Podcast Review — The Thin Black Line

It’s not “case closed” for the Murri community

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It’s a long time since Daniel Yock, known as Boonie to family and friends, was arrested in Fortitude Valley and thrown face down in the back of a paddy wagon. The story of what happened to the teenager on 7 November 1993, the day he died, remains a searing indictment of a system that is racist to the core.  

Boonie and his mates from Cherbourg, 170 kilometres northwest of Brisbane, were living in the city. Yock was a dancer with the Wakka Wakka Dance Troupe. We hear how they were popular onstage, having performed for international guests such as Desmond Tutu. But, recounts fellow dancer Damian Bond, off stage they were “frequently seen as a group of Black teens up to no good.” They couldn’t even go to the shops without attracting police attention!

The podcast format is very effective, weaving together footage from the archives, new material and music from a range of genres, including Kev Carmody’s classic, The Young Dancer is Dead: “His memory and beauty, we carry beyond, How long…how long will these killings go on?”

Talented producer, Allan Clarke, is a Muuwari man. An award-winning investigative journalist, his work on another unsolved Aboriginal death led to that case being re-opened. Clarke says of Yock’s death, “no one really wanted to speak about it except his mob.” And speak they did! 

As an interviewer, Clarke ably wins trust and allows people to open up. He is also acutely aware that many remain haunted by events: recollections open “an old and very deep wound.” Amongst interviewees is Yock’s best mate, Jo Jo (Joseph Blair). The only witness to his friend’s death, Blair speaks for the first time. Jo Jo and Boonie were arrested together, but when Jo Jo was released later that night, his friend was dead. 

Over 6 episodes, The Thin Black Line takes the listener on a journey. 

First, there’s the racial profiling as a police paddy wagon circles Musgrave Park, a traditional pre-Invasion meeting place of great significant to the Murri community. Then, there’s the exposé of racist police banter. Next comes the woeful lack of duty of care shown to Yock. Then, police assertions that it was not a death “in custody.” Then there’s all the cops involved in Yock’s death holding a debriefing meeting about what happened before giving their statements. The injustices continue to unfold, and be exposed. 

There’s also red-hot anger and the determined resistance: the community meeting and the march on the Roma Street Police Station to demand that the six cops be charged. The podcast, more than a year in the making, includes the last interview with Birri Gubba elder and socialist, Sam Watson, before his passing. Watson describes the 200 officers protecting the police station. He remembers that Daniel’s mates were in the crowd, despite their well-founded fear of the police. Watson, along with Boonie’s brother, poet and activist Lionel Fogarty, were the delegation which presented the massive crowd’s demands. All that was on offer was a Criminal Justice Commission hearing, which Watson says the community “had little faith in.”

Only one of the police officers involved on the day Yock died was willing to speak with Clarke. On tape he describes how all the police felt “very comfortable.” They knew there would be an enquiry and felt confident in the process! The officers weren’t disappointed in the result. 

Woven through the podcast are many other stories of Aboriginal people who died in custody — Mulrunji Doomadgee, Lloyd Boney, John Pat, Ms Dhu, Tanya Day, David Dungay Jnr. The podcast’s fourth episode, Shine a Light, explores a case known as the Pinkenba Six. A year after Yock’s death, six cops were accused of kidnapping three Aboriginal children in Fortitude Valley and dumping them in the industrial suburb of Pinkenba, 12 kms away. More than a quarter of a century later, four of the six cops still work for the Queensland Police Force! It’s impossible to miss the deeply entrenched pattern of systemic racist abuse. 

The podcast is situated firmly in the context of global Black Lives Matter protests, across the U.S., around the world and here in Australia. Clarke comments that something feels different with the current wave of protests. 

To prevent protest being sidetracked into cosmetic changes, calls need be made very concrete: an end to police investigating police and for imprisonment of First Peoples to be a last resort. Clarke notes that there have been more deaths in custody since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody than there were recommendations (339) in the report! April 2021 is the 30th anniversary of the final report. We urgently need well-resourced bodies, with real powers, that are elected by and directly accountable to communities — including the brave members of the Murri community who spoke with Clarke — to exercise community control over the cops. Without this community control, an “independent” body is just a change of branding. 

Download the podcast from the ABC Listen App or Apple Podcasts and listen to this story. It is a clarion call to get involved. The multiracial movement to stop deaths in custody needs every one of us. 

The Thin Black Line is available from the ABC website.

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