“If you deny the past, forget the future”
Palm Island is the centre of controversy in Queensland for its brutal past, devastating current conditions
and the alarming future it faces. In 1999 the Guinness Book of Records named Palm Island the most
violent place on earth outside a combat zone resulting in mass international recognition and Australian
government disputes. It’s incredible physical beauty of crystal blue waters, sand and sunsets go
unmentioned compared to the violence, chronic poverty and injustices with the legal system.
Palm Island is Australia’s largest Aboriginal community.
It is located 65 kilometres northwest of Townsville, in Halifax
Bay, North Queensland. It has a population of approximately
2160 people mostly belonging to the Manbarra and
Bwgcolman peoples. 96.5% of the population on Palm Island
is Indigenous. Basic amenities we Australians take for
granted are rarely available on this Island. This large population
is squeezed into 200 homes, many in poor conditions and an
approximate 20 people per household. It is quite literally the
‘third world’ of Australia. The Australian Bureau of Statistics
listed Palm Island to be the fourth worst off area in Australia,
the three others also being Indigenous communities.
When I asked our members what they knew about Palm Island, one of our loyal members Theo
Javangwe, who is Indigenous himself, expressed that his only knowledge of Palm Island was “the
infamous 2004 death in custody case of an Indigenous resident, seeing as it received such widespread
media coverage” He also shared his view that “Indigenous deaths in custody were a huge problem in the
90’s and it seems the issue is yet to disappear”
It would be virtually impossible to explore Palm Island without mentioning the infamous inquest into
the death of Mulrunji (Cameron) Doomadgee in 2004. I was a young adolescent when this incident took
place, but I remember it flashing across newspapers and television. I didn’t know the ins and the outs of
the case, but now, seven years later, I have read as much as I could, read the coroners finding report and
explored various opinion pieces. It may seem like this crime was quite some time ago and irrelevant, but
it is still a pressing issue within Indigenous society and Palm Island today.
For those unfamiliar with the case, Mulrunji, which was his tribal name, was thirty six years of age when
he died on the 19th November 2004. He was not a trouble maker; he had never been arrested on Palm
Island. He was a healthy and fit man who was rather respected on the Island. The day of his death, Roy
Bramwell, an Indigenous man on the island had assaulted his de facto wife and her two sisters. After
putting in a complaint, Senior Sergeant Christopher Hurley assisted in the women’s inquires. Gladys
(Bramwell’s partner) asked Sergeant Hurley to take her to Bramwell’s property to retrieve her
medication, Police Liason Officer Bengaroo assisted Hurley. On entrance, a young man Patrick Bramwell
was intoxicated and was swearing at police and his grandmother. Senior Sergeant Hurley arrested him.
Whilst Bramwell was being arrested, Mulrunji was walking past and spoke with Bramwell, it was
assumed they knew each other. It appeared that Mulrunji was also intoxicated, but Bengaroo told him to
keep walking down the road or he also would be locked up. He followed Bengaroo’s directions and
proceeded down the street. Once Hurley returned, he asked Bengaroo what Mulrunji