Jimmy Governor after his arrest – source Singleton Library
I killed the school-teacher and Mrs Mawbey. … My missis was always telling me that Mrs Mawbey was always getting on at her for marrying a blackfellow. See said that Mrs Mawbey said any white woman who married a blackfellow was not fit to live. That made me very wild, and so we went and killed them. The school-teacher and the Mawbeys were always poking fun at us and laughing. I was never a loafer like some blackfellows. I always worked, and paid for hat I got, and I reckon I am as good as any white man. I was run into it.
Evidence of Constable Stone during the trial of Jimmy Governor as reported in the Maitland Daily, 23 November, 1900, p. 3 “The Trial concluded: Governor sentenced to death”
Jimmy Governor’s trial
Jimmy Governor and his brother Joe were the last two outlaws declared in NSW. On the 19 November, 1900 Jimmy Governor was arraigned before Justice Owen at the Central Criminal Court on the charge of ‘feloniously and maliciously murdering Ellen Josephine Kertz‘. His trial was held on 22 and 23 November, 1900. During his trial his Barrister Francis Stewart Boyce raised the defence of autrefois aquit and autrefois attaint, arguing that as a result of outlawry Governor had already been attainted and could not be tried for the same crimes. These pleas in bar of trial were rejected.
A detailed account of the trial and the evidence of witnesses, including Ethel Governor and thirteen-year-old George Mawbey, the only witness to the Mawbey murders at Breelong, were widely reported in the newspapers of the day.
Jimmy Governor provided an extended statement to police after his arrest, and spoke with a number of reporters, telling many details of his story of what happened at Breelong and during his three months on the run.
Found guilty of the murder of Ellen Kertz, Jimmy Governor was sentenced to hang, however the execution date was delayed by almost two months due to planned festivities to celebrate Australian Federation. Jimmy Governor was finally hanged at Darlinghurst gaol on 18 January 1901, seventeen days after Federation, and buried in an unmarked grave in the Anglican section of Rookwood cemetery.
In the more than a century that has passed following the outlawing, trial and execution of Jimmy Governor, what has changed for the blackfellows forced to endure in a white man’s world? To be sure, in 1967 we got the right to vote in Commonwealth elections and to be counted in the Commonwealth census. In 2008 we received a half-arsed apology from Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, but what has really changed – sadly the answer is nothing.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, as at 30 June 2011, there were 29,106 prisoners in Australian prisons. This represented an imprisonment rate of 167 prisoners per 100,000 adult population. Between the 2010 and 2011 Prisoner Census dates, the total age standardised prisoner population decreased by 2% (from 29,700 on 30 June 2010 to 29,106 on 30 June 2011). This was in contrast to the 1% increase between 2009 and 2010. Between the 2010 and 2011 Prisoner Census dates, the number of male prisoners decreased by 1% (394) and female prisoners decreased by 9% (200).
At 30 June 2011, there were 7,033 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander male prisoners, which was 92% of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prisoners. Non-Indigenous male prisoners accounted for 93% of the non-Indigenous prisoner population.
The number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander male prisoners increased by 1% (103) between June 2010 and June 2011, while the number of non-Indigenous male prisoners decreased by 1% (260). The number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander female prisoners decreased by 5% (31) between June 2010 and June 2011, while the non-Indigenous female prisoner population decreased by 9% (139).
The national age standardised Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander imprisonment rate from the annual Prisoner Census conducted at June 2010 was 14 times higher (1,892 per 100,000 adult Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population) than the rate for non-Indigenous persons (134 per 100,000 adult non-Indigenous population).
The highest Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander imprisonment rate was recorded in Western Australia (3,832 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prisoners per 100,000 adult Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population), followed by South Australia (2,609) and the Northern Territory (2,338). The lowest Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander imprisonment rate was recorded in Tasmania (542), followed by Victoria (1,309).
The largest proportional increase in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander imprisonment rate from the March quarter 2010 was recorded in the Australian Capital Territory (19%), followed by the Northern Territory (7%). Western Australia (11%), and New South Wales (6%) recorded the largest proportional decreases over the same period.
While there are any number of scholarly and legal articles on why the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (“ATSI”) imprisonment rate are so high, given we make up only about 2.5% of the Australian population, but account for over 25% of the Australian prison population, about 7,800 out of a total prison population of 29,106, the real answer is racism – pure and simple – the same issue that sent Jimmy Governor on his murderous rampage way back in 1900.
It is interesting to note that the Australian Capital Territory (“ACT”) had the biggest increase in its ATSI prison population for any jurisdiction in Australia. In fact the ACT increase is nearly twice that of its nearest rival, Western Australia at 11%.
Regular readers of Blak and Black will be aware that the ACT is the jurisdiction that refused to investigate an indecent and racial assault on Australia’s most senior ATSI female bank executive by a white male public servant, and also refused to investigate another racially motivated physical assault on another ATSI female by a, you guessed it, white male public servant. The ACT is also the jurisdiction that fitted-up and sacked its ATSI Commissioner for Revenue because he attempted to hold whites accountable to their own laws.
It doesn’t take a genius to join the dots. If the ACT police service, which is a branch of the Australian Federal Police (“AFP”), put racism aside, and carried out its duties according to law, rather than racial prejudices, one wonders what the ATSI versus non-indigenous prison statistics in the ACT would look like!
I always worked, and paid for hat I got, and I reckon I am as good as any white man
In my post on Kieffen Raggett, the 8 year old Northern Territory ATSI boy who became the victim of both an apparent serial sex offender and white Australia’s indifference to its ATSI population when we become victim of crime, I examined briefly what an ATSI person needs to do to be accepted into the white Australian community. Sadly as Jimmy Governor found out over a century before, white Australia will never accept us as equals, no matter what we achieve.
In the words of the Northern Territory Coroner when speaking of Kieffen:
The young boy was considered to be an obedient, capable, intelligent, and happy child who admired his father. I am told he worked hard in the yards at Mallapunyah Station and his hobbies included horseback and motorbike riding, soccer and playing with shanghais (sling-shots). He was often seen with the family’s pet dog, a red heeler.
The young boy’s school file was tendered in the inquest. The boy’s teacher and school principal thought he had academic and social potential and were shocked and saddened by his death.
Isn’t that exactly what white Australia tells all ATSI Australians that we must become – obedient, intelligent, hardworking and social? But when we do become that, we remain nonetheless ‘others’, black people merely living around white society, subject to white society’s laws, but sharing none of the benefits normally associated with obedience to the ‘rule of law’.
The Northern Territory Coroner’s words when speaking of Kieffen are eerily similar to those uttered by Jimmy Governor’s after his arrest:
The school-teacher and the Mawbeys were always poking fun at us and laughing. I was never a loafer like some blackfellows. I always worked, and paid for hat I got, and I reckon I am as good as any white man.
Both Jimmy and Kieffen attempted to become what white Australia demanded, but still they were rejected. Is it any wonder then that so many young ATSI men and women turn against white society’s laws?
Non-violence: the path we must learn to follow
If the future does not belong to non-violence, to the reconciliation of our differences, then we have no future. It is along this path that humanity must clear its next hurdle if it is to survive. That being said, I agree with Sartre when he said:
We cannot excuse the terrorists who throw bombs, but we can understand them.
Sartre wrote in ‘The Situation of the Writer in 1947’ that:
I recognise that violence, manifested in any form, is a failure. But it is an inevitable failure because we live in a world of violence. Even though it is true that recourse to violence to fight violence risks perpetuating it, it is also true that this is the only way to make violence stop.
I think that Ghandi would add that non-violence is a surer way to make it stop. One must not support terrorists as Sartre did, in the name of this principle, during the Algerian War and at the time of the attack on the Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympic Games in 1972. It doesn’t work, nor does resorting to crime work; even if it’s the only way you have to vent your frustrations with the system. Even Sartre, at the end of his life, questioned the meaning of and justification for terrorism. To say that violence achieves nothing is much more important than to know whether or not to condemn those who have recourse to it.
In this notion of ‘working’ of effectiveness, lies a non-violent hope. If such a thing as violent hope exists, it is the poetry of Guillaume Apollinaire:
How slow life is
And how violent hope is
In March 1980, three weeks before his death, Sartre admitted:
We must try to explain why the world of today, which is horrible, is only one moment in a long historical development, that hope has always been one of the dominate forces of revolutions and insurrections, and how I still feel that hope is my conception of the future.
Sartre – Maintenant l’espoir (III) in Le Nouvel Observateur, 24 mars 1980.
As Indigenous Australians we must realise that violence turns its back on hope. We have to choose hope over violence – choose the hope of non-violence. This is the path we must learn to follow. The oppressors no less than the oppressed have to negotiate to remove the oppression: this is what will eliminate our over representation in the prison system. This is why we cannot let too much hate accumulate.
The message of a Nelson Mandela, a Martin Luther King Jr., is relevant to all of us. Their message is one of hope and faith in modern societies’ ability to move beyond conflict with mutual understanding and a vigilant patience. To reach that point, societies must be based on rights whose violations prompt outrage – no matter who has violated them. There can be no compromising on these rights.
H.M Prison, Darlinghurst, 18 January 1901
You can send for my breakfast now, Governor.
The colt from Black Velvet’s awake
and the ladies all down from the country
are gathered outside for my sake.
Soon be all finished, the running.
No tracks of mine lead out of here.
Today, I take that big step
on the bottom rung of the air
and be in heaven for dinner.
Might be the first jimbera there.
The Old People don’t go to heaven,
good thing. My mother might meet
that stockman feller my father
and him cut her dead in the street.
Mother today I’ll be dancing
your way and his way on numb feet.
But a man’s not a rag to wipe snot on,
I got that much into their heads,
them hard white sunbonnet ladies
that turned up their short lips and said
my wide had a slut’s eye for colour.
I got that into their head
and the cow-cockies kids plant up chimneys
they got horse soldiers out with the Law
after Joe and lame Jack and tan Jimmy –
but who taught us how to make war
on women, old men, babies?
It ain’t all one way any more.
The papers, they call us bushrangers:
that would be our style, I daresay,
bushrangers on foot with our axes.
It sweetens the truth, anyway.
They don’t like us killing their women.
Their women kill us every day.
And the squatters are peeing their moleskins,
there’s more than a calf in the wheat,
it’s Jimmy the fencer, running
along the top rail in the night,
it’s the Breelong mob crossing the ranges
wiht rabbit skins soft on their feet.
But now Jack in his Empire brickyard
has already give back his shoes
and entered the cleanliness kingdom,
the Commonwealth drums through the walls
and I’m weary of news.
I’m sorry, old Jack, I discharged you,
you might have enjoyed running free
of plonk and wet cornbags and colour
with us pair of outlaws. But see,
you can’t trust even half a whitefeller,
You died of White Lady through me.
They tried me once running, once standing:
one time ought to do for the drop.
It’s more trial than you got, I hear, Joe,
your tommyhawk’s chipped her last chop.
I hope you don’t mind I got lazy
when the leaks in my back made me stop.
If any gin stands in my print
I’ll give her womb sorrow and dread,
if a buck finds our shape in the tussocks
I’ll whiten the hair in his head,
but a man’s not a rag to wipe boots on
and I got that wrote up, bright red,
where even fine ladies can read it
who never look at the ground
for a man that ain’t fit to breed from
may make a terrible bound
before the knacker’s knife gets him.
Good night to you, father. Sleep sound.
Fetch in my breakfast, Governor,
I have my journey to make
and the ladies all down from the country
are howling outside for my sake