The Tall Man by Chloe Hooper

I read this book last  winter, started to write a review, stopped and thought about the events.  Eventually I finished the review and now, some months later, I’m posting it.

My hesitation?  The events depicted in this book make me very uncomfortable.  And, while I’d like to think that things have improved since 2004, I’m not convinced.

The Tall Man by Chloe Hooper

‘Until I met Boe, I’d never even heard of Palm Island.’

Palm Island lies off the coast of Queensland, Australia.  The Island is roughly half way between Brisbane and the tip of Cape York.  Palm Island, home to many Indigenous people, is a settlement with a troubled history.

On 19 November 2004, Cameron Domadgee was arrested on Palm Island by Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley.  He may have been arrested for swearing at the police, he may have been arrested for singing ‘Who Let the Dogs Out’ (a one-hit wonder by the Baha Men).  Bundled into a police van, taken to the police station, Cameron Doomadgee is found dead in his cell just over an hour after his arrest.

What happened?  Did Cameron Doomadgee die as a consequence of injuries sustained during a fall with Senior Sergeant Hurley, or did Senior Sergeant Hurley brutally beat him before he was put in the cell?

Chloe Hooper became involved when Andrew Boe, a lawyer, became interested in the case and wanted someone to write about it.  The inquest, Boe told Ms Hooper, would take a week or two.  This was the starting point for an investigation which took months.  And while the book is about Cameron Doomadgee’s death in custody, it is also about some of the issues that permeate relationships between Indigenous and European Australians.

This book was first published in 2008.  In 2011 a documentary was made.

I found this a confronting and uncomfortable read.  What really happened to Cameron Doomadgee?  What are we doing to improve the sad and tragic history of race relations between Indigenous and more recently arrived Australians?  How can despair be replaced by hope? And the ‘tall man’ of the title?   Somehow it seems appropriate that the ‘tall man’ represents both Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley (2 metres tall) as well as a malignant spirit in Indigenous culture, capable of moving unseen in the night to do evil.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith




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