Monday, February 20, 2012

The strange case of Malcolm Naden and Australian histiography

photo courtesy of Sydney Morning Herald

Since 2005 Malcolm Naden has evaded NSW Police by hiding out in the bush in northern NSW. Naden is one of the country's most wanted men and is being pursued by Police as a suspect in the murder of two women and the disappearance of a third in Dubbo.

In December 2011 NSW Police nearly apprehended Naden but once again he escaped  into the bush after wounding a Police Officer. Six years after he first evaded Police capture Naden remains on the run.

As Michael Breen points out in the piece below Naden's exploits and evasion of Police is the subject of plenty of speculation and myth making in the NSW media, not the least because of his Aboriginality and the fact that he is the first man to have a bounty on his head since the notorious case of Jimmy Governor in the late 19th century.

 Living here on the West Coast I was largely unaware of the Naden case until sent this piece by  Michael Breen who lives in the NSW Southern Highlands. Michael has written before for this blog (here, here, here and here). His piece on the case of Jimmy Governor, another Aboriginal fugitive in rural NSW in the late 19th century is among the fifteen most read pieces on this blog. In the piece below Michael writes of the similarities between the Maden case and the Jimmy Governor case.
The case of Malcolm Naden
by Michael Breen

The New South Wales police Minister Michael Gallacher has urged people not to turn the fugitive Malcolm Naden into a cult figure. Naden has been on the run evading arrest for 2538 days to date. (December 25th.) He is wanted for questioning about two murders, aggravated assault of a fifteen-year-old girl and recently of wounding a policeman. 

Strike Force Durkin made up of police, detectives, the anti terrorist squad in bullet proof camouflage vests, with high-powered rifles, sniffer dogs, a mobile communications centre, two helicopters with infra-red cameras and exact coordinating devices was searching for and supposedly closing in on Naden.  Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione, emboldened by this firepower and bereft of good news about the hunt, (Naden had eluded them on seven occasions since being on the run) said, “I expect Malcolm Naden will be in custody this afternoon”.

Fifty kilometres away a house break-in was reported. Two local police were sent to investigate when they came face to face with Naden and spoke to him. They drew their weapons, Naden retreated into the house and disappeared. The local police spokesperson excused the officers as they were just local cops and the house had several entrances and exits, and it was bushy outside.

So is it the public making a ‘cult figure’ of Naden or are the police making monumental gobbaloons of themselves and trying to control public ridicule and disbelief?  And how might they do that?

Much of the story has connections with bushranger figures, especially the Governor Brothers. Prescinding entirely from the gravity of the alleged offences the two sets of events have lots in common.

Bushrangers are said to belong to two groups: murderous thieves and police-taunting celebrities. Authorities would prefer the public put all fugitives in the former category, thus they would attract less community sympathy as well as increased support for police. 

Naden seems to have just pinched what he needed to survive. (Unlike operatives in the finance industries). The Governors did murder and violently settled old scores. Naden took a grazier’s rifle and later replaced it with another. So despite his alleged crimes he is more evading than rampaging, which makes him even more of an aggravation. 

The Womans Weekly’s Jordan Baker likened Naden to a modern day Ned Kelly. “It was the first time a reward has been offered for information leading to the arrest of a known person since Ned Kelly (usually they are offered when there is no suspect).”

The setting for Kelly, Naden and Governor events is the Bush. That archetype of Australia which so few of the coastal majority ever experience immediately. The bush claims lives; it is as potent an Australian symbol as the Forest is in European mythology or Indian Kali. The bush also gives life to our native people and to wild life; but you have to respect Mother Bush. You can’t pretend that ‘cos you are an Oz, drink stubbies and follow the footy you can wander off into the bush or live off her bounty unless you are an Aboriginal person. Eye, there’s the rub.  With all our sophisticated tech gear we can’t match the naked survival skills which Aboriginals get from their closeness to their mother who protects and nurtures them.

As the media focus on bush locations the they highlight bushy places, obscure towns like Niangla, Nundle, Nowendoc, Grawin or Tuggolo State Forest. Who ever heard of these spots before their recent notoriety?  The unfamiliarity of these places makes the episode even more mysterious. The bounty on the heads of the Governors was a thousand pounds, on Naden’s capture it has risen from $100,000 to $250,000 which might get some folks to venture to these obscure places. If they dare or are sent.
 Like the Governors, Naden came from Dubbo. Historically the name has been a cityslicker synonym for Hicksville and latterly is infamous for “troubles” with the blacks who were relocated there from other parts of New South Wales and plonked in groups side by side with hostile skin groups.  Mind you, Naden has shown signs of severe disturbance and alienation for years, retreating to his room going out only at night via the window, refusing food and becoming obsessed with books on survival and the Bible. So who it makes one wonder will take the responsibility for not raising the mental health alarm?

Like the Governors, fugitives who have evaded capture out there take on  fabulous and fearful qualities, like the ability to disappear. So much so that there is something quite incongruous between the numbers and firepower of the constabulary and the fabulous one with the knife and  rifle.

The Daily Telegraph’s Janet Fife-Yeomans and Mark Morri state in Teleboganstyle,

 “Like a wild animal, he is a loner, comfortable to go for months at a time without speaking to another soul in the impenetrable bushland of western NSW which has been his home for more than six years. Malcolm Naden won’t be taken alive. Malcolm Naden is a master hunter, as cunning as a fox, stealthy as a shadow. Yet this week he became the thing that he most dreaded - prey.”   

Get the message not really one of us.

Naden is a skilled skinner and slaughter hand and lived in Dubbo Zoo for some time in the roof of an animal enclosure where they later found perfectly boned kangaroo skeletons. That time he evaded a force of abut 60. One news report quotes Assistant Commissioner Carlene York saying that Naden was obviously not being supported by the community otherwise he would not have broken into a house. Authorities, though, did find he had accessed porn sites on the house computer. She went on “…and it is likely he would struggle with cold conditions in the area.” 

In contrast York’s officers were working in a number of teams that were well fed and could keep warm at night, she boasted. One would have thought that the cold would not be a problem for a bushman who had been out there for six years, but may be a problem for city police. Commissioner York again; after expressing disappointment that Naden has evaded officers at the hut he broke into, said the officers would have had permission to shoot Naden based on their "assessment of events", but it is understood the pair may not have immediately realised the offender was Naden. Code for shoot to kill?

 So here was the most wanted man in NSW face-to-face talking to two cops with drawn weapons and he disappeared. The next bulletin celebrated that police had identified a rifle from the house matching one allegedly used by Naden to shoot a policeman in the shoulder on December 7th. However, although the victim was with a party of police they could not tell whence the shot had been fired.

 Naden’s future does not look promising. He shot a cop, he has made the force laughable in public eyes, and he is a blackfeler. It is almost as if the police are larding their ludicrous briefings with hints to prepare us for a future report stating that Naden was surrounded by a group of heavily armed police who shot him in self defence when he was resisting arrest.

These events have all those hot elements of race, the Bush, city versus country, hubris, David and Goliath, cops and robbers, police relations and bungles; even the implied undertones that the colonists who took the land from blackfellers have not yet made it safe for whitefellers. 

Michael D. Breen
25 12 2011

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