January 30, 2011

The Tall Man - Chloe Hooper

The Tall Man is a book on the reading list for one of my upcoming university courses. It is a book that I have always had an interest in reading but have ultimately stayed away from - my thinking being that it will be too "dark and depressing" and why would I want to put myself through that?

It is a common theme I have noticed throughout my reading choices - some books sound amazing and relevant and topical but I think it will be all too much for my reading senses so I avoid them at all costs until they somehow end up in my lap - and they turn about to be the best books I have ever read - books that linger and stay with me long after I have finished them.

The Tall Man is definitely one of those books. Written by Australian author and journalist Chloe Hooper the book follows the story of the death of an Aboriginal man, Cameron Doomadgee from the remote northern Queensland community of Palm Island who is found dead while in police custody in 2004 and the subsequent Coroner's inquest into his death and the criminal trial against the police officer charged with his death, Senior Constable Chris Hurley. Cameron's death had a huge impact not only on his own family but on the entire community of Palm Island (who are mainly Aboriginal people)and it highlighted the gap between black and white, powerless and powerful on the Island.

I remembered this story from the media surrounding it while it was taking place, Hooper herself won a Walkley award for an essay she wrote for an Australian publication during that time - an essay that went on to form the basis for this book. As with any high profile legal process that is comprehensively covered in the media there was discussion about it in some of my social groups of the time - but north Queensland is almost like another country for us "southerners" and I felt a certain distance from the events that were going on "up there".

The Tall Man brings those events and the people involved in them much closer to home.

Hooper becomes close to Cameron Doomadgee's family - his siblings and aunts and uncles - and through this connection she learns about Cameron's life on Palm Island - a life that is replicated through much of the Aboriginal community living there. A life of violence, alcohol abuse and hopelessness. Hooper also hears about the other side of life for Aboriginal people - the life of the dreaming and close connection to the land and ancestors.

The life of the Aboriginal community in Palm Island - the racism, prejudice, violence and poverty they are subjected to, as well as the close family bonds - comes through clearly in Hooper's book. The life of the mainly white, anglo-saxon police officers who are put in charge of these remote communities comes through less clearly - possibly because of Hoopers lack of access to the main police officer in question, Chris Hurley, who refused to meet with Hooper at all.

That is not to say that this is not a complete and well-rounded book - because it is. Hooper provides her experiences and interpretations while at the same time putting all the information out there - allowing the reader to explore their own thoughts.

The history of relations between the Aboriginal Australians and the anglo-saxon immigrants is ever present in the telling of this story - where we have come from in terms of our systematic betrayal and destruction of Aboriginal people has led to where we are today - mistrust and scepticism that is especially evident in rural and remote communities where Aboriginal people experience a lower quality of life, lower life expectancy and higher rates of illness and contact with the legal system when compared to white people in the same communities.

The Tall Man is a book that highlights these inequities but it is also a book that shows how there are some people in this country - black and white - who are prepared to stand up and fight to try and change this.

A powerful read - one I am glad to have finally read.


Tamara said...

This sounds like an incredibly powerful read Karen.I think every Australian should, if we haven't already, take the time to learn about some of these events which shape Australian history. I would like to find the headspace to read this one too - thanks so much for the review!

Karen said...

Hi T - I totally agree - it should be on reading lists in schools and uni's I think.

Anonymous said...

yeah it is on the reading list Karen.

Im year 12 and we're studying this book for views and values (sigh), i was looking up reviews after reading The Tall Man and i found this.
let me say that you a fantastic job of reviwing the story....you also mentioned some things i failed to see!!! THANKS YOU!

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