Within two years, the families of three Aboriginal children murdered on Bowraville mission a quarter of a century ago have gone from protesting outside the gates of state Parliament, to guests inside the halls of power, where yesterday, the next step was taken to get the accused killer back before court.
Family members of Colleen Walker, 16, Evelyn Greenup, 4, and Clinton Speedy Duroux, 16, packed the state Legislative Council yesterday, travelling overnight from as far as Bowraville, Warwick, Tenterfield and Coffs Harbour in their long fight for justice.
Greens MLC David Shoebridge addressed NSW Parliament to deliver the second reading of his Crimes (Appeal and Review) Amendment (Double Jeopardy) Bill 2005, designed to clarify a simple legal definition which is preventing the matter returning to court.
The definition, untested in NSW courts, is seen as an artificial legal barrier preventing the case being sent back to the Court of Criminal Appeal.
The families have been protesting for the past two decades for justice for their murdered children. Colleen, Evelyn and Clinton all disappeared within a six-month period from late 1990 to early 1991, from the same stretch of road on Bowraville mission.
There has only ever been one man accused of the crimes – a non-Indigenous man who hung around the mission at the time. Thanks to a bungled police investigation, underpinned by a racism that has since been acknowledged by the NSW Police force, the man has never been convicted.
A second investigation, headed by high-profile homicide detective Gary Jubelin over a number of years, helped unravel the past mistakes.
The accused man was acquitted of both Clinton and Evelyn’s murders, but has never been charged over Colleen’s death. Her body has never been found, although some of her clothing and belongings were recovered from a nearby river.
The families have always maintained there would have been a better chance of conviction if all three trials were linked into one.
The long-running issue has torn the families apart and compounded the trauma felt within the communities, with even the children living in the shadow of the enduring injustice.
After Evelyn’s trial, the families campaigned to have the double jeopardy laws overturned. ‘Double jepoardy’ is a legal principle which means you can’t be tried for the same crime twice.
The NSW Parliament did precisely that in 2006, with the Bowraville case specifically in mind. Now, a matter can be retried providing there is “fresh and compelling” evidence.
However, the families’ application, with new evidence, was knocked back by two separate state Attorney Generals due to the definition of the word ‘adduced’ or ‘admitted’ in the legislation.
After the families staged a protest in 2013, shutting down busy Macquarie St, the parliament unanimously supported an inquiry into the response to the murders. It is the first time the NSW Parliament has conducted an inquiry on a single case.
That inquiry culminated in an emotional day in state parliament last year, where the committee handed down a number of recommendations, including two key avenues to get the accused killer before court again.
But in the absence of any response from government, Mr Shoebridge drafted a bill and called for submissions to clarify an ongoing debate over legal definitions. He introduced that bill earlier this year after the state government dragged its feet in its response to the parliamentary inquiry.
Two days ago, Attorney General Gabrielle Upton, who met with members of the families a month ago, announced that the state government would accept all the recommendations of the report, and announced a review into the double jeopardy principle, to be headed Justice James Wood.
The deadline for the review is November.
Mr Shoebridge’s bill will likely not be read again until then, after the review is completed.
“I’m pleased today, ignoring the political divide between us… that the Attorney General Gabrielle Upton has adopted each and every one of those recommendations (of the inquiry)… and is working to implement them,” Mr Shoebridge told parliament.
“And I commend her for not just for her actions in adopting the recommendations, but for one of the first things she did as the Attorney. She did what previous Attorneys have failed to do. She met with the families and then she listened,” Mr Shoebridge told Parliament.
“And when you spoke to the families after that meeting. They said what a wonderful change it was, and what a fine moment it was.”
But Mr Shoebridge said the government could have gone further in responding to the recommendations of the inquiry.
“The government’s announcement on Tuesday is the culmination of the hard work and dedication, the ceaseless dedication of the Bowraville families, which ultimately galvanised and united this parliament in sympathy of this parliament… and now we see support for the implementation of those recommendations.
“There is one recommendation, recommendation 8 (to amend the double jeopardy laws) where the government I believe could and should have gone further… it could have implemented an immediate reform to the law of double jeopardy, removing one substantial hurdle to a retrial of the Bowraville murders.”
Mr Shoebridge said while the review by Justice Woods was welcome, “time was of the essence”.
“Of course, that’s a further delay, 25 years after the murders. And during that time, families of the victims continue to suffer, witnesses’ recollections fade, and sadly some key witnesses have died.”
But while the families now will have to wait until November for the next steps to be taken, there was a keen sense of optimism.
Colleen’s brother Lucas Craig Walker told New Matilda they were half way there.
“It feels good. It feels like we are being heard. To have this positive outcome is giving us hope it is still there, that we can finally have justice,” Mr Craig Walker told New Matilda.
“Yes it has been 25 years. Considering it’s going to be November, it is a long way. But I guess it’s something we have to do to get to where we want to be. It’s a small wait considering we’ve waited 25 years.”
He says it’s a “good feeling” the families have the backing of the government.
“It feels like we are half way through that tunnel to the other side of the light. We still have a long journey ahead of us but it feels like we are travelling further towards a positive outcome.”
Evelyn’s aunty Michelle Jarrett agreed, telling New Matilda the response from government gave the families’ strength.
“It’s really uplifting and gives us more energy to fight,” Ms Jarret told New Matilda.
“We are really ecstatic about the news.”
“We’re being heard, we are being respected. We are being listened to. We are getting the support that we always should have had in the first place.”
The Bowraville families also met with Ms Upton and Aboriginal affairs minister Leslie Williams yesterday.
It is a vast change from the days when they protested outside state Parliament. Ms Jarrett says the fact they are finally being listened to goes a long way to healing.
“I’ve seen a dramatic change in my sister (Evelyn’s mother) in her coming out of her shell…. I suppose its cause she could see the fight is going. And how people are supporting us more and not condemning us.”
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