Ryder case: 'We can learn from this'


The death of Kwementyaye Ryder
Early last year an article by two Australian academics began circulating on the internet, proposing that the prison sentences passed on the five men convicted of the manslaughter of Kwementyaye Ryder – seen to be too light – were a “consolation prize” for their “whiteness”. They painted a portrait of a “frontier town” where “if Aboriginal people are no longer formally prohibited from remaining within town limits after dark, their places remain on the fringes of Alice Springs: among scattered ceremonial grounds or as presences to be monitored and moved on at the edges of malls and souvenir shops, in dilapidated and dangerous town camps, and in the shadowy, uncertain shelter of the dry river bed”.
The five, in the events of that night, were  “re-animating their own ancestral rituals of white violence”, they argued.  The tragedy of Mr Ryder’s death was “one more instance of racist violence and assault inscribed with the trauma-memory of exterminatory massacres”.
The authors, Suvendrini Perera (Curtin University, Perth) and Joseph Pugliese (Macquarie University, Sydney) were commended for their dissection of “the white power play of the NT justice system” by Ray Jackson, President of the Indigenous Social Justice Association, to whom their article was dedicated. Mr Jackson asserted that “had the perpetrators been Asian, Muslim, African or indeed other Aborigines, then it would be a different story” – “Neither the judge, the police, [nor] the Alice Springs white community would have shown the pure essence of how such ‘whiteness’ is utilised as a matter of course to save four [sic] of their own.”
All of this struck me as a particularly unhelpful and often quite wrong-headed analysis of the events, their social context and the way in which they were dealt with in the court and by the community at large. It also flew in the face of the public statements of the Ryder family: their call for calm as the justice process began in August 2009, and their acceptance of the verdict and sentencing when it drew to an end in April 2010. Family spokesperson Karen Liddle told the media, after sentences had been handed down, that the town could learn from these events: “We all live in this community as Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people and long-term residents must stick together. We’re satisfied with what has happened. They are only young men and their sentences, they are going to spend a long time in there.”
In this spirit I worked with Mark Finnane, my brother and an academic himself with the ARC Centre of Excellence in Policing and Security at Griffith University, Brisbane, to write an alternative analysis of these events. It has been published in the journal of the Institute of Criminology, Current Issues in Criminal Justice, Vol 23 No 2 November 2011, and is now accessible on the net at Australian Policy Online.
CLICK HERE to be taken to the APO site and access the article in pdf format.
Pictured: The memorial to Kwementyaye Ryder at the place where he died, Schwarz Crescent, Alice Springs.


  1. Mark Finnane has demonstrated the truth of the trial and given some great stats. Perera and Pugliese demonstrated to all their racist beliefs that are embedded in viewing and portraying indigenous people as inferior to themselves. The courts should represent all people as equal under law.
    To use the courts to promote racist based ideologies is a blatant display of a breach of human rights. Where Perera and Pugliese saw racism we saw people. Where they saw Aboriginal and non Aboriginal we saw Territorians, Australians. It is time now to cease focus on our differences and focus on equality for all.
    We are all different but that difference should add to our environment, in a positive and productive way. True racism is found in paternalism and segregation which are now established strongly in all levels of government.
    All people have the right to expect to be treated with respect. That respect begins with being treated as an equal, not as different or an endangered species. A death is always a great loss. And violence at any level is not acceptable.

  2. Sir Paul Hasluck had it right so many years ago when he said, “We have homogenised the milk, but not the people.”
    One of the key contributors to social division and real racism in the Australian population are the racist laws, policies and programs created by governments with the apparent belief that they are doing good. Until we stop emphasising the “them and us” by advertising products and services for indigenous Australians that aren’t available for all Australians, the divide and associated racism will continue. Governments need to move on from the paternalistic, racist approach to social justice (or whatever they think it is) and fund programs that assist all Australians based on demonstrated need and not demonstrated race. It will cost more, but we can always find money to give to overseas nations and it might mean being a little more generous with our own and less generous with others.
    This first step towards equality would help to forge a more cohesive, better Australia and improve the relationship between indigenous Australians and other Australians.

  3. @2Janet Brown, Jan 25. Here, here, Ms. Brown. As an American who has seen the effects of racism and the domination of others unfortunate enough to be “in the way”, I can only agree that being taught to respect others from infancy is the only cure. It took African-Americans 150 years to get to the place of respect they now occupy. Please don’t let it take that long for your countrymen.
    It brings tears to my eyes and pains my heart when I realize that the American Indians have lost most of their culture, customs, land, religious practices and even languages. Please don’t let the beauty of the Aboriginal culture be wiped out.
    It truly saddens me to see the same experience being repeated elsewhere. Oh, the horrible mistakes we made here America! Your descendants do not want to be plagued with the same anguish that my generation feels about our country’s past.
    So keep encouraging fairness, respect and kindness. Do not tolerate superior thinking. After all, every human, no matter color, wants the same thing – a safe home and their loved ones near at hand.

  4. It’s important to understand how the cultural studies crowd have an investment in racism, real and imagined. It validates their view of the world as essentially evil, violent and oppressive. As with all such paranoid visions, the fantasy side of things outstrips reality and nothing else can be seen. They say that the idea of race was discredited a long time ago, but the whiteness studies mob and their various academic allies do their best to ensure that it is the only idea through which the world can be conceived. Even when their analyses have purchase (and sometimes they do), they’re partial, predictable and tiresome.

  5. Dear Robinoz, Did Paul Hasluck really make that statement? Perhaps you can provide a reference. It doesn’t sound like him.

  6. @Basil Zelig … At university around 1982 I was given a copy of a speech by Sir Paul that contained those words. It was a motivational speech at some place and for some reason of which I am now unsure. However, the reason I remembered the words was that I had to look up the word “homogenised” in a dictionary to recall its meaning. About six months later at Mount Isa, the Manager of Public Relations and Communications at Mount Isa Mine gave a speech to graduating TAFE students and he plagiarised Sir Paul’s speech to the letter. The speech seemed familiar to me and when he said the words regarding the homogenisation of people, I recalled them very well as I was so taken aback that a person in such a well paid and senior position would commit such a literary sin. I’m sorry I can’t provide a reference for you.


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