Uneasy truce comes to Palm Island

Source: The Age December 3 2004

Calm, perhaps only temporary, has returned to Palm Island in north Queensland. But rumblings from Aboriginal Australia - over issues such as racism, injustice and deaths in custody - are growing louder.

"We are in a crisis racially in this country," leading indigenous academic Professor Boni Robertson said. "They cannot expect to keep treating our people this way and that there will be no retaliation." The death in custody of Palm Island man Cameron Doomadgee, 36, has sparked an outcry in the indigenous community. The still mysterious events that occurred within an hour in a watchhouse cell on the island have ignited ever-present tensions between indigenous Australia and white authority.

"Palm Island is not a specific case; many of our indigenous communities have been pushed to almost breaking point," Professor Robertson said. "In similar circumstances other communities could react the same way.

"How many times do our people have to make this point to government?"

Last Friday up to 300 rioting islanders set fire to the Aboriginal settlement's watchhouse, police station and residential barracks before going on a rampage on the island's government-owned buildings.

The riot followed the release of Mr Doomadgee's autopsy results, which revealed the 36-year-old suffered four broken ribs and died from an intra-abdominal hemorrhage caused by a ruptured liver and portal vein. The injuries occurred during a "scuffle" with a policeman on November 19.

The angry mob, who believed Mr Doomadgee had been murdered, responded with fury. Police, media and others were forced to flee in fear of their lives.

Aboriginal leaders are planning national protest rallies on December 11 to declare "enough is enough".