Territory Stories

Alice Springs news



Alice Springs news


Alice Springs news; NewspaperNT




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Community newspspers; Australia, Central; Alice Springs (N.T.); Newspapers

Publisher name

Erwin Chlanda

Place of publication

Alice Springs


v. 10 issue 44

File type



Copyright. Made available by the publisher under licence.

Copyright owner

Erwin Chlanda



Parent handle


Citation address


Page content

Suddenly Prime Minister Bruce and other Cabinet Ministers were being inundated with church, anthropological, and Aboriginal Friends Association letters and petitions demanding an enquiry. From a majority of Stuart Town residents', miners' and pastoralists' perspective they were "do-gooders" who did not understand conditions on the frontier. Most of the mere 250-300 white people in the Centre perceived a number of their mates and acquaintances suffering because of the drought, being threatened with spearing, and with Mounted Constable Murray acting heroically while doing his duty. Why couldn't the rest of Australia see it in the same way? Why, since no settler was specifically named, were they all being branded effective murderers by a priest who had spent but a few weeks in Central Australia, most of that along the Stuart Highway, speaking to but a handful of people? John Cawood, being asked "Why?" from Canberra, was initially paralysed, and had to be asked again and again. The heat was on in Canberra! The Prime Minister quickly agreed to an enquiry, but must also have been getting advice that things were not looking or smelling all that rosy in the Centre. There is little doubt that the Board was chosen to give Constable Murray, Sergeant Noblett, and John Cawood as their Police Commissioner, plus all police patrol members, the best possible chance of defence-survival. The Chairman of the Board of Enquiry was A.H. O'Kelly, a police magistrate from Cairns. The other independent Board member was South Australian Police Inspector P.A. Giles, with authority from Port Augusta to Oodnadatta who, however much he may have done his best to be unbiased, cannot be expected to have been other than supportive of fellow frontier policemen. And the third member was none other than John Cawood, Government Resident and Police Commissioner for Central Australia, who had approved every patrol. Despite considerable protest about John Cawood's appointment, the Prime Minister did not budge. Local Stuart Town evangelical pastor E.E. Kramer was given approval to be present throughout the Enquiry, and to ask questions of witnesses, as was Constable Murray. There is no doubt, in my mind, that prior to the announcement of the members of the Board, John Cawood, now sweating as much as Sergeant Noblett, met him and that between them they planned their approach. It is my perception that they decided that John Cawood would stand as clear as possible of the actual police activity, while Sergeant Noblett would accept administrative criticisms, and convince George Murray that to use a modern expression they were all in deep yoghurt. TROOPER Sergeant Noblett was, as I have previously indicated, no fool, but he had also been a mounted trooper in the South African "Boer" War of 1899-1902. If anyone knew about the military court trial of Harry "Breaker" Morant, and that a scapegoat was potentially needed by the Board of Enquiry as many believed had been the case with Morant, it would have been him. Because of evidence of summary execution of prisoners and some civilians, and Morant's outspokenness at the military court, where he claimed that the rule of the rifle prevailed "we got them and shot them under Rule 303" and that the highest military commander, Lord Kitchener, had approved the "rule", he and a mate had been shot by firing squad. And because Sergeant Noblett knew that Constable Murray had gone perilously close to admitting the shooting of wounded Aborigines at the trial of Padygar and Arkirkra in Darwin, that the judge had concluded that Murray had shot down Aborigines "wholesale", and that Athol McGregor had stated that any enquiry should specifically ask about "the stewardship" of the police party, Noblett must also have ranked the "stewardship". If George Murray was the key figure, he and Cawood, as his senior superior officers, were next in line. While a firing squad would not be used outside of the armed forces, there was little solace if a hanging was the possible alternative outcome. It appears that they decided that the fewer Aborigines who appeared at the hearings, the better probably on the basis that at the Darwin trial Lala, as a key witness, with Alex Wilson as translator, had given hugely conflicting evidence that suggested both a Murray-inspired account and a more realistic one. And probably because they also knew that, as an old Kaytetye man told a friend, Major and Dodger (as well as all other patrol members) had also shot men. It must also have been decided that George Murray would necessarily take primary responsibility for the patrols, and that Jack Saxby would give maximum support about the "necessary" actions during the course of the first patrol. Randal Stafford and Billy Briscoe must also have promised to give full support, but had an agreement that they would always state that they did not see or hear much, and were not themselves involved in shooting people. All of this is realistic supposition, I believe, but it is still supposition. And though others may disagree, I also believe, on the basis of study of the transcripts of evidence, that further planning involved at least the following:-

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