I didn’t know Lloyd Boney but I knew his brothers and sisters. They were at school with me. I knew him to look at. He was one of a couple of dozen Aboriginal men who spent a lot of time in the park on Bathurst St. I called them all Uncle and tried not to make eye contact, it wasn’t polite. They knew who I was, my Mum was a teacher and I played footy with their sons and nephews and brothers. I was a kid so I never had much to say to them, nodding was a comfortable gesture of acknowledgement and the dip of their stubbled chins meant something like sharing.
They would be at kids footy on Saturday mornings and men’s footy on Sunday afternoons. On Sundays they were often pretty pissed, but when they sledged the refs you couldn’t help but laugh. The refs were white and usually came from out of town. I can remember Lloyd Boney’s voice, shouting out onto the bindi infested field of play: Blind Bastard! When the footy was done we’d go down to Angelo Pippos’ Café and get hamburgers. Sitting, waiting in the car by the tennis courts, I would watch the Uncles come back from the Oval and take a spot in the park, flagons at the ready. The refs would head for the RSL.
When Lloyd Boney was found dead in his lock up cell it wasn’t unusual, Aboriginal mortality was (is) an unremarkable part of everyday life in black Australia. There were always funerals going on, mourning was ever ongoing. Hanging himself with a footy sock actually didn’t seem like a stretch of the imagination, oddly fitting: perhaps too fitting. Lloyd Boney was one of more than a dozen siblings so he was part of an enormous clan and when he died it was a big deal for Dodge City and the Mish. Mourning was a responsibility and it wasn’t let go easily. There must have been conversations, about the sock, about the cops.
The cops lived not far from us, on the southern edge of town past the disused railway track, in Newtown, where the blow-ins from the city rented houses from their employers. Cops, nurses, teachers, social workers, and the rest. The cops were around the corner, mostly in three bedroom fibros. Hot as anything in summer. They were young, brash and not much interested in the town. They had oddly timed shifts so you only saw them heading to the station and coming back. The consensus, like a phoenix, rose in the fortnight after he died. The whispers and the nodding, they killed him was the core.
It wasn’t unheard of, quite the contrary. The only difference between this dead Aboriginal man and some of the other dead Aboriginal men was that he died in the cells. I knew of a couple of occasions when bodies had been found by the river and it was known that the cops patrolled along the river every couple of hours. The conclusion was obvious, killed them or let them die. Not that it was discussed, the cops were on their way somewhere else, they weren’t in for the long haul and neither were the rest of the white service providers, so it was as if nothing much had happened.
Then came the riot. It wasn’t Brixton or Watts or anything. Grogged up blokes in the park getting shitty about the crap coming down from the balcony of the Brewarrina Hotel, smashing a few windows and throwing stuff at the cops. I heard that there were white blokes with shotguns on the balcony but I wouldn’t have thought so. Even out there on the frontier shotties were frowned at in company. It was supposed that the ABC had provided cartons to the mourners in the park and got them charged up to have a go at the cops. Doesn’t sound too likely, though a gift to the mourners might well have been quietly delivered. I was safe in the teacher housing brick veneer and didn’t know a thing. Newtown was a long walk from Bathurst Street.
The next day you could tell that something was awry. I don’t remember much but I remember the hollow sound of the school room when the Aboriginal kids stayed home. The sound of the town had softened ever so slightly. Whispering was unusual. In Bre people shouted, a lot. But not then: we all saw the new cop cars and the new cops, in addition to the old cops. We saw the television reporters and watched the helicopters filming us from above. We saw ourselves on Four Corners and the ABC news.
There was talk of an inquiry and trouble at mill. Dozens of arrests were made and hundreds of charges were laid. Over time they were all thrown out of court, and it was clear that neither the mourners nor the blokes at the pub, or the media, had done much wrong except overreact. With hindsight this was, quite rightly, seen as forgivable. There was an inquiry into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody but it didn’t make any difference to the Boney clan. The cops were also, in their particular way, forgiven.
My family didn’t stay. Less than two months after the riot were we on our way down the Coolabah Road to the next town. It felt like running away. I still wonder about that running away, turning it over in my mind. Thinking that it was something and not a good something, not good at all.
It’s twenty five years this week since Lloyd Boney died.