Still no justice for Murray family

29 June 2014
Dave Clarke

In 1981, 21-year-old Eddie Murray returned to the small cotton town of Wee Waa, in the north-west of NSW, to visit friends and family. He had been living in Sydney, playing for the Redfern All Blacks rugby team.

He and his mates went out for a drink but were refused entry to the local Imperial Hotel. Eddie was told he was too drunk. Three police officers were called. They arrested Eddie and, within an hour, he was dead in a cell at Wee Waa police station.

Anna Murray, Eddie’s sister, tells me, “I was the last member of my family to see my brother alive. I was on the corner opposite the Imperial Hotel, with my baby in the pram. He was fine, happy as always. Next thing we get a call that he committed suicide in a police cell.

“It is not true. He was murdered, and everyone in Wee Waa knows it. We know it, the police who killed him know it, and it is time Australia should know it”, she says. “If my family give up, which we will never do, then that first (successful) prosecution of coppers will keep on waiting and there will be more deaths in custody. We get that first justice, and the black deaths will stop.”

The police claim that Eddie hung himself is a lie. Eddie had a blood alcohol reading of 0.3. It is highly unlikely that someone so intoxicated could rip off parts of a bed sheet, tie them together to form a rope, make a perfect noose and then hang himself.

The testimonies that the police gave contradicted each other and those of three independent witnesses. Eddie’s original clothes were never found, and neither was his wallet. A second autopsy of Eddie was completed in 1997. The autopsy found that Eddie had a fractured sternum, which could have come about from massive blows to the chest.

The Murray family is famous in Wee Waa. Arthur Murray, Eddie’s father, was a union militant who led strikes in the local cotton fields.

The Murrays also led the fight for cheap and affordable housing in town, so that Aboriginal people didn’t have to live on the reserve, which was located 5km out of town. Arthur and the Murray family were constantly harassed by the local racist and corrupt police force.

When the familly moved to Sydney, Arthur and Eddie’s mother Leila were tireless in campaigning for the 1987 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.

Since that time, things have gone backwards. Aboriginal people account for less than 3 percent of the population, yet now make up a staggering 25 percent of prison inmates. In the Northern Territory the figure is greater than 80 percent. On average, one Aboriginal person is killed in custody every two to three weeks.

The Indigenous Social Justice Association organised a national day of action in June demanding a new independent inquiry into Eddie Murray’s death. Ray Jackson, president of the association, says, “We have now since 1980 had over 450 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander deaths in custody. No police officer, no prison officer, no custodial health officer has ever been found guilty.”

The case of Eddie Murray highlights how blatantly racist the police and the law are in Australia. Only resistance to the government and the police will bring justice for Eddie Murray and his family, as well as all the other families affected by a death in custody.

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