Very sorry busi­ness

ABO­RIG­I­NAL FAM­I­LIES UNITE TO MOURN YOUTHS DROWNED AF­TER CHASE

The Sunday Times - - News - TONY BAR­RASS

THEY came down from Ya­matji coun­try and up from the big re­gional cen­tres such as Katan­ning and Al­bany to say farewell to Tris­jack Simp­son and Chris Drage.

Mourn­ers from the big­gest Abo­rig­i­nal fam­i­lies in the State gath­ered on the banks of the Swan River at May­lands amid danc­ing, smok­ing cer­e­monies, the float­ing of wreaths and tra­di­tional mu­sic and cul­ture.

The two 17-year-olds drowned on Mon­day while be­ing chased by po­lice af­ter the alleged ran­sack­ing of a May­lands home, but there was not a hint of hate in the many mes­sages of con­do­lences that var­i­ous fam­ily rep­re­sen­ta­tives de­liv­ered to the 400-strong crowd.

West Coast Ea­gles cham­pion Liam Ryan — whose fam­ily is closely con­nected to the Simp­son fam­ily in Mullewa — was spot­ted in the crowd, along with a num­ber of se­nior indige­nous lead­ers in the ar­eas of Abo­rig­i­nal health, ed­u­ca­tion and cul­ture.

Tris­jack’s grand­fa­ther James Spratt said that while the two young men “should never have died in the way they did . . . we come to­gether not as a protest, not as a rally, but to re­mem­ber our boys in the way we should.”

“Although I know peo­ple are an­gry and have their own opin­ions about all this, I re­spect that, but to­day is the time to let th­ese two young men go, and to let them know that they will al­ways be re­mem­bered and cher­ished.

“There will come a time when we can come to­gether and vent our anger and get the an­swers to the ques­tions that we’ve asked, and that time will come.”

Jackie Oak­ley, the chair of Der­barl Yer­ri­gan Health Ser­vice, told the crowd that in her 45 years work­ing in indige­nous af­fairs, she had never felt such pro­found grief within her com­mu­nity. “I have worked in Abo­rig­i­nal af­fairs since 1973 but noth­ing pre­pared me for what hap­pened this week,” she told the crowd. “To all the young boys and girls who may have lost hope, I pray ev­ery day that as in­di­vid­u­als we get stronger, and as a com­mu­nity we can get stronger, be­cause at the end of the day we can’t rely on other peo­ple. “We have to do it our­selves, we have to lift our­selves up, and once we get over our sor­row and our grief, we have to move on as a com­mu­nity.”

She said her heart broke “for our nan­nas, be­cause as ev­ery­one here knows, noth­ing is more pre­cious to us as Abo­rig­i­nal peo­ple than our nan­nas”.

Les Shultz, the un­cle of Eli­jah Do­herty — who died af­ter be­ing run over in a highly pub­li­cised death in Kal­go­or­lie in 2016 — told the crowd that most of them un­der­stood loss bet­ter than most.

He lost his 17-year-old son in a car ac­ci­dent 10 years ago. He would have been 27 to­day.

“His cousin died with him in the same car. He was 16. Their mates died with them, they were 17 and 20. Four of them in one car,” he said.

“There’s many peo­ple who are hurt­ing at the mo­ment. We all know what that feels like.”

Pic­tures: Ross Swan­bor­ough

Sad send off: Hun­dreds of fam­ily and friends at­tend the emo­tional me­mo­rial for Tris­jack Simp­son and Chris Drage at the Swan River yes­ter­day.

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