Thanks to Madman, we had the chance to see an Australian documentary – ‘The Tall Man’ on DVD.
Based on real life events, the film tells the story of Cameron Doomadgee, an Aboriginal man taken to a police station for public profanity later found dead in custody with injuries similar from a car crash. Happened on Palm Island off North Queensland, the local Indigenous community was outraged and grief-stricken by this incident, believing that the police officer who took him in, Sergeant Chris Hurley purposefully beaten him to death. Yet according to the police, Cameron tripped on a step on his way in which caused fatal damages and this claim angered the Aborigines more, into a riot burning down the police station. This event made headlines day after day and from this feature account, we’re able to step inside and listen to all parties involved, to get a better understanding of what has happened.
In the true form of documentary, the film begins by introducing the history and background on Palm Island, from its Indigenous heritage to current day living, administered by the local organizations and authorities. Chris Hurley, known for his social work for the Aboriginal communities throughout his 20 years on the job, was deemed unlikely to commit in such act of manslaughter. However why he took Cameron in for mere obscenity remains a mystery, there was a witness at the police station (an Abo-riginal man held for domestic violence) who asserts he saw Chris arms in arms out bashing Cameron. To this, Chris tries to demonstrate how he fell with Cameron on the step who then fainted and how his arm-in-arm-out move was to revive him to a fellow officer, but whose side should we believe in?
Thereby, this incident manifested into a court case, taking the viewers into the courtroom watching the evidence unfold to determine if Chris Hurley is guilty or not guilty for a deliberate act of killing? Though the juries have made their decision, the implication of this event extends beyond its physical consequences to highlight an ongoing social issue – are Aborigines treated justifiably in our society? Amidst all the different witnesses given in the film, we find it quite indicative that all the Aborigines stood up for their brother lost and all the non-Aborigines (aka of European descent) defended Chris Hurley. And why shouldn’t they? This still speaks true of the social divide apparent in this country.
The honest capturing of life on Palm Island gives us a great sense of the struggle and agony the local Aborigines face in light of this event. By inviting real people who are affected by the trauma to share their perspective and experiences, we feel a deepening sadness yet helplessness at their situation, especially learning, for example that Cameron’s son Eric killed himself shortly after from the despair of losing his father or a witness who knew Cameron also ended his life as he was unable to cope with the distress and suffering to come. It makes us wonder what will carry these people into the future?
On the other hand, Chris Hurley ‘The Tall Man’ was backed up by the entire Queensland Police force to win out but isn’t their threatening to strike broadening the social gap and creating more problems Power shifts back and forth in this movie between the 2 majorities yet no one comes out a winner if social harmony is at stake, especially on a little island where they are already struggling to co-exist. It may appear as if life is in paradise on Palm Island but all hell breaks loose with 1 death in custody.
We’re no big watchers of real life stories or documentaries but The Tall Man is an excellent film that holds your attention from the beginning to the end. Gripping, disturbing and relentlessly questioning you will learn a lot from this historical/political event which has heavily impacted upon Indigenous people in Australia. Now isn’t that more rewarding than watching popcorn flicks all the time?
The Tall Man is out already in Australia on DVD and Blu Ray thanks to Madman.