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Research Guides


Aboriginal Deaths in Custody: The Royal Commission and its Records, 1987–91


2 Underlying Issues Records

At the outset of the Royal Commission, Commissioner Muirhead, then the sole Commissioner, announced that he saw his job as being not merely to understand how each person died, but to know why that person died. Governments confirmed his view by amendments subsequently made to the Letters Patent whereby it was declared ‘that, for the purpose of reporting on any underlying issues associated with those deaths, you are authorised to take account of social and cultural and legal factors which, in your judgement, appear to have a bearing on those deaths’.1

Therefore, after investigating individual deaths the Commission tried to find larger social and economic factors to explain Aboriginal deaths in custody. In order to report on the underlying issues the Commission adopted a number of approaches to gaining information – it publicly invited submissions, it solicited submissions from interested parties, notably Aboriginal organisations, it conducted research through its Criminology Research Unit, it commissioned research on selected topics and it undertook a research program through specially established Aboriginal Issues Units which were set up in each State and the Northern Territory. The Units, which were staffed by Aboriginal people had the task of ascertaining what Aboriginal people, Aboriginal organisations and communities believed were the underlying issues of deaths in custody and the disproportionately high rate of Aboriginal arrests and imprisonments and what they believed the solutions to be.

The Commission noted that Aboriginal people had differences from other groups in Australia. For example, it noted a higher rate of alcoholism, jailing, reproduction and lower than average education. This led to an investigation into the wider issues underlying the differences between Aboriginal people and other groups in Australian society. It involved hearings and submissions from hundreds of concerned organisations and individuals, covering every possibility from genetic differences to allegations of space aliens attacking certain groups. The Commission also hired research organisations and individual experts to do historical, social and economic surveys of Aboriginal people in an attempt to place aspects of Aboriginal society in a perspective that would help explain Aboriginal deaths.

Many of these underlying issues papers have become widely available in one form or another. Others have been used as source material for books, periodical articles or as publications first by the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and then by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission.

The statistics collected have since been the basis of much funding of Aboriginal people and the historical and social material has been used in land claims by various Aboriginal groups. The full text of the Underlying Issues Reports can be found on the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation’s web site at www.austlii.edu.au/au/special/rsjproject/rsjlibrary/rciadic.

This chapter describes the Commission’s records identified as having a connection with the investigation of underlying issues.

RECORDS AT THE NATIONAL ARCHIVES
Transcript folders – special hearings A8568
Transcript folders – underlying issues hearings A8569
General submission files A8575
Resource information database A8639
Miscellaneous underlying issues records of the Aboriginal Issues Unit, Alice Springs D4094
General submissions records, 1988–90 D4104
Miscellaneous underlying issues records D4106
Miscellaneous underlying issues records, Aboriginal Issues Unit, South Australia D4108
Miscellaneous underlying issues records of the Aboriginal Issues Unit, Queensland D4130
Submissions records D4140
TRANSCRIPT FOLDERS – SPECIAL HEARINGS, SINGLE NUMBER SERIES WITH STATE/SPECIAL PREFIX, 1987–90

This series consists of transcripts of hearings before the Royal Commission in various States, covering general issues and issues unrelated to individual cases. Individuals and groups with an interest in the work of the Commission attended the hearings and were questioned or gave oral submissions. The hearings could be of individuals or groups who felt they had an interest in the matters raised.

The hearings cover a diversity of material from the Commission's terms of reference to public relations. Other submissions cover educational and legal areas.

Series: A8568
Quantity: 0.36 metres in Canberra, 0.72 metres in Sydney, 0.36 metres in Darwin, 0.36 metres in Brisbane, 0.36 metres in Adelaide, 0.18 metres in Perth
Dubbo/Wellington conferences 21 and 22 March, 1990 A8568, NSW/SPECIAL/1
Educational conference 8 October, 1990 A8568, NT/SPECIAL/2
National Aboriginal and Islander Legal Service Secretariat application 10 November, 1989 A8568, Q/SPECIAL/2
Public access to the records: The documents in this series, or parts of the documents, that were publicly available in the course of the Royal Commission's existence remain publicly available. Any material relating to public hearings to which a Commissioner applied a non-publication order will not be publicly available. When these records reach 30 years of age the Commissioner's non-publication orders will cease to have effect and the provisions of the Archives Act will determine access status.
TRANSCRIPT FOLDERS – UNDERLYING ISSUES HEARINGS, SINGLE NUMBER SERIES WITH STATE/UI PREFIX, 1989–90

This series consists of transcripts of hearings before the Royal Commission in the Northern Territory and Western Australia. These hearings cover general issues and are unrelated to individual cases. Individuals and groups with an interest in the work of the Commission attended the hearings and were questioned or gave oral submissions. These hearings could be attended by individuals or groups who felt they had an interest in the matters raised.

The hearings cover material similar to other underlying issues hearings, for example in series A8568, but this series only covers the work of the Commission in Western Australia and the Northern Territory.

Series: A8569
Quantity: 2.16 metres in Perth, 0.36 metres in Darwin
Broome WA – transcripts – Mary River A8569, 11
Darwin 8 Dec 89 to 26 Mar 90 A8569, NT/UI/1
Broome WA: transcripts Broome A8569, 3
Public access to the records: The documents in this series, or parts of the documents, that were publicly available in the course of the Royal Commission's existence remain publicly available. Any material relating to public hearings to which a Commissioner applied a non-publication order will not be publicly available. When these records reach 30 years of age the Commissioner's non-publication orders will cease to have effect and the provisions of the Archives Act will determine access status.
GENERAL SUBMISSION FILES, SINGLE NUMBER SERIES WITH G/STATE PREFIX, 1987–91

These files contain submissions relating to the general issue of Aboriginal relations with white society and more specific submissions relating to issues of custody and suicide. There are submissions from medical, legal and religious groups with concerns and also individual submissions. There are some references to specific cases.

The files are arranged by State, with a 'G' prefix, and then a single number sequence in each State, for example, G/N/32 is the thirty-second file raised in NSW for a general submission, that is, a submission not considered by the Commission to be related to a specific case.

Series: A8575
Quantity: 0.14 metres in Canberra, 0.18 metres in Sydney, 0.09 metres in Darwin, 0.18 metres in Brisbane, 0.11 metres in Adelaide, 0.18 metres in Melbourne, 0.18 metres in Perth
Canberra office general submissions: Mr G Wyer A8575, G/A/8
Canberra office general submissions: John Short – Co-operative for Aborigines Limited A8575, G/N/3
Canberra office general submissions: submission from Royal Australian & New Zealand College of Psychiatrists A8575, G/S/5
Public access to the records: Submissions from this series which were made public, for example, read aloud or circulated to the public in the hearing room, in the course of the Royal Commission's existence remain publicly available. At the request of the originator, or on the decision of a Commissioner, certain submissions were protected by non-publication orders. These are not available. Those submissions which were not explicitly made available or explicitly withheld are subject to the formal access arrangements (see page 12 of the Guide for an explanation of the formal access arrangements.)
RESOURCE INFORMATION DATABASE, SINGLE NUMBER SERIES, 1988–90
The Resource Information database is a 'dumped' computer listing of all material collected by the Commission. It lists general submissions, reports, literature, books, audio and video material which was considered as relevant information by officers of the Commission. Each item of data includes bibliographic information including author and title, a brief abstract of the item, and keywords for grouping and retrieving items.
Series: A8639
Quantity: 0.18 metres in Canberra
Resource information database A8639, 1
Resource information database A8639, 3
Resource information database A8639, 6
These records are publicly available.
MISCELLANEOUS UNDERLYING ISSUES RECORDS OF THE ABORIGINAL ISSUES UNIT, ALICE SPRINGS, SINGLE NUMBER SERIES, 1989–90

The role of the Aboriginal Issues Unit was to consult with Aboriginal people and Aboriginal organisations about underlying problems in Aboriginal society and to solicit suggestions about how these problems could be solved.

The series is a collection of papers, audio tapes, videos, reports letters, investigation papers, interview papers and statements covering what the individuals concerned saw as the important issues. The issues identified include coronial systems, alcohol, criminal justice, domestic violence, culture, education and many others.

Series: D4094
Quantity: 2.52 metres in Darwin
Video Tape – Grog – where to now? 4/8/1989 D4094, 1
Cassettes – Ngukurr meeting D4094, 30
Population: Na Khalidi, 'The Aboriginal Population of Alice Springs – A Demographic study' – Thesis Australian National University, 1989 D4094, 33
sought the formal access arrangements must be applied (see page 12 of the Guide for an explanation of the formal access arrangements).
GENERAL SUBMISSIONS RECORDS, SINGLE NUMBER SERIES WITH ALPHA PREFIX AND INFIX, 1988–90
These files consist mainly of general submissions, that is submissions not connected to a specific case, given to the Western Australia Office of the RCIADIC. There are forty submissions from individuals, religious organisations, government agencies and private companies.
Series: D4104
Quantity: 0.18 metres in Perth
General submissions Perth Western Australia – Mr D W McLeod D4104, G/W/1
General submissions Perth Western Australia – Sister Bernadine Daly D4104, G/W/1
General submissions Perth Western Australia – Murdoch University 27/6/1990 D4104, G/W/30
Public access to the records: Submissions from this series which were made public, for example, read aloud or circulated to the public in the hearing room, in the course of the Royal Commission's existence remain publicly available. At the request of the originator, or on the decision of a Commissioner, certain submissions were protected by non-publication orders. These are not available. Those submissions which were not explicitly made available or explicitly withheld are subject to the formal access arrangements (see page 12 of the Guide for an explanation of the formal access arrangements.)
MISCELLANEOUS UNDERLYING ISSUES RECORDS, SINGLE NUMBER SERIES, 1988–90
These records are in a number of different formats including paper, audio tapes and computer disks. They were created in different offices of the Commission and deal with a wide range of topics, including human rights, culture, health, housing, land rights, police and other related matters. A single number system has been imposed by the National Archives to control the items in the series.
Series: D4106
Quantity: 1.62 metres in Darwin, 5.76 metres in Sydney, 2.7 metres in Brisbane, 0.27 metres in Perth, 0.43 metres in Adelaide
Northern Territory: alcohol – various papers including effects of restricted areas legislation, alcohol related matters, etc D4106, 1
Responses NSW, Victoria and Tasmania: register of underlying issues responses D4106, 1
New South Wales – survey of suicide in NSW prisons January to December, 1989 D4106, 161
Public access to the records: If any material from this series is sought the formal access arrangements must be applied (see page 12 of the Guide for an explanation of the formal access arrangements).
MISCELLANEOUS UNDERLYING ISSUES RECORDS, ABORIGINAL ISSUES UNIT, SOUTH AUSTRALIA, 1989–90
These are mainly paper records held in manilla folders. They were created in the South Australian Office of the Commission and deal with a wide range of topics including human rights, culture, health, housing, land rights, police and other related matters. The series has a single number system, imposed by the National Archives to control the items.
Series: D4108
Quantity: 2.16 metres in Adelaide
Aboriginal /Alcohol D4108, 1
Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement, Land Rights, Law Committee D4108, 15
Youth D4108, 40
Public access to the records: If any material from this series is sought the formal access arrangements must be applied (see page 12 of the Guide for an explanation of the formal access arrangements).
MISCELLANEOUS UNDERLYING ISSUES RECORDS OF THE ABORIGINAL ISSUES UNIT, QUEENSLAND, SINGLE NUMBER SERIES, 1988–90
These are mainly paper records covering a wide range of subjects. They were created in the Queensland Office of the Commission and include reports, interview papers, statements and consultations. Matters covered include human rights, culture, health, housing, land rights, police and related matters. The series has a single number system, imposed by the National Archives to control the items.
Series: D4130
Quantity: 0.18 metres in Brisbane
Community consultations index: B Lowah, J Cowburn, 'Badu' 22/5/1990 D4130, 1
Community consultations index: C Pryor 'Charters Towers' 19/6/1990 D4130, 22
Community consultations index: C Pryor 'Wujal Wujal' 21/5/1990 D4130, 48
Public access to the records: If any material from this series is sought the formal access arrangements must be applied (see page 12 of the Guide for an explanation of the formal access arrangements).
SUBMISSIONS RECORDS, ALPHANUMERIC SERIES WITH 'S' PREFIX, 1988–90
This is material sent to the Commission by 'interested parties'. They include members of the public, organisations (both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal), professionals, academics and researchers and covers the whole spectrum of opinions. The Commission invited submissions from the public and these records show community interest, concern and various suggestions for future progress in Aboriginal reconciliation. Suggested responses range from setting up a separate state for Aboriginals to working to integrate all ethnic groups into a single unified community.
Series: D4140
Quantity: 1.8 metres in Adelaide, 0.36 metres in Perth
Edward Watson, President Incarcerated Peoples Cultural Heritage Aboriginal Corporation Queensland – Budget Items, Cultural Heritage Education Program D4140, S0068
J F J Cade MD FANZCP, Paper on 'Massive thiamine dosage in the treatment of acute alcoholic psychoses' D4140, S0079
Broome – Pat Nunn (19/6) – Paper given at the Narrogin Woman's Refuge Association Workshop, May 1989, called 'Domestic Violence and the Aboriginal Family in Rural Areas' – She argues for the seriousness of domestic violence affecting Aboriginal women and for possible solutions using 'a mix of traditional and Western practice' D4140, BB SO 713
Public access to the records: Submissions from this series which were made public, for example, read aloud or circulated to the public in the hearing room, in the course of the Royal Commission's existence remain publicly available.
At the request of the originator, or on the decision of a Commissioner, certain submissions were protected by non-publication orders. These are not available. Those submissions which were not explicitly made available or explicitly withheld are subject to the formal access arrangements (see page 12 of the Guide for an explanation of the formal access arrangements.

All notes

1 The Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody 1991, National Report, Vol 1, (Commissioner Elliott Johnston), AGPS, Canberra, p. 2.


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