Protests, Land Rights and Riots examines indigenous politics in New South Wales in the 1980s. The discussion focuses on several protests, including the infamous 1987 ‘Brewarrina riot’, which followed the death of a young Aboriginal man in police custody, as well as a 1990 demonstration against amendments to the Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1983 (New South Wales). Morris, an anthropologist, provides the background to these and other events, and captures the tensions that characterised indigenous politics at the time, as well as the post-colonial ‘fantasies’ and ‘anxieties’ that infused the broader society around its bicentenary.
The Brewarrina riot, or mêlée (Morris’s preferred term), of 15 August 1987 was one of a number of violent confrontations between indigenous people and police in the 1980s and early 1990s. As Morris describes, the event followed the funeral of Lloyd Boney, who was found hanged in a police cell some nine days earlier. After the funeral, Aboriginal people gathered for a wake in a public park. Some hours later, a confrontation developed between people in the park and non-Aboriginal people drinking in an adjacent hotel. The situation worsened when police arrived. Four of them were injured; seventeen Aboriginal people were arrested and charged.