Five Things Curtain the Podcast has Taught me — Indigenous Imprisonment

Curtain is a podcast about wrongful conviction in Australia — and the trial that convicted an Aboriginal man for murder in 1992, in Central QLD, Australia.

Curtain is the nickname of Kevin Henry, an Aboriginal man from the Woorabinda Aboriginal Community. He was convicted of that murder and has spent more than 25 years in prison. Think about what you were doing in September of 1991, because Kevin has been behind bars that entire time, for everything you’ve lived and experienced he has missed out on it all.

I agreed to investigate his case earlier this year and now host the podcast with Indigenous Journalist Amy McQuire. This is article is not intended to detail the case, for that I would urge you to visit, find the podcast on iTunes and follow it on Facebook and Twitter. Because if we are to end the disgraceful criminalisation and imprisonment of Aboriginal Australia, then this is a story you MUST know. These are simply five things this process has taught me.

  1. Having spent 15 years defending around the world, the innocent, those condemned to death, the kidnapped, the tortured and those for whom a fair trial simply never occurred; my belief that no other people on earth are collectively punished by their nations justice system like Indigenous Australians has not only been confirmed. It has forced me to dedicate almost all of my time to changing this cancer on our society. I’ve defended people on every continent, but the statistics and the experiences don’t lie. Indigenous people are imprisoned in Australia more than any other peoples on earth, that’s just a fact… it’s time you, we, deal with it!
  2. The trauma in the Indigenous community is immense and yet the resilience is breathtaking. So bad was/is the abuses of Indigenous Australians by the justice system, police and corrective services that just before Kevin was imprisoned we had a Royal Commission into Black Deaths in Custody. 25 years on many, if not all, of the Commissions recommendations have yet to be implemented. And in that time some 400 Indigenous Australians have died needlessly in custody. Ms Dhu, Ms Maher, Mulrunji, Mr Ward, Mr Briscoe and far too many more to name. They did not deserve to die, their families did not deserve to suffer and there has not been justice for any of those 400 beautiful black people. The lesson is this… the genocide has not stopped, it just happens away from your eyes. But now you’ve seen Don Dale you cannot pretend not to know!
  3. Australians by and large do not care about the trauma, suffering and over incarceration of Indigenous Peoples. I’ve had the honour of working with the Greste family to help free Peter from a Cairo prison, of working with the families of the Bali Nine through the worst of times, defending a 16 year old girl whom the AFP left to rot in a Hong Kong prison. I’ve worked on the case of Amanda Knox… and for each and all of these cases and many others I’ve done countless radio interviews, newspapers interviews and TV appearances. Twice SBS covered in long form our efforts to free another Australian man from an Egyptian prison. But despite the existence of Curtain the Podcast, the brilliant production by the Brisbane Indigenous Media Association, our efforts to promote this story through Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat, paying for advertising, hosting, travel etc out of our own back pockets. Not a single media organisation has paid any interest… Well except my local paper in my small regional town who could teach the city folks a thing or two and the wonderful Indigenous radio stations around Oz including 98.9fm who host us each week. So, where the fuck are the rest of you? And why do we have to practically beg Non-Indigenous people to listen? This is not for us, this podcast and investigation costs me time, money and the amazing efforts of a brilliant team. Unlike most podcasts that are driven by personalities we simply want justice to be done! We are not getting rich, but too many folks are dying while we’re trying. Trying to bring justice, it’s all we want!
  4. Amy McQuire, my Co-Host on the Podcast and host of Let’s Talk on Brisbane’s 98.9fm is not the best young journalist in Australia. She’s not the best Indigenous journalist in Australia either. Yes she is both young and a proud Black woman, but what she is quite honestly is the best journalist in Australia, bar none! Search my Twitter feed if you must, I’ve been saying it for 6 or 7 years, long before I’d ever worked with Amy or even spoken to her. But without her, Curtain The Podcast would not exist. It came about because of a parting conversation, her desire to see if I would look into the case of Kevin Henry was exactly why I took it on. I didn’t need to know the details, if Amy has a hunch something isn’t right then I’d trust it with my life. In an age where most journalists are trusted about as much as dodgy used car salesmen and many simply write fluff to blow their own horn, Amy continues to write and speak about the most pressing issues our country faces without fear or favour. She doesn’t host a cooking show on the side, earn the big dollars or win awards. But as it sits, our Democracy demands that many more from the fourth estate follow her lead.
  5. The most under appreciated and poorly treated group in Australia also happens to be the nations most brilliant. The making of Curtain The Podcast, an all Indigenous production, has taught me this most important lesson so far. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women have been asked to withstand the most ruthless onslaught by the state, the nation and it’s citizenry and yet remain brave, brilliant and an unstoppable force in bringing justice, love and healing to this land. Along with my Co-Host, I speak of women like Yasmin Johnson who has been Kevin’s advocate for more than a decade. Anything we achieve could not have been possible without her. I speak of the incredible legal minds of Aboriginal women like Professor Megan Davis (the Chair and UN expert member of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Peoples), Professor Larissa Behrendt a graduate of Harvard Law School and Louise Taylor a Kamilaroi woman, lawyer and family violence expert. Aboriginal traumatologist Judy Atkinson whose work is possibly the most important of any single individual in our Nation and early childhood development and FASD researcher Jan Hammill.

I could go on forever, these are just some of the First Nations Women in Australia who are world leaders in their field, who are taking on the injustices and inter-generational trauma that has been forced upon the entire Indigenous community and making enormous inroads. They, like all Black women in this country should be celebrated, supported and recognised for their brilliance, their compassion and their service to us all.

And what I’ve learnt is this…. The humanity of all Indigenous Australians must be acknowledged, embraced and celebrated if we wish to see a change to the status quo. That’s not on anybody in the Indigenous community to change, that is the responsibility of every Non-Indigenous Australian, it is just the starting point, but if you cannot even bring yourself to that position, then it is you who is standing in the way and you are part of the problem.

Most importantly for me in this process is the acknowledgement of the humanity of Lynda. It was her life taken on that fateful day in 1991 and I firmly believe had she still been alive she would be amongst the incredible women who’s names I’ve just listed. She was an educator, an early childhood industry pioneer, a fighter for social justice and an amazing family woman.

Whatever lessons you take away from Curtain The Podcast, whether you feel like me and believe that Kevin Henry is innocent or that the police acted appalling in delivering Lynda’s family the truth of what happened to her or that the mess the police and justice system caused mean we will never know the truth, it still requires you to listen. If Kevin has spent 25 years in jail for a crime he did not commit then it is yet another dark stain on our nation, but it is something that is on me, amongst others, to prove. But what is absolutely true, beyond a reasonable doubt, is that the justice system failed Lynda, it failed her family and community and it continues to fail every Indigenous Australian. It fails the men, women, boys and girls who are criminalised. It fails the victims of violence and abuse. It fails those who would but for the nation that benefits so many, costs them everything their peoples have known for thousands of years.

And I know that every single hour and there have been thousands, that I work on this case and podcast, that fighting for the humanity and for justice for all First Nations Peoples is the least I can do for Lynda. It’s the least we can all do if we are to begin to heal the wounds that still leave our nation bleeding. While others will rightly ask of you to do your part in different ways, I simply ask this, is it too much to ask that you listen to Curtain The Podcast?