A Broken Window In A Kalgoorlie Courthouse

Aboriginal children on the roof of a police car during a protest

The details are sketchy. 

A fourteen year old Aboriginal child is dead.  His body is found lying in the bush.

A fifty five year old man is charged with manslaughter, and the details are cautiously outlined.  

The man who was arrested is the owner of a motorcycle, the same motorcycle which was allegedly stolen at the weekend.  The same motorcycle found by the body of the boy. 

The man is also the owner of a Nissan Navara utility.  The same car that left tyre tracks along the route that the teenager took from the road into the scrub. 

The police won’t say how the Nissan made contact with the motorcycle, other than to say that the man has been charged with manslaughter. 

That should be the story.  That a man in a big car allegedly ran down a child on a motorcycle in a vigilante attack.  

Instead, it is not.  And the outrage from the public is not about the death of the child, it is about the community response and crime in Kalgoorlie. 

The West Australian post a video to social media – not about the death of a child, but of a broken window at a courthouse.  There are angry comments from the community – again, not about the death of the child, but about the crime rates in the Kalgoorlie community.  And the responses from White Australia are stunning. 

The posts about the broken window are filled with outrage.  Who will pay for that?  One questioner asks angrily, as the protests start and the violence starts escalating.  Its evidence to them that this death was ‘waiting to happen’, and they happily ignore the part they may have played in that tragedy.  There’s a closed Facebook group called ‘Name, Shame and Crimes Kalgoorlie’ https://www.facebook.com/groups/388890791152883/ filled with comments (as recently as a few days ago) about ‘running them over’ and plans for revenge.  There’s a joke, casually made, asking how many bodies it would take to fill all the mine shafts.  The answer is ‘we’re one theft closer to finding out’. 

As we speak, there are protests, riots, clashes with police, violence.  In response, the Deputy Mayor of Kalgoorlie has made a worried plea to the indigenous community to ‘not take vigilante action’.   There is widespread censure of the attacks on police and on the courthouse by the griefstricken mob, and not a word about the irony of the use of the term ‘vigilante’.

‘Thief got what was coming to him’, says one poster.  Hahahaha standard with this filthy race and the only race to get away with it. Oh well time to give them more I suppose’ says another.  ‘WHITE LIVES MATTER TOO!!!!!!!!!!!’ shrieks another outraged white person.  ‘Your lot are not after justice, just an excuse to have a riot. Justice would be to allow the courts and polie to do their jobs. Justice will not be served until you all are charged and convicted for your role in the riots.’

There are calls to shoot the rioters and approval for the actions of the Navara owner.  Members of the Aboriginal community says that he hit the boy, ran him over and then left him to die alone. 

So much hatred.  And as the grieving, screaming mob tear up bricks and hurl them through windows, I wonder this. 

I wonder if any of them were related to Ms Dhu, an Aboriginal woman who was locked up for not paying $3,622 worth of fines and who died after being ‘dragged like a kangaroo’ into hospital.  https://newmatilda.com/2016/03/30/ms-dhus-pain-how-to-hurt-an-aboriginal-family-without-even-really-trying/

I wonder how many people present knew Mr Ward, the Aboriginal man who was cooked to death in the back of an unairconditioned prison van http://www.abc.net.au/news/2011-05-05/wa-government-pleads-guilty-in-mr-ward-death/2706240 in 2011 after being transported 400km to face a drink driving charge in a Kalgoorlie court. 

I wonder how many of the rioters knew any number of Aboriginal people who have been failed by systems in regional Western Australia, including Mr Phillips.  http://www.abc.net.au/local/stories/2011/01/11/3110776.htm  The children in his family played together with my children when they were young.  

I wonder what the response would have been if the child who had died had been white.  If the child had been run down by an Aboriginal man in a big car.  If it hadn’t been in Kalgoorlie. 

I wonder how many of them had experienced their own systemic oppression and entrenched racism at the hands of others, and how many came from families where children had been taken from their mothers.  How many live with ongoing intergenerational disadvantage.  How many were related to the child – his death is the third in his family in three weeks. 

How can you live with that kind of injustice and NOT riot?  It’s not just expressed outrage and grief, it’s a natural reaction to continued marginalisation, erasure, to racism, to the diminishing of human tragedy.  It’s a response to a world that prioritises expressions of community outrage to the story of the killing of a child.  A media storm that focuses on a broken courthouse window rather than a boy who is left to die on a muddy outback track. 

There is more than a window that is broken here.   

'A woman measures her life's damage
my eyes are caves, chunks of etched rock
tied to the ghost of a black boy   
crying and frightened
her tow-headed children cluster   
like little mirrors of despair   
their father's hands upon them   
and soundlessly
a woman begins to weep.'

- Afterimages, by Audre Lord (on the murder of 14 year old Emmett Till)


  1. Someone shared this quote today as events were unfolding:
    "Decades later they're still asking why Mookie smashed the window at Sal's instead of why they killed Radio Raheem." -Do The Right Thing, Spike Lee.

  2. Thank you for writing such a hard piece and sharing it. I hope that country sings up the biggest wind and all the hatred gets choked. Yes, we did know Mr Ward.

  3. Sympathy to the family of the 14 year old thats life was taken in such tragic circumstances. What has been reported then the person that killed the 14 year old should face the consequences of their actions.

    I agree that the media focus their attention on the wrong aspects of an issue. Focuses and encourages racist comments.

    However i believe your article doesn't condone the violence, it encourages this behaviour. Providing links to aboriginal people that have died is inciting anger and racist tension.

    Bill Rowe, 49, died after being hit with cricket bat

    quote 'Community anger at the killing sparked fears of vigilante action and racial tensions. Rowe's family urged the public not to intervene.'

    The charge person served 5 years in jail. Then was arrested again.

    This is not to be a 'tick for tack' but an example there are there are deaths caused in tragic circumstances.

    There are racist people out there and will always be unfortunately (facebook comments). I haven't got a solution to resolve the issue.

    How are we going to move forward into the future?

  4. We 'move forward into the future' by demanding justice is served lawfully. If you knew about all the cases you say 'encourage violence' then you'd know that justice has/is lacking for the victims.
    The Facebook comments highlight the intent/encouragement you speak of & actually goes to show that if s18C of the RDA (Racial Discrimination Act) were strengthened instead of weakened, perhaps it may not have boiled over today? Anyway, hypothesising doesn't really help or change that now. In spite of the lack of faith, let's hope for justice.

    1. Exactly, justice lacking. Across the board covering age, sex and race.

  5. The riots were inexcusable regardless and the Police acted correctly.

    We don't know the circumstances surrounding how the boy was hit. I personally believe it is one's natural right to pursue somebody who has stolen something off them, especially in an under-funded country town where the Police force is too busy with the unbelievably rates of crime including domestic violence, where theft (rightfully) takes a backseat.

    I have personally pursued someone with my own stolen property in eerily similar circumstances. It was also a motorbike taken, and I live in a low-socioeconomic area with crime rates the Police can't control. The thief gave up and dropped the bike, although left it with significant damage.

    I don't think I should go to jail for doing so, were he to have an accident in the process.

    If he intentionally hit the kid, he should go to jail. We don't know that yet.

  6. Thanks for writing this. Would just like to make two contributions:

    1. The poet Audre's last name is spelled Lorde, not Lord.
    2. For reflections on black struggles against colonialism, please check out thisisbobbylondon.com and chaka8.wordpress.com. They're writing from california, western united states, rather than western australia, but maybe Aboriginal people will find their words valuable.

    a luta continua

    1. My mistake, that second link should be: chaka85.wordpress.com

  7. One man is guilty of killing the child, the justice system is in the process of bringing him to justice, there was no need for a small group of people to take it out on the whole community. These people have their own medical centre free of charge, they are given money every week for doing nothing, they are given houses to live in, for nothing and all they do is cry victim. I'll tell you what they are victims of, they are victims of their own parents setting a bad example and keeping them in an endless cycle of abuse and anger. I have seen six year old kids watch their older brother bash his girl friend while his older relatives watch on and do nothing about it, these people hate and hurt each other more than anyone else on the outside does to them. Stop blaming the rest of the community for the mess they are in, they need to take responsibility for their own disgraceful behaviour.

    1. Unknown - you are correct in saying peep need to take responsibility for their own behaviour - we all do.
      That includes the people who took part in FB pages inciting racism, and the bloke who seemingly ran over this young fella.
      Like it or not it also includes our whole society, past and present.
      Any disfunction in First Nations' societies and peep is at least partly attributable to the events of colonisation and subsequent events.
      The alienation from and lack of respect for our Aussie justice, legal and political systems is understandable, and of course regrettable.
      I know you are not the 'unknown soldier' who hoisted the union jack, or fired the first shot, took kids from their parents, or denied peep access to their own lands, or forbade them to speak their own ancient languages, or desecrated sacred places, ... - at least I hope not.
      These things all happened in living memory on this country to our original peoples.
      You may claim this is nothing to do with you - wrong I am afraid.
      We have all benefited from these past actions.
      They contravene our own laws and moral beliefs.
      e.g. It is a crime to be a beneficiary or recipient of stolen property.
      And since when did private property take precedence over human life?

  8. This comment has been removed by the author.

  9. Whoever left the above comment, I can't begin to address how wrong you are. Except to point out your outrageous ignorance.

  10. Whoever left the above comment, I can't begin to address how wrong you are. Except to point out your outrageous ignorance.


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