All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: Bowraville by Dan Box

on July 29, 2019

Dan Box
Viking (Penguin Random House AUS)
2019, 322p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

A true crime story cannot often be believed, at least at the beginning. In Bowraville, all three of the victims were Aboriginal. All three were killed within five months, between 1990 and 1991. The same white man was linked to each, but nobody was convicted.

More than two decades later, homicide detective Gary Jubelin contacted Dan Box, asking him to pursue this serial killing. At that time, few others in the justice system seemed to know – or care – about the murders in Bowraville.

Dan spoke to the families of the victims, Colleen Walker-Craig, Evelyn Greenup and Clinton Speedy-Duroux, as well as the lawyers, police officers and even the suspect involved in what had happened. His investigation, as well as the families’ own determined campaigning, forced the authorities to reconsider the killings. This account asks painful questions about what ‘justice’ means and how it is delivered, as well as describing Dan’s own shifting, uncomfortable realisation that he was a reporter who crossed the line.

I am ashamed to admit that I grew up just over an hour from where these three murders took place and I didn’t even know about them until I received a press release for this book in my email inbox. I grew up in one of the larger mid north coast towns of NSW and my family still live there. I went to school with some of the local Indigenous population and there’s a well known Mission close to Kempsey, which is not far away. I didn’t live in the town when these children were murdered but I moved there a couple years after and would’ve been living there for a good 10 years while a lot of this was going on. In the book, comparisons are made between how little resources this got, compared to the Ivan Milat case, backpackers found murdered in the Belangalo State Forest near Bowral in the NSW southern highlands. And I remember all of that well. I remember when they found the bodies, it dominated the news cycle every night. But I don’t remember ever hearing anything about this and reading the book, I’m definitely not alone. Even Dan Box, journalist for The Australian newspaper had little to no knowledge of it when Detective Gary Jubelin approached him about pursuing it in the attempt to shine a light, get some publicity. A colleague, older than him, hadn’t heard of it either when Box explained what he was working on.

In late 1990 and early 1991, three Indigenous children went missing all from the same place, the Mission or just near it in Bowraville, in northern NSW not too far from Coffs Harbour. The first victim was 16, a girl named Colleen and her mother wasn’t aware she was missing for days – no one told her she hadn’t been seen. When she went to report her missing, the police station was closed (it was a Sunday) and she had to go back the next day. She was met with disinterested police and the firm assumption that she’d probably “gone walkabout”. The next victim was four year old Evelyn and her family were also told she’d probably gone walkabout. The final victim was another 16, a boy named Clinton. Police weren’t too interested in his disappearance either. Indigenous children did this. They took off sometimes, off up north or maybe out west. They might’ve moved to Sydney. Eventually they’d turn up back on the Mission or someone would see them.

Except one of the children was four years old. Where was she going to go? But people had an answer for that too. The family, fearing that welfare might be onto them for abuse issues, had spirited her away to other family, somewhere else. There were no crimes, everything was fine. Until the bodies of Clinton and Evelyn were found, pretty close together. Colleen’s body has never been found but her clothes were, discovered in a river not too far from where the bodies of Clinton and Evelyn were. All of a sudden a crime couldn’t be denied any longer. But by now, months had gone by. Any crucial evidence was probably long gone. People’s memories fade, dates blur together. And so begins the family’s search for justice in conditions where justice is unlikely, and not just because of those early bungled days.

I don’t really listen to podcasts (I tend to lose focus and zone out and then come back in and realise I’ve missed the last 10 minutes! The same thing happens when I listen to audiobooks as well) so I haven’t heard Dan Box’s five part one on the Bowraville murders. So I went into this with very little knowledge and was astounded to find how much I’d missed, especially considering this is the case that overturned (in NSW) one of the fundamental rules of law. And the further into the book I got I realised how not-alone I was. How so many people were ignorant of this. The further into it I got, the angrier I got, the sadder I got, for so many reasons. Dan Box spends so much time with the families of the victims, who have all fought so hard for some sort of justice. Because detectives like Gary, who has spent over 20 years working on the case, believe they know who did it. But knowing and proving are different things, especially when the early days of these crimes were treated the way that they were – as not crimes at all. There are so many mistakes, so many times where this was underesourced or people were put in charge who really probably were not at that stage of their careers. Some people did work really hard on this. Around the clock, for years, they dedicated themselves to the case as well as working other cases. But when you compare it resource-wise to other cases of a similar nature, multiple deaths in the same location with probably the same perpetrator, it was woefully undermanned. And those early crucial hours, days and weeks had been lost and you can’t get that time back.

I admire the families of the victims. Because they have been tireless in their search for justice, relentless. There’s nothing that they haven’t tried to overcome, and the obstacles in their way have been great. They have campaigned for important law changes (and got them through!), they have lobbied countless people in power to be heard. And yet at every turn they have also been stonewalled, blocked, rejected and ultimately, frustrated. I feel for them, their grief and sorrow pours out of every page of this book. That frustration and anger extends to some of the people that have worked on the case, have dedicated their lives to it, for some of them. The more time Dan Box spends on it, the more he finds himself drawn into the families and their journey, their quest for justice. As he states at one point, he became not just a journalist telling a story, but a campaigner.

This isn’t just about the crime, it’s about much more than that. It’s about race. It’s about the divide between white Australians and the Indigenous populations, the attitudes each hold towards the other. The ways in which the two communities in Bowraville interact, the different ways of life. It’s about the Indigenous culture and how they react differently to questions, or interviews and how those reactions are misinterpreted by police or people of authority. There aren’t enough liaisons between the two communities to help them understand the other’s way of doing things. For Indigenous people, police aren’t often seen as helpful. They’re seen as the people who took their mother or father away from their families, who come to arrest them for petty crimes or who don’t care when they report a crime themselves. It’s about crime statistics and how much more likely Indigenous children are to be harmed or murdered. It’s a vicious cycle on the Mission sometimes and yet the overall message I got was how important family is to them. How many of them are all connected and related in various ways and their connection to their local area and to each other. Family is so important, it’s everything and it’s why they haven’t given up. It’s why it feels like they’ll never give up.

This isn’t just a good read, it’s a crucial one. I feel as though I learned so much reading it and it’s the sort of book that also encourages self-reflection, or at least it did in me. Highly recommended. And I am going to try the podcast too.


Book #113 of 2019

One response to “Review: Bowraville by Dan Box

  1. A. J. Ullman says:

    Interesting timing on your post here. Any interest in reading a copy of my just-release novel (this week) And The River Runs Deep? Here’s the cover and back cover which gives you a summary and some nice blurbs. Love your blog, by the way… A. J.

    Sent from Yahoo Mail for iPhone

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