Wednesday, 19 November 2008

The Tall Man

I finished reading this book a couple of days ago but wanted to blog about it today on November 19, exactly four years after Cameron Doomadgee's death, the event around which this book is based. He died while in police custody on Palm Island, an Aboriginal community off the north east coast of Australia.

Doomadgee was arrested one morning for drunkenly swearing at the tall policeman Christopher Hurley. Forty minutes later he was dead.

I share journalist Mark Dapin's sentiment:
This book is everything it should be: a sad, beautiful, frightening account of one man's pointless death, interwoven with the brutal history of Palm Island and a golden thread of Aboriginal mythology. Every sentence is weighty, considered, even, restrained. Every character is explored for their contradictions, every situation observed for its nuances, every easy judgement suspended... It is The Tall Man's triumph that Hooper finds the common humanity in the accused and the accuser, the police officer and the street drinker, the living and the dead.
I read this book in a few days, a testament to the absorbing story but more so to Hooper's writing. She is present in the narrative but never intrudes. She provides just enough space – between the protagonists' motivation and her own – for readers to inhabit and make up their own minds.

It's not a space I want to inhabit. It's not a series of events I enjoyed reading about. But as a white Australian I feel it is a history that I cannot turn away from just because it makes me feel uncomfortable, just because it makes me feel ashamed.

Earlier this year Kevin Rudd formally apologised to indigenous Australians. His speech began:
I move that today we honour the indigenous peoples of this land, the oldest continuing cultures in human history. We reflect on their past mistreatment.
The Prime Minister's apology for past cruelties was way overdue. But what of the mistreatments that are ongoing? Or is that the subtext of Hooper's book's title? The tall man, aka the middle finger, extended.


Alexi said...

alot of intresting points. i will look to see if I can find this book. Thankyou meg.

farmdoc said...

I've just finished reading this book. I think the writing in the last 2/3 was better than in the first 1/3. Hooper took time to hit her stride, methinks. Anyway I gather that various elements of appeal and litigation are continuing, so Hurley's not off the hook yet. And the longer he stews over it the better, as far as I'm concerned. But my main question is: What his Rudd done since saying sorry? Not much, I think. And maybe even nothing.