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Research Guides


Commonwealth Government Records about Tasmania


Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody

In response to a growing public concern that Aboriginal deaths in custody were too common and poorly explained, the Hawke government announced in August 1987 the formation of a Royal Commission. It was established to investigate the causes of deaths of Aboriginal people while held in state and territory gaols. The Commission examined all deaths in custody in each state and territory that occurred between 1 January 1980 and 31 May 1989, and the actions taken in respect of each death. The Commission's terms of reference enabled it to take account of social, cultural and legal factors which may have had a bearing on the deaths under investigation.

The National Archives has produced Fact sheet 112 – Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, and an extensive research guide on the large number of relevant Commonwealth records in its custody. Both publications explain the conditions under which the public may gain access to the records generated and accumulated by the Royal Commission. Privacy and cultural considerations mean that certain personal information, though well inside the open access period, remains covered by strict conditions of access.

The Royal Commission investigated 99 cases, including that of Glenn Clark who died at the Glenorchy Watch-house on 27 March 1986. The Hon JH Wooten conducted hearings, interviewed witnesses and reported his findings to the Governor of Tasmania and the Governor-General in September 1990. Wooten's individual death report details the circumstances of Clark's suicide. By setting the event in a much wider context, he tells the story of Tasmania's Aboriginal people during much of the 20th century, elaborating on it in his Regional Report of Inquiry in New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania.

Selected items relating to Tasmanian Aboriginal deaths in custody
National Archives, Sydney
Tasmanian case files – T/1 – Glenn Allan Clark: Volume 2 – T/1/5A – prison file – prior convictions 1978–84; T/1/5B – probation and parole service, 1981–84 D4091, 2
Tasmanian case files – T/1 – Glenn Allan Clark: Volume 3 – T/1/6 – mental health services file 1967–89; T/1/8 – Ombudsmans file 1987, 1967–89 D4091, 3
Tasmanian case files – T/1 – Glenn Allan Clark: T/1/7 – Volume 4 – Attorney- General file, 1965–89 D4091, 4
Tasmanian case files – T/1 – Glenn Allan Clark: T/1/10 – Volume 5 – community services file 1962–79; T/1/12 – education file 1962–89, 1962–89 D4091, 5
Tasmanian case files – T/1 – Glenn Allan Clark: Volume 10 – T/1/18 – 1981; T/1/19 – coroners file 1989; T/1/20 – a) copy of letter to Mr G Foulds 30/5/1989 b) gazettes and circulars; T/1/21 – affidavit of service 1989, 1981–89 D4091, 14
Tasmanian case files – T/1 – Glenn Allan Clark: general exhibit 25 'Tasmania police standing orders and reference manuals', 1982 D4091, 18
Tasmanian case files – T/1 – Glenn Allan Clark: confidential statements, 1983–39 D4091, 19
Tasmanian case files – T/1 – Glenn Allan Clark: personal letters of the deceased, 1983–87 D4091, 20
Tasmanian case files – T/1 – Glenn Allan Clark: Volume 1 – T/1/1 – initial information 12/7/1988; T/1/2 – opening hearing Hobart 12/7/1988; T/1/3 – inquest and depositions and exhibits 1986; T/1/4A – police file re inquest 1986; T/1/4B – police file re prior convictions 1979–85, 1979–88 D4091, 1
Miscellaneous underlying issues records – New South Wales – copy of general exhibit G31 – coronial practices in Tasmania and copy of Coroners Act 1957, 1957–89 D4106, 107
Report of the Inquiry into the Death of Glenn Allan Clark, 1990 D4156, 18
Final case reports, Report of the Inquiry into the Death of: T/1 – Glenn Allan Clark – 'Outline of evidence and issues raised during hearings', 1989 D4156, 11

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Chapter 6
Tasmanian Aboriginal people