Originally published in the National Indigenous Times, February 2007.
NATIONAL: The power of numbers remains stacked against Indigenous Queenslanders, writes AMY MCQUIRE.
Never underestimate the power of numbers. History tells us that few cultures and religions have. Islam reveres the auspicious number 786.
Christians look to 7 as God’s number and shy away from that devilish 666.
Hindu deities have 108 names and devotees to the religion recite 108 mantras to their mala (or rosary).
Even now, numbers are used to convey meaning and are sometimes seen as modern day symbols.
For example, numerals nine and eleven may seem like ordinary numbers separately, but to combine them would immediately illustrate the World Trade Centre attacks.
One of the most outstanding uses of numbers in my memory is that of 46664.
An otherwise ordinary number, 46664 came to symbolise black oppression when it was allocated to former South African president Nelson Mandela as a prisoner in Robben Island, Cape Town where he was held in captivity for 18 years.
In November 2002, Mr Mandela transformed the number into one of hope when he donated it to help in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
The number is now a symbol for the Nelson Mandela Foundation and is used as a banner to help free people from the oppressive disease of AIDS, a turnaround from its original intention.
And now there’s another number on the rise.
Haven’t heard of it? Until recently, it would have been highly unlikely that you had. After all, it doesn’t belong to a national hero like Nelson Mandela or a religion grounded in ancient times.
But on the Gold Coast in Queensland, it has been embraced by a small minority of people who are easily distinguishable by their collective hue of blue.
The Queensland police service this month announced that it would be retailing $5 blue wristbands in support of Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley.
The first 4,000 bands have been sold and the police union is planning to order another 5,000.
Police on the Gold Coast have gone a step further and are already wearing the bands with the number 6747 stamped on them.
Number 6747 is the official police registration number of Snr Sgt Hurley.
But in case you were wondering who on earth Mr Hurley is and why he is garnering such a following from the men (and women) of the Queensland Police Service, let me refresh your memory.
Mr Hurley is the police officer squarely in the sights of the criminal justice system over the death in custody of Palm Islander Mulrunji Doomadgee. He is the man who allegedly assaulted Mr Doomadgee, a Palm Island local who subsequently died in the police watchhouse as a result of a bleeding pancreas and a liver almost cleaved in two.
He is also the man facing manslaughter and assault charges because of Mulrunji’s death and who, in the words of Queensland Police Union vice-president Denis Fitzpatrick, has received strong support from the police and public.
Mr Fitzpatrick told the Gold Coast Bulletin that the bands were a “silent protest” against Snr Sgt Hurley’s treatment and would help raise money for his legal costs.
I’m guessing that Mr Fitzpatrick was attributing Chris Hurley’s terrible mistreatment at the hands of the Beattie government.
I can see his point. After all, a young white policeman living in Queensland must have a hard life.
In fact, having to control those poor blackfellas on Palm Island must have been harder than actually being one, especially under Beattie, who is so darn racist towards those white folk.
Let’s face it, I doubt that Snr Sgt Hurley’s treatment by the Beattie government would have been worse than the treatment Aboriginal people on Palm Island are subjected to every day.
I doubt that Snr Sgt Hurley’s living conditions are much worse than the third world ones on Palm Island, where statistics in 2003 found that the community’s 3,500 Indigenous population was squeezed into 220 houses.
I doubt that Snr Sgt Hurley’s voluntary suspension from his job (on full pay) is worse than the 95 percent unemployment rate Palm Islanders face at the moment.
I also doubt Snr Sgt Hurley’s history is full of injustices against his family because of the colour of his skin.
I doubt the Hurley family were a lot worse off than the average Palm Island family, who when moved to the island had their children taken off them and segregated into gender.
I doubt Snr Sgt Hurley knows the feeling when you’re forbidden from speaking your ancestral language and I doubt he knows the cold sharp pangs of hunger felt when the rations you’re given are barely enough to survive.
Snr Sgt Hurley’s treatment at the hands of the Queensland government could not have been worse than the 80 years Palm Islanders have suffered under the mismanagement of their state.
In fact, compared to the plight of the Palm Islanders, Snr Sgt Hurley’s treatment almost seems like a walk in the park!
In my mind, to proudly wear a number symbolizing a man’s mistreatment would require a reason to believe that the man has actually been mistreated.
Compared to Mulrunji Doomadgee, who lost his life on a watch house floor, Chris Hurley’s woes don’t seem that bad.
The only injustice I can see is that it’s taken so long to get the matter before a court, where an impartial jury can pass judgement.
So for all those Gold Coast policemen and women who take pride in wearing the number of a person charged over the death in custody of an Aboriginal man, I salute you.
You are breathing into the number 6747 a whole new meaning.
But somehow it doesn’t have the same reverence as numbers like 786 or 108.
Because to me the number 6747 will now be my symbol for Aboriginal oppression.
It will be my symbol for the human rights injustices against Indigenous people that echo through the halls unheard (or ignored) by parliament each day.
It will symbolize every new death in custody case that occurs in the future and will forever be the symbol for the stolen lives of every Aboriginal person who dies 20 years younger than other Australians.
To the Gold Coast police, I thank you for giving me this new symbol. Give your wristband bound hands a pat on your blue uniformed backs. I’m sure the guard who watched over prisoner 46664 all those years ago in that South African jail would be mighty proud.
Amy McQuire is a Canberra-based journalist with NIT. She is of Darumbal/South Sea Islander heritage and hails from Rockhampton in Queensland.