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Posted on March 28th, 2013, by

Peter Leonard Campbell was born at Point Macleay Aboriginal mission on 12 September 1946. He was the second of 11 children of Alan and Stella Campbell. Peter lived there with his family until he was about 16 and attended the school on the mission. He went to Grade 7, which was the end of the schooling available at Point Macleay. In fact it was very difficult for any child to go from the Point Macleay school to a high school. After Peter left school he worked with his father, who had a wood cutting contract and also engaged in trapping rabbits, fencing and other rural jobs. But Peter left Point Macleay. So he began to live independently. Peter was soon in trouble, his convictions starting at the age of 16. His first offence was on 8 February 1963. Two months later he was put on a good behaviour bond for two years for larceny. On New Year’s Eve in 1963 he was convicted of drunkenness and ten days later found guilty of drinking liquor, which was at that time still an offence for an Aboriginal. He obviously became a heavy drinker, and many of his convictions over the years were to be for alcohol related offences. Soon Peter and his younger brother Alan were both in trouble for more serious matters. Alan said After being forced off the mission everything crumbled and we turned to a life of crime (Report of the inquiry into the death of Peter Leonard Campbell, p.35) . In fact, the crime seemed for them the only thing to do. And as a result Peter spent most of 1964 and part of 1965 in Magill Reformatory following a number of convictions for illegally using motor vehicles, and for larceny. He and Alan were in Magill at the same time. On 29 June 1965 he was convicted of fighting in Adelaide and fined. The next month he was in Victoria facing a number of charges of stealing, illegally using motor vehicles and traffic offences. He received two cumulative sentences of three months each. For five years Peter was constantly arrested for some months because of his fighting, illegally using the motor vehicles and outrageous behaviour. In about 1970, when Peter was 23, the Campbell family moved from Point Macleay to Murray Bridge, and Peter was able to rejoin his parents for a period, during which he stayed out of trouble. He worked for some time in the meatworks, and also spent some time working and living in Berri and other river areas. He was back in Adelaide in April 1971, where he was again sentenced to a total of 12 months’ gaol for offences of illegal use of a motor vehicle, breaking and entering, and larceny. He was sent to Yatala Gaol and remained there until he was transferred to Cadell Training Centre, on 20 August 1971. On December 1971 Peter was discharged from the Cadell Training Centre. And he was working at the meat works until September 1972. It goes without saying that it is difficult to find any Peter’s life year without his imprisonment. So In December 1976 Peter went to Hobart and immediately commenced work with the City Council, where he was regarded as a ‘steady, quiet sort of fellow’ and a satisfactory worker. But in February 1977 Peter assaulted a 70 year old man, a complete stranger, knocking him unconscious at a bus stop, chased pedestrians and threatened motorists.

He was arrested on charges of assault, assaulting police and violent behaviour in a public place. A newspaper report described him as having ‘gone berserk’. A Parole Officer who prepared a pre-sentence report, Mr Ron Snashall, described him as having little or no contact with his family and as leading ‘a lonely, urban-nomadic style of life’. The report said that Peter did not seem to regret his lack of family contact, and that he was ‘keen to stand or fall alone’. On 21 August 1979 Peter was drinking in Hyde Park for about five hours, and started to yell at passers-by. Asked by the foreman of the park to leave, under threat of calling the police, he ran across the park towards the Museum, where he hit a Japanese tourist over the head with his wine bottle. The tourist suffered very serious injuries and had to undergo a number of operations. Peter was arrested and charged with maliciously inflicting grievous bodily harm on the tourist, and was sent to the Metropolitan Remand Centre at Long Bay Gaol on 23 August. The fact is that there was no any act of pardon. Peter Campbell was found dead at the age of 33 in his cell at Long Bay jail in Sydney, New South Wales, on the morning of 12 February , 1980. Was his death the real suicide? The Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths was investigating his death. On the one hand it was the murder. There was a lot of blood on the floor and on the door in the corridor, despite the fact that the blankets were placed in the bottom of the door inside.

On the other hand there was no sign of struggle, and any bruise wasn’t found on Peter’s body . Everything was in accordance with his taking his own life, and there was no suggesting the presence of another person in his wing. One question that is diagnostic of the suicide in the death of this kind is the presence of the vibration reduction. The General practitioner advised Peter’s family not give without reason the great importance to the fact that the fibrillations mentioned in the autopsy were without any fremitus. However, the evidence was found that there were some fremitus disclosed by the pathologist. So the experts’ evidence was quite clear. From their points of views Peter Campbell committed suicide. Moreover, he had no enemies in the prison who could take his life and no one could enter his wing. According to the investigation of the whole deal the survey of all available prisoners and calling the number of the witness didn’t provide the slightest reason to believe that Peter’s death was a murder. But Peter’s family didn’t agree with the result of the investigation. Their disagreement was the rush for the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.

As far as I’m concerned, there are some grounds that explain Peter’s pathway to crime and conflict with the law. First of all, I agree with the authors who suppose that Peter Leonard Campbell was a man of the indigenous people of Ngarrindjeri. He grew up there under an authoritarian regime with the low educational level, and was not prepared for life in society as a whole. What could the young man do living under those circumstances? What could the authoritarian regime give him? Nothing. So the young boy started the life with the crime. Secondly, he committed several crimes and after the cruel experience, he left South Australia and didn’t ever see his family. So nobody was at his elbow when he needed any help. Moreover, there were problems in the family. Peter’s mother and father had separated, which was a great personal upset to him. Although Peter appears to have sealed down well at home initially, within months there were problems, according to probation reports, resulting from his ‘drinking, violence and allegedly mentally disturbed behaviour’. This was the first indication of a problem which was to come to dominate his life. Peter had come home late one night and after an argument with his sister, Amelia, had smashed up her car. Yet when seen by his Probation Officer shortly after this incident, he was described as presenting as ‘quiet, pleasant and co-operative at first glance’.

During his imprisonment Peter had no contact with his family. Moreover after his release he did not go back to them. Peter did not maintain contact with his family; he did not maintain contact with Aboriginal communities in the various cities in which he lived. He was a ‘loner’. Extensive inquiries by the Commission and by Peter’s own family, through Aboriginal communities and organizations, failed to rum up anyone who could tell of his actions over the next seven years. Hereof we can find out the third factors of his crimes. A lot of psychologist in their notes mention that Peter used to drink the alcohol and was into the drugs, and perhaps that’s why he didn’t understand what to do. The drug knocked him out.
The fourth reason is that he has a great deal of pent-up, unreleased aggression towards white persons. One may question the interpretation of Peter’s feelings as of ‘inferiority’ to white people, which may be a projection of the interviewer’s own ideas. By others Peter was described as proud, though angry at the injustices inflicted on Aboriginals by white people. Peter was described in the report as a dipsomaniac, ‘undoubtedly dangerous’ under the influence of alcohol. The psychiatrist suggested that ‘his peripatetic existence probably represents periodic escapes from the law as a result of his alcoholic violence’. The psychiatrist recommended that ‘after he has served his gaol sentence’ he should have ‘treatment for his dipsomaniacal drinking; it may be possible to instil some insight into him as regards his behaviour’. So as a result the third and the fourth factors are integrated.

And the fifth factor of Peter’s conflict with the law is that he realized that his life as an Indigenous man couldn’t change. In fact Peter was very quit , he was also family minded. But how could he express an outrage against the world where the aboriginal didn’t have any rights. That being the atmosphere of the time, it is not difficult to see that the dispersal of Aboriginal youths from Point Macleay into the community would have been regarded as another step forward’ for Australia’s policy.

So, to sum it up the death of Peter Campbell was a signal for the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. Of course, the aboriginal people suffered from the current rules. There were nominal and perfunctory investigations and nothing could defend them. The police would not be required to do so unless the institution was having problems locating the family. It would appear that the police had no involvement in contacting any member of the family in relation to the death of Peter Campbell. So that happened with any aboriginal family. Peter Campbell’s life was the sample how the aboriginal people lived in Australia. Peter was the man who had the alternating personality. He was a very aggressive, cruel man, but at the same time he was quite and family minded. Perhaps Peter didn’t want to commit any crime, but he hadn’t any choice, ha hadn’t any governmental approval which could refer his actions. And Peter’s behaviuor is the behaviuor of the aboriginal people under the circumstances of the silence of the government . The aboriginal people wanted to elicit any response of the government. And it is not surprising that they chose the crime way in order to draw any attention. As I can see it was the consistent pattern for the aboriginal people in Australia and of course for Peter Leonard Campbell.
Works Sites:

1. NATIONAL REPORT VOLUME 1 – CHAPTER 3 THE FINDINGS OF THE COMMISSIONERS AS TO THE DEATHS”. Royal Commission on Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. AUSTLII Reconciliation and Social Justice Library. 1998.
2. Report of the inquiry into the death of Peter Leonard Campbell / by Commissioner J.H. Wootten by Australia. Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody Canberra : Australian Govt. Pub. Service, 1991

4. Ewart, Jacqui (JulyDecember 1997). “The Scabsuckers: Regional Journalists’ Representation of Indigenous Australians”. Asia Pacific Media Educator 3: 108117

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