Police Testimony and the Brewarrina Riot Trial

Kerry Zubrinich, barry morris

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


    Judge Nash made this statement during the summing up of the 'Brewarrina 17' riot trial (R v. Bates, Murray and Orcher), which was held at the District Court in Bathurst, New South Wales, in 1991. The statement reiterates his position throughout the trial that the alleged crimes of the Aboriginal defendants, as citizens of the state subject to its laws, were on trial - not the issue of race relations. The composition of the courtroom provided a compelling but contradictory image to the judge's pronouncement. The only Aboriginal people in the inner sanctum of the courtroom were the three accused in the dock. The defence and prosecution lawyers and their assistants were non-Aboriginal. The press gallery, where fellow anthropologist Dr Ernst and I sat among reporters and police, were all non-Aboriginal. The jurors, on the opposite side of the courtroom, were non-Aboriginal. The judge, bewigged and robed in the ritual style of the British legal system, was, of course, non-Aboriginal. The red cedar-panelled bench the judge occupied elevated him directly in front of and above the accused Aborigines in the dock, beneath a portrait of Elizabeth II, Queen of England and the symbolic head of Britain and the colonising power of Australia. The only other Aboriginal faces were those of the friends and relatives of the accused in the public gallery. In terms of the symbolism of the courtroom, the positions of authority, and the empowered sites for evaluation and judgment, an Aboriginal presence was confined to the position of objects of the decision-making processes as defendants or passive observers of that process. For my colleagues and myself sitting in the courtroom, the judge's statement had the somewhat hollow ring of an enunciation of principle rather than an observable ethics of conduct in courtroom practice.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationProtests Land Rights and Riots
    Editors Barry Morris
    Place of PublicationCanberra
    PublisherAboriginal Studies Press
    ISBN (Print)9781922059345
    Publication statusPublished - 2013


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