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Cinema Australia readers have been treated to an exclusive clip from, The Bowraville Murders – a new documentary tracing the epic David vs Goliath battle for justice waged by the families of three Aboriginal children murdered in a small rural town 30 years ago, the system that failed them, and what it reveals about racism in Australia today.
The Bowraville Murders investigates one of Australia’s worst unsolved serial murder cases. In 1990-91 three kids disappeared from an Aboriginal Mission on the same street in Bowraville, a tiny country town in northern NSW: 16-year-old Colleen Walker-Craig, 4-yearold Evelyn Greenup, and 16-year-old Clinton Speedy-Duroux. The remains of Clinton and Evelyn, as well as the clothes of Collen, were all found off the same dirt road but Colleen’s body has never been found.
There has always been one suspect – a local white labourer who was acquitted for two of the murders after a botched, racially biased police investigation. To this day, the man maintains his innocence while the families desperately want him retried.
For 30 years the families of the murdered children have fought an epic Davis-versus-Goliath battle for justice, taking them from a remote Aboriginal Mission all the way to the High Court of Australia.
At the centre of this extraordinary battle and awe-inspiring endurance are the mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles of the three murdered children who are now passing the torch to the next generation.
Joining them in their fight for justice is one of Australia’s most high-profile homicide detectives who spent 20 years reinvestigating the murders; a politician who was so outraged by the injustice the families have endured that he called for a Parliamentary Inquiry; and a dogged crime reporter whose work helped trigger a historic appeal for a retrial.
Using the investigation into the murders as the spine of the story, Bowraville becomes a microcosm of the wider story of racism inside the criminal justice system and society at large.
Since the children first disappeared, there have been over 470 deaths in custody and not a single conviction. “For us, it’s a killing that never stops,” says journalist and broadcaster Stan Grant in the film. “It’s a legal system that still fails to see us or bring justice.”
The Bowraville Murders takes viewers on an emotional roller-coaster ride spanning 30 years through three parallel narrative arcs – the families’ Herculean battle for justice; the reinvestigation into the murders by homicide detective Gary Jubelin on the trail of the suspected killer; and the wider story of racism that connects the Bowraville murders to the Frontier Wars and the Black Lives Matter movement.
The story is driven by powerful retrospective interviews, raw obs-doc actuality as we follow the families through the carousel of courts all the way to the High Court of Australia, and extraordinary archive that documents the story from the time the children went missing…exactly 30 years ago.
From director Allan Clarke
As a child I remember staying with my uncle at the Bowraville Mission. While the sun set over beautiful Gumbaynggirr country, my sisters and I were told not to go out at night. A few years earlier three children had vanished, their bodies found in the dense forest that rings around Bowraville.
Staring out the window that night, I was chilled to the bone imagining how terrifying and lonely it must have been for them to be snatched from the people they loved, before disappearing into the pitch black.
Now I know that what happened afterwards to their families was equally as cruel, and it was done by the systems that are meant to protect us.
Three children, the youngest a baby, all murdered within a five-month period, all from the same street in a small town.
This sentence should be enough to cause national outrage and horror. This sentence should be enough for the victims’ names to be known in households across the country. This sentence should be enough for newspapers and television networks to pursue the story relentlessly. This sentence should be enough for the police to do everything within their power to catch the killer.
The truth is, it was not enough, because this is Australia and Colleen Walker-Craig, Clinton Speedy-Duroux and Evelyn Greenup were Aboriginal.
There is no doubt in my mind that if Colleen, Clinton and Evelyn were white their families would not have had to fight with our judicial system for over 30 years to try and get justice.
It’s difficult and deeply confronting to compare murder victims. They are all tragedies, but as an Aboriginal man I cannot turn a blind eye to the treatment of my people.
I came on board to direct The Bowraville Murders to hold a mirror up to the unseemly part of our society that places more value on the lives of white victims than black ones, and to give these families a platform for them to tell their story the way they want it told.
At times It is raw, and painful to watch, but ultimately their indefatigable spirit and determination to get justice is astonishing.
This documentary is vital truth-telling and while the truth is ugly and uncomfortable, it is essential. Without it we can never right the wrongs of the past nor can we move forward and begin to address the sheer scale of inequity in this country.
How you can see it
The Bowraville Murders is screening daily at Luna Leederville, with a Q&A screening on Sunday, 5 September at 2pm.
Q&A screenings around Australia where cinemas are open in Brisbane, Adelaide, Hobart and Darwin.
There is a virtual screening on Saturday, 4 September for other states.
Full screening details here