Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Tall Man: Death in Paradise

The Tall Man documents the death in police custody of aborigine Cameron Doomadgee on Queensland’s Palm Island in 2004 and the subsequent inquests and trial of Sergeant Chris Hurley.

From my review of the book in 2010 The Tall Man Story continues:
The background to this tragic story is very bleak:

  • the appalling treatment of indigenous people in Queensland by settlers, government and police;
  • the forced relocation of the unwanted and ‘undesirables’ to Palm Island’s virtual prison;
  • the continuing consequences of the stolen generations and separated families;
  • the culture of apathy and denial within the police, forensic pathologists and the justice system;
  • the code of coverup;
  • the ‘them and us’ attitudes of some in the Deep North towards their Southern cousins;
  • the legacy of Christian missions on indigenous beliefs and values;
  • the sorry state of reconciliation in parts of Australia.
One of the best things about this documentary is that it lets the people speak for themselves. There is no heavy narration or running commentary. Of course that doesn’t necessarily make it objective or without a point of view. As I wrote about the book’s author Chloe Hooper:
It’s easy to feel that she was trying to nail him for the still unexplained violent death of Cameron Doomadgee.
Writer/director Tony Krawitz has been essentially true to the book. He explained his approach and views in this interview:

The audience can draw their own conclusions, just as Chloe Hooper’s readers had to. Some voices are missing, especially Sergeant Hurley and other members of the police force. We have to rely on extracts from his interviews during the investigation and subsequent legal proceedings.

Some aspects are left out such as detailed coverage of the riots and subsequent prosecutions. Some recent developments since publication have been added. It’s hard not reach for clichés such as disturbing and confronting. It’s also hard to leave the theatre with any feeling of optimism about most of the issues outlined above.

If you miss this quality production at the cinema, SBS should be screening it later and hopefully will be available on SBS OnDemand.