NATIONAL: As Australians, we like to think we care. We cried over Daniel Morcombe; we marched for Jill Meagher. But if we measure our society on how we treat our poorest citizens, I can’t help but feel we as a society have a very long way to go, writes AMY MCQUIRE*.
In no way do I want to take away from the tragedy of these two cases, and the overwhelming sense of pain their families feel. But I do want to make the point that, just as Australians rose up for justice for them, just as newspapers placed it on their front pages, and politicians marched in solidarity, the same concern should be afforded to three Aboriginal children who were murdered on the mid-north coast more than two decades ago.
The accused murderer has a new life a short four hours drive down the road, while the families of these murdered children struggle every day to overcome their grief.
Between 1990-1991, Colleen Walker, 16, Evelyn Greenup, 4, and Clinton Speedy-Duroux, 16, went missing from the same stretch of street that cuts through the Bowraville mission, ominously titled “Cemetery Road”.
From the very first day – the families suspected a non-Indigenous man, one of the very few who hung around the mission, had a role to play in the disappearances.
But they struggled to get their pleas heard through the apathetic haze of the local police force. They told the community that the girls had probably gone “walkabout”, and failed to take their cases seriously.
It wasn’t until Clinton went missing that they sent in a taskforce from the Child Mistreatment Unit. They suspected the community for child abuse, not murder.
And it wasn’t until Clinton’s body was found that the police launched a homicide investigation – which was botched from the outset and only acted as a roadblock to justice.
This represents only a small part of this terrible saga that has gripped the community and continues to cast its dark shadows over the mission for more than two decades.
In 1997, a new investigation was opened, led by former Detective Sergeant Jason Evers and Detective Inspector Gary Jubelin, later of Underbelly fame. Both should be congratulated for their dogged determination to achieve justice for this community.
Both officers spent over a decade winning back the trust of the families and rebuilding the case. They are certain there is only one man responsible for these murders.
In an ABC Four Corners piece in 2011, former Det Sgt Evers told the program the identity of the killer was patently obvious:
“I could make a cop show out of this and it wouldn’t get to the first ad break because it’d all be over, because the summation is that quick. There’s no challenge to it.”
That man is Jay Hart – who has moved on with his life and is now living in Newcastle with a new name and family. His new employment means he has some contact with Aboriginal children.
He had been charged with the murders of Clinton and Evelyn in 1991 (Evelyn’s trial was in 2006 after Jay Hart was acquitted of Clinton’s murder in 1992). While in prison he made full and partial admissions to four prisoners but only one of these informants’ testimonies were used in Evelyn’s trial, and none in Clinton’s.
So why has he never been convicted?
The trials were not linked, and it is the families’ continuing belief, and that of their legal representatives, that they would have secured a conviction if all three cases were run in one trial, because of the disturbing similarities between them.
Jay Hart was never charged over Colleen’s murder. Her body has never been found, and this continues to devastate her family.
In 2006, after years of solid campaigning by the families, the double jeopardy laws, which would have prevented Jay Hart being tried again, were overturned, with this case in mind.
That victory gave a glimmer of hope for justice because police believed they had new fresh and compelling evidence that could put Jay Hart back on the witness stand.
Allens submitted an application to the previous Attorney General John Hatzistergos, asking him to refer the case back to the Court of Criminal Appeal – which he knocked back twice.
With a change of government, the families again referred the application to the new Attorney General Greg Smith, who, after sitting on it for 18 months, also knocked it back.
At a meeting with representatives of the families earlier this year, Mr Smith told them that the best they could do now is move on and get more grief counseling.
This is only a short summary of what the families have had to go through for more than two decades. Anyone who has sat in a room with them would not be able to escape the pain of their loss – it is as present as if it happened yesterday.
Colleen, Evelyn and Clinton have not left them, but the memories that should contain the beauty of their short lives are instead tainted by the circumstances of their deaths, and the enduring injustice that surrounds it.
All the families want is for Jay Hart to be put on the witness stand – one day in court in exchange for countless days at the cemetery.
The apathy to which their case has been treated should be an indictment on Australia. They should be on the front pages of newspapers
all over the country. Colleen, Clinton and Evelyn should be household names. We still talk about the Beaumont children. Why not Bowraville?
That’s not to say this story hasn’t been reported. It has. But it has failed to create the waves of public concern we see in other cases.
Their families have struggled to get people to care, to take notice.
And although I hate to think race plays any part in it – it’s hard not to argue that the reason was because these three kids were Aboriginal.
It shouldn’t be about that though. At it’s core, this story is about three innocent children who never got a chance at life, who were stolen from their families. It is about the crippling of a community who fight every single day for justice.
They can’t move on.
And as a nation, we shouldn’t either.
*The next chapter in their story begins on Macquarie St next Thursday. If you would like to march for justice for the Bowraville children meet at Hyde Park at 10 am, November 21st.