Review Blog

Feb 05 2009

The tall man by Chloe Hooper

cover image

Hamish Hamilton, 2008 ISBN 9780241 015407 276p Hbk
(Age: Senior Secondary/adult) Beyond the political rhetoric of intervention and dysfunctional Aboriginal communities, The Tall Man focuses on what happened in one community, Palm Island, off the Queensland coast, in 2004. There, despite the findings and recommendations of the Black Deaths in Custody Inquiry of 1990, an Aboriginal man, Cameron Doomadgee, died in the cells on the island, after being arrested for swearing at Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley, a decorated and experienced Police Officer who stands 200cm tall. Chloe Hooper a journalist, had never heard of Palm Island, but asked by the counselor representing the Aboriginal community, Andrew Boe, to cover the proceedings of the inquest and write a few articles for the daily press, she accompanied him to the inquest.
The few articles which would take only days expanded into a book: one which retells the story of Cameron's arrest and death and its enormous and far reaching consequences, with the tension of a well written crime novel, a page turner, but all the more breathtaking because it is true. Hooper gives a potted history of the Aboriginal residents of Palm Island, brought to live in dormitories, taken from their families, marrying and having children, continuing to live on the island, the only home they know. The end of the missionaries saw alcohol and the abuse of that substance led to 7 police permanently stationed there. In this paradise, there seemed to be an ever-present and increasing line dividing the black and white residents. But it is not only the black culture that Hooper explores, she also includes the Queensland police culture, with its investigations and commissions. That police force has been under a microscope for some years, and this death in 2004, refocused media attention on its operations yet again.
The inquest was adjourned twice, keeping everyone in limbo until it resumed. In the intervening years, Cameron's son, Eric, hanged himself, and the community became even sadder and more tense. The description of the trial and verdict is numbing, as Hurley is pictured by the police and some media as a victim. The postscript that he is now trying to have his name removed from any responsibility in Cameron's death is telling of the power of the police in Queensland.
For students looking at Aboriginal Studies or Australian History, for those wanting a book about justice and injustice, or relations between black and white, or just an involving read, then this book fits the criteria. Foremost a story of a shocking event in our recent past, The Tall Man impels us all to look more closely at what is happening in minority communities.
Fran Knight

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