From nearly twenty years special “Courts of Native Affairs” operated in Western Australia. They were set up by the Native Affairs Department and were run to the general applause of chief protector AO Neville and anthropologist AP Elkin. Operating outside the control of the WA Justice Department and beyond the usual checks and balances applicable to the judicial process, the special courts heard murder trials where the defendant and the victim were Aboriginal people.
The author, a Magistrate working in the Goldfields, Esperance and Western Desert region of WA, drawing from a number of cases outlines how Aboriginal people charged with murder were denied natural justice and stripped of basic rights that non Aboriginal Australians had held for decades. Cases discussed show how Aboriginal people appeared before courts comprised of doctors, local Protectors (who may have been police) and pastoralists; where legal representation was often provided by people such as hospital orderlies. The author shows how Aboriginal people were virtually compelled to give confessional evidence without any legal advice or protection.
Yet the courts themselves are only part of the story told here, which largely concerns reinterpretation of the scant recorded responses. The book challenges the concept of willing and compliant aboriginal people by highlighting subtle resistance techniques, principally silence. Black Glass explores the silence and discusses the strategic and defiant silences of the Aboriginal participants. It also confronts some long established paternalistic legal myths.
The fact that these courts elicited no protest from the press, the judiciary or the even general public is an indication of the then current mindset. The book will be of particular interest people researching the treatment of Aboriginal people in the criminal justice system and those interested in the current Aboriginal history debate.
Previously published in 2010