The Bowraville Murders captures the anger and despair of the families of three Aboriginal children who were murdered 30 years ago in a small town in New South Wales.
Initial failure by the local police to properly investigate the case meant that crucial evidence was lost and no one was ever found guilty.
“If it was three white kids, we know what the result would be,” cries one of the relatives.
The film, directed by award-winning investigative reporter Allan Clarke (Blood on the Tracks), makes a strong case that prejudice and racism coloured the police response to the murders.
Two of the missing children were teenagers – Colleen Walker-Craig and Clinton Speedy Duroux, both 16. The third, Evelyn Greenup was only four.
Evelyn’s aunt, Michelle Jarrett, says that when she reported that her little niece had gone missing from her grandmother’s home, the police officer responded: “What do you want me to do about it? I’m just about to knock off.”
Evelyn was killed in October 1990, three weeks after Colleen’s loss. Clinton disappeared in January 1991.
Even with three children missing the police response was cursory.
Instead of calling in homicide detectives they appointed a community welfare officer to investigate the families.
The film makes it clear that it was only the dogged determination of the victims’ relatives and their supporters that spurred the police into taking the case more seriously.
The key suspect was Jay Hart, a white labourer who was friendly with the Bowraville Aborigines but the case against him was weak, mainly because the initial investigation had been so inadequate.
Hart, who has now changed his name and moved to another district, appears in the film, saying the affair had ruined his life.
He was acquitted of Clinton’s murder in 1994 and of Evelyn’s murder in 2006. Colleen’s body has never been found.
“The police haven’t got a single witness that seen me do anything. They haven’t got a single piece of forensic evidence to tie me to anything,” he says.
In 2016 the NSW Police Commissioner even apologised to the children’s families, acknowledging that the police could have done more when the crimes first occurred, and that this had added to their distress.
Over the years the grieving families have attracted an increasing number of supporters campaigning for justice.
In 2006 they succeeded in getting the NSW double-jeopardy laws amended so that an accused person could be tried again if there was new and compelling evidence.
In 2016 the families’ hopes were raised when the NSW Attorney-General made an application for Hart to be tried again for the murders, but they were bitterly disappointed when the Court of Criminal Appeal dismissed the case, finding there was no fresh evidence to justify a new trial.
The grieving relatives all agreed to take part in the film, which makes clear how the pain over the loss of their children has been exacerbated by the initial police indifference.
This is a compassionate and disturbing film, which was partly funded by hundreds of supporters who contributed to a crowd-funding campaign.
It argues that this case is an example of a continuing history of racism and injustice in Australia, bringing in Sam Grant to emphasise the point, and even a clip of George Floyd’s death in police custody in Mineapolis last year.
The Bowraville Murders opens on Thursday, September 2, at Luna Leederville.
Three stars ***
Watch the trailer…