I was reading Andrew Bolt today, who kindly provided this link to a story about working in the justice system in the NT.
I'm glad I read it, because after a dozen years, I am certain that a mate of mine is not a bullshit artist, and that his mind was not messed with by the anti-depressants that he took for a few years.
You see, my friend was a policeman in WA. We had known each other at school, and we caught up again years later after he had medically retired, slightly unhinged by all the death and trauma that he had seen in his short career with the force.
I always took his stories with a pinch of salt, since most of them were told after we'd had a couple of beers, and he was still taking his little blue pills a couple of times a day. But given that the article above corroborates some of what he told me, I have to accept that the whole lot is probably largely true.
I'll start with payback.
My mate worked as a cop in Perth, then several country towns, then the back of beyond; doing patrols through the Aboriginal settlements out as far as the SA and NT borders. Don't ask me how he ended up out there - I never asked.
He told me that when they went out to arrest somebody, the culprit would be given a choice - they could be punished with white man's justice or black man's justice. If they went with whitey, they would be shielded from further payback when they got out of gaol. If they went black, they'd leave them alone.
He witnessed several spearings, and explained the form. The person being speared had to stand stock still - no movement allowed. The spearer had to stand a certain distance away, and could only spear below the waist. No chest shots allowed. I guess if he threw badly and hit the guy in the lungs, his turn would be next. I am not sure if he only got one shot or not. I don't know about whether the spear had to be barbed or smooth. Trials were short and sharp (excuse the pun) - the trial might start at 10am and whole thing might be over an hour later - the delay being the time it took to ask the nurse to collect her kit and come down to the spearing point.
Once the spear had landed, the white medical staff would come in from the sidelines and cart the patient away for treatment. It sounded like once they got over the initial shock of ritual justice, they became pretty blase about treating the wounded.
Apparently a lot of young blackfellas almost wet themselves with gratitude when given the choice, and leapt into the back of their Landcruiser with much relief. They'd then immediately plead guilty when they got back to town and hope for a reasonable stretch inside - anything to keep them away from the mad blackfella's at home that wanted to hurl a wickedly sharpened stick into their thigh. Next time you read about the high rate of incarceration of Aboriginals, think about how many are using gaol as a means to avoid payback, which is so many times worse than anything prison has to offer. Some though found out that regardless of their prison stay, they were still going to get payback when they got out. I sometimes wonder if that is the real driver behind Aboriginal suicides in custody - the thought of facing some very rough justice that they just couldn't handle.
He saw one bloke sentenced to stick a boning knife through his thigh seven times. The point of the knife had to emerge from the skin on the other side. The crim had to do it himself. I think the deal was that once the crim had accepted Blackfella justice, the cops wouldn't touch him, even if he reneged after hearing the sentence. If they took him away, every male in the settlement would be chucking a spear, or worse, within seconds.
This was also why they carried body armour and military style helmets (unheard of in the WA Police back in the mid to late 1980's) and were routinely issued an M-16 each; something that street cops never, ever carried. That kind of thing only ever went to the special weapons groups (the local version of SWAT), never beat cops. Well, I guess his beat was different.
Story two related to the above. If they drove into town and all the elders were there to welcome them, life would be good. If all the elders were standing there rattling spears together, they suited up with the body armour and helmets and pulled out their rifles. It meant they were unhappy about something - generally the idea that they arrest someone that the elders didn't want taken away.
The crimes that they dealt with blew me away when he first told me about them (this was the early 1990's), but we now routinely read about them in the paper as a result of the intervention. The one that sticks in my mind has to do with a white nurse being raped and having her nipples bitten off. That job involved suiting up in armour and hunting the perpetrator through a field of broken down car bodies - knowing that the perp was armed with a rifle. No wonder my mate went a little mad. That would scare the crap out of anyone.
The third story involved the "feather feet". Feather feet refers to just that - the elders would stick emu feathers to their feet to ensure they didn't leave any tracks. They'd do that in order to deal out a bit of summary justice to some particularly nasty little reprobate in their midst. My mate would turn up somewhere to arrest "young Jimmy", and be told by elders with a straight face that they'd never heard of him, even though they had been back there to arrest him half a dozen times in the last year.
After a bit of pressing, they'd admit that they had heard of "young Jimmy", but the feather feet had taken him away.
That is, the elders had grabbed him in the middle of the night, taken him out into the bush and bashed his head in with a rock. Young Jimmy was lying in an unmarked grave somewhere, and according to tribal custom, was never to be spoken of again. We hear consipiracy theories about how the CIA or Mossad just makes people "disappear"; well in outback Australia, that happens for real. Some elders had no time for criminals that refused to reform.
At that point, Police enquiries would cease. There was no point in asking further questions and bringing on a spot of spear rattling by the elders.