During Reconciliation Week, the community of Roebourne, situated in the Pilbara of Western Australia, was gearing up for the Murru Concert. Murru is the affectionate nickname given by family to 16-year-old Yindjibarndi man John Pat, who died tragically under violent circumstances in police custody in Roebourne in 1983.
John’s death sparked a national outrage at the growing number of Aboriginal deaths in custody, which led to the development of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody (RCIADIC). Respected Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists from across Australia come together at the Murru Concert to perform ‘songs of freedom’ in tribute to John and to commemorate RCIADIC’s 25th anniversary.
I attended the concert as co-convenor of WA’s Amnesty Indigenous Rights Group. Mr Pat’s sister Maisie showed me warm hospitality and relayed heartfelt stories of her happy-go-lucky older brother. 33 years may have passed, but the loss of John is still felt deeply by the family and greater community, especially by mother Mavis.
Despite the troubling events that led to the founding of the Murru Concert, the community of Roebourne showed up to the Ngurin Pilbara Aboriginal Centre in high spirits. It was a joy to hear dozens of excited children speaking their language. In the absence of the city lights I’m accustomed to, the unique amphitheater shone under the night sky.
An all-star lineup performed songs from the Murru album which were co-written with people in prison, professional musicians and other community members to commemorate the 30th anniversary of John’s passing. The album and concert were conceived by grassroots organisation Big hArt, who work with people in the Roebourne Regional Prison to write and record music that celebrates their life, community and culture.
Being based in Perth means that I often don’t get to hear the stories of Indigenous people outside of the city surrounds. Opportunities to foster relationships with communities all over Western Australia are crucial to adequately gauging the state of Indigenous rights throughout the region. Attending the concert was an experience I will never forget, and I thank Amnesty for giving me this wonderful opportunity.
— Written by Hayley Beth, Co-Convenor of WA’s Amnesty Indigenous Rights Group.
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