Monday, October 4, 2010

In memory of John Pat

photo courtesy of Deaths in Custody Watch Committee

This Friday October 8 the WA Deaths in Custody Watch Committee is holding John Pat Memorial Day 2010, to remember John Pat and all the other Aboriginal people who have died in custody in Western Australia. The ceremony will be held at Fremantle Prison, this Friday between 11am-12.30pm.

John Pat was just 16 years old when he died in a Roebourne Police cell in 1983. He  died of head injuries alleged to have been caused in a disturbance between Aboriginal people and Police, and subsequent beatings by Police. Four police were charged with manslaughter but acquitted. The death was the catalyst for the 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.  

The terrible death of Mr Ward in the back of a prison van and recent Aboriginal deaths in custody remind us that thirty years later little has changed in Western Australia.

WA poet Jack Davis wrote what I believe is one of the finest Australian poems of all time about the death of John Pat.  Jack Davis's poem has been put into song by Archie Roach and Mark Bin Bakar.
John Pat
by Jack Davis (from the book John Pat and Other poems, published 1988)
" Write of life
the pious said
forget the past
the past is dead.
But all I see
in front of me
is a concrete floor
a cell door
and John Pat

Agh! tear out the page
forget his age
thin skull they cried
that's why he died!
But I can't forget
the silhouette
of a concrete floor
a cell door and John Pat

The end product
of Guddia* law
is a viaduct
for fang and claw,
and a place to dwell
like Roebourne's hell
of a concrete floor
a cell door
and John Pat

He's there- where?
there in their minds now
deep within,
there to prance
a sidelong glance
a silly grin
to remind them all
of a Guddia wall
a cell door
and John Pat

* Guddia is a Kimberley term for the white man

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