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Research Guides


Commonwealth Government Records about South Australia


Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody

In 1987 there was growing public concern that Aboriginal deaths in state and territory gaols were too common and poorly explained. The Commonwealth responded by appointing a royal commission in August 1987. The commission was asked to investigate deaths since 1 January 1980 of Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders while in police custody, prison or other place of detention; and any subsequent action taken in respect of those deaths. The commission's terms were broadened in May 1988 to take account of social, cultural and legal factors that might have had a bearing on the deaths.

The commission presented an interim report in December 1988 and a final report in April 1991. It made 399 recommendations, largely concentrating on the areas of procedures in custody, liaison with Aboriginal groups, police education and improved accessibility to information.

The commission decided that the material it had gathered should be made as public as possible, but was aware that most of the material was less than 30 years old. It acknowledged that privacy and Aboriginal cultural sensitivities would also need to be considered.

The commission's records total more than 200 linear metres, and are held in all Archives offices. There may be delays in gaining access to some records as the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet may need to consult with other parties in determining the access status. (For further details about the records and access to them, see Aboriginal Deaths in Custody: the Royal Commission and its records, 1987–91, published by the Archives in 1998.)

SELECTED SERIES RELATING TO THE ROYAL COMMISSION INTO ABORIGINAL DEATHS IN CUSTODY
Various
Recorded by: Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody
Folders of suicide cases in Australian Capital Territory and South Australia (Research Section), 1987–90 A8577
Research cases, 1987–90 A8582
Transcript folders of individual case hearings, 1987–91 A8570
Individual case files, 1987–91 A8574
General submission files, 1987–91 A8575
Transcript folders of special hearings, 1987–90 A8568
Copies of transcripts of proceedings, all states, 1988–90 D1489
General exhibits, 1987–90 D4079
Press clippings, 1988–90 D4090
Case files, 1988–90 D4091
Exhibit records, 1988–90 D4096
Submissions records, 1988–90 D4140
South Australian library research material, 1988–91 D4151
Final case reports, 1988–90 D4156
SELECTED ITEMS RELATING TO THE ROYAL COMMISSION INTO ABORIGINAL DEATHS IN CUSTODY
Adelaide
South Australian region press clippings, 1917–87 D4090, 1 to 8
Royal Commission on Donald Marshall Jr prosecution 'Findings and Recommendations', 1971–89 D4112, 138
Resource material used in the preparation of the national and regional reports: Health – various papers including South Australia, 1974–90 D4151, 92
Miscellaneous criminal justice papers including underlying issues paper, list of cases examined, Pitjantjatjara police aides, 'Too much sorry business', 1985–90 D4152, 54

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Chapter 1
Aboriginal people