• Moandik and Meintangk elder, Aunty Yawuri Penny Bonney. (Supplied.)Source: Supplied.
Aunty Yawuri Penny Bonney dedicated the song to her older brother, with the lyrics detailing the last moments before his death in custody 31 years ago.
Douglas Smith

1 Oct 2021 - 4:50 PM  UPDATED 1 Oct 2021 - 4:53 PM

Respected Elder and singer-songwriter Aunty Yawuri Penny Bonney will release a song this month commemorating the final moments of her brother's life.

Despite writing the song in 2004, she will release it on the 30th anniversary year of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.

The lyrics of the song detail some of the circumstances surrounding his death:

It was gonna be a short stint…. doing time for fines was another day… he fell ill, your smile slipped away, for being Blak and inside."

The Boandik and Meintangk woman said watching the death of George Floyd on television “triggered” her and brought back memories of her brother, and the manner of his death. 

“I guess seeing all the marches and the Black Lives Matter movement really sunk in,” she said.

“At that point, I had a song that I’d written back in 2004 on a tape and I said to a friend that I was gonna pull this tape out and we were going to record it.

“Now I’m having the launch at the Old Mount Gambier Gaol, which has been turned into a backpackers.”

'Because he was Blak'

Raymond Charles Bonney died in police custody in June 1990, aged just 40 years old. 

Ms Bonney, who is from South Australia's south-east, told NITV News that her brother was only serving a three-month sentence for fines when he died. 

Ms Bonney said her brother fell rapidly sick after taking part in a football game at Mobilong Prison in Murray Bridge where he was an inmate but was not taken seriously enough to receive proper treatment, ultimately leading to his death. 

She said he was taken to at least three different locations in the back of a police wagon for treatment before he died.

“He couldn’t breathe and he was coughing up blood and that’s when one of the officers realised that Raymond was very ill,” she said. 

“From that afternoon, which was around about 4 o’clock, they took him through to the Murray Bridge clinic… the doctor saw him there and said more or less that he (Raymond) was ok and that he wasn’t that sick.   

“(The guards) didn’t know what to do so they took him to the Yatala Labour Prison infirmary and by that time he was really deteriorating.”

She said a nurse at the infirmary had given him some paracetamol for treatment before he was taken to Modbury Hospital in Adelaide’s north-east, where he stopped breathing. 

Guards transported Mr Bonney to Royal Adelaide Hospital, but he died en route, 15 hours after he first fell ill. 

Ms Bonney said his death could have been avoided if not for “racism”. 

“You could imagine 31 years ago, racism was really (everywhere),” she said.

“I believe that Raymond’s death was because he was Blak, it wasn’t because of anything else and he was only in (prison) for three months because of a minor thing like a fine.

“All them hours gone by, my brother was suffering in pain."

Ms Bonney said three of her other brothers had also spent time in Old Mount Gambier Gaol before it closed in 1995. 

After the gaol closed, Ms Bonney took part in a spiritual cleansing of the old gaol before it was turned into an accommodation establishment. 

The launch event will take place on October 9.

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