Bowraville: Murdered children, racism and a quest for justice

What is this about?: Based on the podcast of the same name, Bowraville is the story of three Aboriginal families’ quest for justice against racist police force, and an investigation that ruined their chances for justice.

What else is this about?: This is a devastating tale of these families’ search for justice against a system that gave them — and still continues — to give them no resolution. Children died and no one seems to care.

Blurb

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.

Praise for the Bowraville podcast:

‘It is a gripping true crime tale and an essay on racism; a challenge to the lies Australia tells itself about its treatment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people told through the voices of three Aboriginal families who have been indisputably let down … The podcast has galvanised the public in a way that two decades of print and television reporting on the Bowraville murders have not.’ The Guardian

‘A masterful example of crime reporting which forensically details the worst of human nature, inexplicably compounded by the gross negligence of the only people who could provide justice. It’s stirred thousands, including the prime suspect, to re-engage with the case after trusting the journalist to take them to dark places.’ Walkley judges’ comments

‘Outstanding.’ Leigh Sales

‘Moving, brilliant.’ Annabel Crabb

‘If you haven’t listened to Bowraville by Dan Box, then you should.’ David Campbell

Bowraville, the bookis based on the podcast of the same name. And I still don’t know how to review this book. This is about the Aboriginal families that have been searching for justice for the deaths of their children, and the justice system that let them down.

Colleen, Clinton and little Evelyn who was four when she died are the three Aboriginal children who were murdered in Bowraville 30 years ago now. Journalist Dan Box, of The Australian, is behind both the book and the podcast. 

After finishing the book, I freely admit there’s no way for me to have any sort of objectiveness about this book — and perhaps the genre of true crime as a result.

The families and their search for justice

There’s a scene in the book that encapsulates how their murders and their families were treated: when Box goes back to his newspaper and tells a colleague that he’s going to do a podcast and investigation into the Bowraville murders, the colleague hears him say:  the Beaumont murders.

Literally, that’s what the colleague heard. Box had to correct him and discovers the colleague had never heard of the Bowraville murders. However, the Beaumont children are three white children (siblings) who disappeared from a beach in Sydney in 1966. The Bowraville children were murdered in 1990, and still their names were not known.

Colleen, Clinton and Evelyn disappeared within months of each other, and while the bodies of two of the children (Clinton who was 16 and Evelyn who was 4) were found, Colleen’s was never found.

If the Bowraville children were three white children, I don’t doubt that they would have been easily remembered by that colleague in the newsroom.

The book begins with an introduction to the case through Gary Jubelin, a homicide detective who introduced Box to the Bowraville murders. At that point, the case needed publicity and Box was it.

From there, Box takes readers to the past, to the moment when Colleen’s mother walked into a police station to report her child missing, and was told that her daughter must have gone on walkabout (a derogatory use of a word that has a deep meaning in Aboriginal culture) by the police instead of them going out to actually investigate.

From there, things got worse and two more children murdered. Box got to know these families well, and it shows in the book, takes readers into their grief over decades — and the things in their lives that marked the passage of time with no answer to who murdered their children. Because time does go on, even if their grief remains palpable.

The suspect

Oh there’s a suspect, and there’s evidence that was never properly examined or treated, and said suspect had enough time to get rid of evidence because the investigation was just that effed up. He’s still free, by the way.

Box does wonder if he was too close to the families and the case when doing his podcast to miss certain things — like the suspect’s innocence. He does his best to get the suspect to talk to him, and while he does, the man never does proclaim why he is innocent — he only explains away the evidence against him.

I listened to this book on Audible with a growing sense of disbelief at the loss of these children and the treatment of their families. The families in turn banded together and worked to get the justice system to acknowledge them and their losses — to the point that they overturned the double jeopardy law here in NSW. To no avail.

These families are the heart of the book, as is their strength against a system and a society that really didn’t care about what they were going through. Australia is racist — we like to pretend we’re not, or couch it in our love of bringing down tall poppies, but when an Aboriginal man stands up for himself, God help him, because racists over here won’t let him enjoy anything — not even the last year in a decades long career in a sport in which he was pretty much one of the best players. 

Aboriginal culture 

Box also details the Aboriginal culture, and the societal cues no cop, judge, jury or lawyer understood. Long silences, for instance, are not uncomfortable in Aboriginal culture. Nor are they indications that the person you are speaking to doesn’t know what to say. Family is more than your mother, father or brother, it is the elders around you. An address might not stick in someone’s memory, but that doesn’t mean they don’t know exactly what they’re talking about.

These are the cues and the behaviour from Aboriginal witnesses that no white jury or lawyer could understand –– and no one bothered to understand or recognise would be different.

It’s 30 years since these children were murdered,  and their families are still searching for justice. In all likelihood, they will never receive it.

But Australia should know these childrens’ names and the town where they were murdered: Bowraville. 

16 Comments

  • RO says:

    Wow! There are so many stories like this of people who have suffered needlessly, without justice. Glad the story is being told. Hugs, RO

  • I’ll be reading this one, thanks for sharing your thoughts

  • Lark says:

    These kinds of stories always break my heart.

  • Oh my, this sounds like an emotional and heartbreaking read. These poor families!

    • Verushka says:

      It definitely was — they were denied their justice and the police. Honestly, back then, they were all kinds of awful. They just didn’t care.

  • Silvia says:

    It sounds like a really heartbreaking story . . . I’m glad you shared your thoughts, I think it’s quite powerful.

    • Verushka says:

      It is a powerful story — I wish the media in Australia would pick up a story like this and remind people what these families went through. But nope, Aboriginal stories like this aren’t told.

  • I generally don’t love crime stories and I have to admit to having never read true crime… But there’s something about true stories or something based on a true story that draws me in a bit…. I’ll have to take a chance on the true crime genre and see how it fits.

    • Verushka says:

      I hope you do, Di. There was no way I would know about Bowraville if I hadn’t read this book — but I do know it was weird getting into it in the beginning. I started with I’ll be gone in the dark by Michelle McNamara and fell down into the rabbit hole. Also podcasts — totally drew me in.

  • Jen Mullen says:

    I don’t read true crime very often, but crimes against a particular segment of a population always interest me. God knows, we have plenty to regret with our own Native American population. Sadly, we have not improved much in our treatment of “the other.”

  • Kelly says:

    You’ve hit the nail on the head Verushka, if these were white children, they would be household names. Racism runs deep in our communities and not just from white Australians either. With such a multicultural country, we all forget that we live on stolen land and our First Nations communities are still the subject of racism, prejudice and neglect. It sounds as though investigators didn’t care about the children or families to seek justice. This is so incredibly sad and infuriating at the same time. I’m super interested in this one Verushka, absolutely loved your review!

    • Verushka says:

      Oh, IA, racism is here from all Australians – white or brown or whoever (never mind the brown on brown racism that’s out there). It’s heartbreaking what these families have endured and — they still don’t have justice and the thing is, the police could have made a case against their best and only viable suspect. But back then they didn’t care (like why the hell isn’t frigging 60mins doing a story on this instead of another hit piece on Megha Markle? Or any other news program)

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