When Cameron Doomadgee was found dead in the Palm Island police station, his injuries were like those of someone who’d been in a fatal car crash. The police claimed he had tripped on a step. The Palm Islanders rioted and burnt down the police station. The subsequent trial of Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley – who had been decorated for his work in Aboriginal communities – made headlines day after day, shadowed by Queensland police threatening to strike.

The Tall Man tells the gripping story of the trial, of the complex Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley, and of the Doomadgee family as they struggle to understand what happened to their brother.

Atmospheric, gritty and original, The Tall Man takes the viewer into the courtroom, into the once notorious Queensland police force, and into the Indigenous community of Palm Island of Australia’s Far North.

This is Australia, but an Australia few of us have seen.


On 19 November 2004, Cameron Doomadgee allegedly swore at Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley. He was arrested and 45 minutes later he was lying dead in the island’s police cell from massive internal injuries. These two men, both the same age but from completely different worlds, crossed paths tragically that morning with repercussions that are still being felt across Australia.

This is a tragic true crime story. Hurley is the first policeman charged with the manslaughter of an Aboriginal man in the history of Queensland – and has always maintained his innocence. The truth shifts like a mirage through this case, buried in a web of rumour and conspiracy theories. One of the key witnesses was drunk. The police were misleading and colluded with each other in the subsequent investigation, trying to obfuscate the truth. This story runs from the Palm Island community, the Police, the office of Queensland’s DPP and all the way up to the Premier of Queensland, Peter Beattie.

The Tall Man explores the complexities of racial politics in Queensland, its people and its justice system. The events surrounding Doomadgee’s death form the central narrative as we go over the details of those 45 minutes from the shifting angles and perspectives of the witnesses, the community and the police force. We have employed a circular narrative with the aim of creating an escalation of tension, drawing the audience not only into the details of what happened as the two men fell through the door but also into the characters and the world of Far North Queensland.

Palm Island is a large tropical island on the edge of the Great Barrier Reef. It is a unique Aboriginal community, the reality of which is complex. It was set up as a type of penal colony for “recalcitrant” Aborigines in the early 20th century, people were thrown together from many different tribal groups. According to the Palm Island resident doctor, one of the central issues facing Palm Islanders is that of domestic violence. It also has one of the highest levels of arrests per capita in Queensland. Because of this and many other challenges, the relationship between the Islanders and police has always been strained.

This film also tells the story of the strength and dignity of the Doomadgee family and Cameron’s partner, Tracy Twaddle. They refused to give up their legal fight, assisted by their lawyer Andrew Boe. The family have faced untold tragedy but remain steadfast and unified in their struggle for justice. In the end they feel that the system failed them but what shines through is their loyalty to Cameron and to each other.

Our aim was to let the interviewees take us through the complexities of this case. We didn’t want to have a narrator or outside voice telling us what to think. In a similar vein we used no dramatic recreations in the film. We wanted to tell this story as much in the first person as possible, to put the audience in the position of a jury, trying to work out the facts of the case themselves, to decide who and what to believe.

What was instrumental in helping us achieve this was gaining access, via the Queensland Coroner’s Court, to the video interviews the police conducted with Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley, Sergeant Leafe, Lloyd Bengaroo (the Police Liaison Officer) and Roy Bramwell, the central witness. All the videos were recorded the day after Cameron’s death. Chris Hurley did not respond to our requests for an interview but we have used his voice from the trial. This runs through the film, giving the viewer access to his version of events as the story unfolds and helping to keep them in the position of a jury trying to unpick the complicated strands of the case.

We also spent months negotiating with the Queensland Police Service to see if there was anyone in their organisation willing to grant us an interview. After protracted deliberations, they declined to be involved.

In Palm Island the police are seen as pigs, scum that can’t be trusted. It is not an easy place to be a police officer. The audience will be drawn to question what drove Hurley, what led him to serve in such difficult communities, the ultimate outsider but also the hand of the law. Was he like a character from Conrad’s Hearts of Darkness, addicted to his own power? Or was he a good man trying to change things in an unjust world?

In Palm Island you can almost feel the layers of history lying just under the surface. It feels like all it would take is the smallest scratch for all the hurt and anger to be revealed. Our aim was to make an engaging, powerful and visually arresting film that takes the audience into a world where the truth is never clear and sometimes seems to be directly related to how you perceive the world.


Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are advised that this website contains images and voices of deceased people.

More SBS videos


-2011 AWGIE Award for Best Documentary, Public Broadcast
-Best Documentary at the ImagineNATIVE Film and Media Arts Festival 2011
-Walkley Award Long-form Journalism: Documentary

-Public Broadcast Documentary Category, Australian Writers Guild Awards 2011
-Best Feature Length Documentary in the inaugural Samsung AACTA Awards (a continuum of the Australian Film Institute Awards) 2011
-2011 Documentary / AACTA Award for Best Direction in a Documentary
-2011 Documentary / AACTA Award for Best Cinematography in a Documentary
-2011 Documentary / AACTA Award for Best Editing in a Documentary

-Toronto International Film Festival 2011
-International Documentary Festival Amsterdam
-Palm Springs Film Festival
-ImagineNative Film Festival
-Brisbane Film Festival
-Adelaide Film Festival


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The Tall Man (DVD)

The Tall Man (DVD)

When Cameron Doomadgee was found dead in his cell, police claimed he had tripped on a step... DVD out now.

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The Tall Man (Book)

The Tall Man (Book)

Chloe Hooper’s award winning account of the clash of two worlds - and a haunting moral puzzle that no reader will forget.

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