Aboriginal Deaths in Custody

In 1987, a Royal Commission was established to investigate Aboriginal deaths that had occurred in State and Territory jails. The Royal Commission investigated all deaths in custody between January 1980 and May 1989. It produced a number of reports, the final of which, in April 1991, made 339 recommendations, including: "That a Coroner inquiring into a death in custody be required by law to investigate not only the cause and circumstances of the death but also the quality of the care, treatment and supervision of the deceased prior to death."

Since then, rallies have occurred all over the country calling for Australian governments to adopt the recommendations. While governments say they’ve implemented many of the recommendations, critics, 20 years on, are still questioning what that means, particularly with reference to Cameron Doomadgee's death and the police investigation that ensued.

Learn more about this important issue, and other cases like Doomadgee's, with these reports from the SBS News Archive.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that these videos contain images of deceased people, including Eddie Murray, John Pat, Robert Walker, Charlie Michaels, Tony King, Dixon Green, Lloyd James Boney, Alfred Daniel Yock, Cameron Doomadgee – all of whom died in police custody.

September 1986: Aboriginal families tour Australia to publicise the deaths in custody of their sons.

August 1987: Prime Minister Hawke orders a Royal Commission into Deaths in Custody.

April 1991: The report of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody makes 339 recommendations, including: police officers and prison officers should be more sympathetic and less racist, law reform should have an emphasis on imprisonment as a last resort, and that self-determination should be paramount for Indigenous Australians.

April 1994: Protesters in Sydney and Brisbane renew their calls for the Australian government to adopt the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. Indigenous community leaders claim the recent Criminal Justice Commission (CJC) report into the November 1993 death of Aboriginal dancer Daniel Yock in Brisbane is a "whitewash".

April 2011: SBS's Living Black marks the 20th anniversary of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody with an investigation into where the issue is at in 2011.


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


SBS Shop

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.

Buy Now
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.

Buy Now