that.

      However, if you say it’s not racism, it’s a social/economical problem, where do those social issues stem from? Don’t they come from a “racist system”?
      How many ghetto like quarters are there for white people and how many for aboriginal people?

      I know those ghettos were established in the (distant) past, but why haven’t they been removed? Is it really just that the people living there don’t move away? And could they move away? Would they be able to afford moving to a better neighbourhood?
      My background, just to explain where I’m coming from, is that I’m a single mum of two. I am currently unemployed and I am looking for jobs. I’m also not living in Australia, I’m in germany (and I am german). It’s very difficult here to find full time childcare, usually children here start kindergarten at age 3 and get a spot from 8-12. counting in commute time I would be able to work about 4 hours per day. There are little to no jobs available for 4 hours in the morning. So, if I wasn’t lucky enough to be living in my grandparents house, rent free, I would be forced to move into a subsidised apartment in a “ghetto” and since employers know those addresses I would be even less likely to find a job than I am now.

      So, would it even be possible for an aboriginal child to go to a good school, get a solid education, find a good job and make enough money to break the cycle? How many succeed? I know here, in germany, we have generations of unemployed. Literally families where no one has had a steady job for generations. It can only go downhill for the children. If you can’t explain maths problems to your kid because you never understood it yourself, and you can’t afford to pay someone else to explain to your child, that child will not get good grades, will not go to a good school, will not be able to get a good report and will not be able to find a good job, or any job at all for that matter.
      And if you’re unemployed you have a lot of time on your hands that needs to be filled. With very little money to spend. So either you sit at home watching TV a lot or you hang out with people who, like you, have nothing else to do. And that’s where it starts spiralling downward.
      Of course you could also go to the library and read all the books there for free, or sit in the park and people watch, or even ask at the local college if it’s ok to sit in on some lectures (that’s totally possible in germany, I don’t know how possible that is in australia. AFAIK you can not take tests though, you have to enrol for that) but coming from an environment where education is not something you actively seek… I guess you get my point.

      Basically we as a global society need to find a way to avoid building ghettos of any kind, we have to make sure that all children get adequate access to education all children who need help studying get that help, regardless of family income.
      If we manage to get more people educated well, we will have a much bigger chance to one day end up with a society that does not discriminate against itself, that is able to identify problems and address them appropriately. But if we keep doing what we’re doing right now we will keep getting what we’re getting.

      • This isn’t an Aboriginal only problem. There are also many white people living in poverty and ‘ghettos’ and not enough is done to help either.

  43. Your logic is really odd BT.

    This post has nothing to do with people being sent to jail for not doing anything wrong, and everything to do with the part racism plays in in sentencing.

    Your comments about ‘more Aboriginals committing crimes’ are completely beside the point. The issue is firstly the blatant racism and dispossession that has led to these ‘crimes’ (by fueling poverty, lack of education, substandard living conditions etc) and the fact that Aboriginal people are often treated differently than whites if they do do something ‘wrong’.

    I only wish people working in this sector, purportedly to ‘help’ Aboriginal people, understood this.

  44. Maxine, I wasn’t the one brought up mandatory sentencing and claimed it was a racist policy. I was just pointing out that the only people who were sent to prison were people who had committed 3 property crimes. Considering more aboriginal people were imprisoned under the mandatory sentencing legislation there can only be two conclusions (if we accept the premise that the legislation is racist) being that either aboriginals commit more crimes or aboriginal people are being jailed for nothing. I was just stating the latter was not the case.

    The legislation was clearly aimed at curbing the increasing crime rate and a majority of it was being committed by aboriginal people (which is why I said in an earlier post it was a terrible piece of legislation and was rightly repealed), mainly younger people. Regardless of the reasons why it is simply how it is here. The reasons why (most of which I am well aware of) are way to extensive to go into here. To say it is simply a matter of racist policies is to simplify it beyond belief.

    However after 10 years in Alice Springs listening to the government saying they’re doing this and that, introducing this program and that program, spending this amount of money and that amount of money…..all the while watching the problems suffered by the traditional owners of Central Australia getting worse and worse….I am leaving. I am seriously over watching the government “being seen to be doing something” but either achieving nothing or making the problem worse. I am saddened by the whole situation here.

    Many people here seem to be taking what I say completely the wrong way. I have heard all the rants and raves about racist policy from every corner of society…..none of them actually make any difference to the people living here. It is one thing to post on an internet forum how unjust it is but it won’t actually get anything done. In my experience it goes way past racism…..the governments (state and federal) are actually helpless. Nothing they have tried has made any difference (and many attempts have been terribly racist) but the people expect them to do something (in many cases to soothe their consciences) so they continue to have knee jerk reactions. I have seen both sides of the coin. I have seen programs introduced, I have seen the reactions (from the people they supposed to assist), I have seen the programs run out of funding just when they are starting to make a little progress……and things go back to worse.

    There is a reason that the burnout rate of workers working within the aboriginal “assistance” field (for want of a better description) is incredibly high. If people really want to be outraged, come to the centre, get a job in the field and try doing something…..I have, I’m burned out and I’m tired of hearing how bad a terrible we all are and how badly we treat our aboriginal people. I’m sick of hearing emotional criticism, what I want hear are solutions…..solutions that are feasible and solutions that will work…..that is constructive. Just posting how terrible things are is simply posturing and gaining the moral high ground.

    • BT said: “Considering more aboriginal people were imprisoned under the mandatory sentencing legislation there can only be two conclusions (if we accept the premise that the legislation is racist) being that either aboriginals commit more crimes or aboriginal people are being jailed for nothing. I was just stating the latter was not the case.”

      I say: No, there is a third conclusion, which is that white people did commit the same crimes but were not imprisoned.

      I’m not saying that’s the case, I’m saying there is that possibility.

      I think one important thing I need to state, just for the record, is that, for lack of better word, certain groups of people are more likely to commit certain crimes.
      For example: If you’re constantly hungry and lack the money to feed yourself you’re more likely to steal food than if you’re able to buy enough food to feed yourself.

      It doesn’t make stealing okay, and to honest I’m not sure what exactly should be done in cases like this. I know of a case in germany though. Two teens were caught multiple times driving without a license. They were put in jail, and since they turned 18 there, they were given the opportunity to get their drivers license in jail.
      I’m not sure if that’s the right approach though. Of course they’re now probably not going to be caught driving without a license again, if they don’t lose it for something like DUI or speeding,… but it also sends a message that if you do something often enough you might just get lucky and gain something from it.

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