“Tall Man” nothing but a Tall Story
The 2011 Documentary, “The Tall Man”, attempts to present a factual account of the events that led to the death of an Indigenous man in police custody in 2004. However, there is little wonder about whose version of reality this is….
The death of Cameron Doomadgee while in police custody on Palm Island has been one of the most controversial social and legal issues in Queensland in recent times. Nine years later, people continue to debate whether his death was a case of manslaughter by Senior Sergeant, Chris Hurley, or whether it was simply a tragic accident. Unfortunately, “The Tall Man” does little to make this clearer. Even down to its very title, this documentary does nothing but demonise police officer Hurley, while working to stir up all sorts of emotions that leave viewers feeling incredibly sad and sympathetic towards Doomadgee and his family.
Admittedly, nothing we view in the media today is without bias; however, it’s fair to say that we expect a higher level of objectivity from documentaries, as they should serve to present the facts, in order to allow viewers to make up their own minds about an issue.
Do not expect this from, “The Tall Man”.
Director, Tony Krawitz, has left little room for audiences to form their own opinions, as he utilises every trick in the book such as graphics and music, inflected cuts and montages- just to name a few. These techniques are cleverly used to position audiences to accept Hurley as a murderer, who was supposedly responsible for not only Doomadgee’s death, but the consequent suicides of his son, Eric, and friend, Patrick.
Within the first fifteen minutes of the documentary, we see a chart of a human body outlining Doomadgee’s injuries accompanied with sombre music as well as Hurley’s court recording reciting his weight and height at the time of Doomadgee’s death. As a result, viewers associate Doomadgee’s injuries with Hurley’s “tall man” size, thus, drawing the conclusion that perhaps Hurley did in fact murder Doomadgee, making us believe the one and only “truth”: Doomadgee’s death was no accident.
This documentary is based on the novel, “The Tall Man”, by Chloe Hooper, who clearly portrays Doomadgee as the ‘victim’, as her very title insinuates that Hurley is akin to an evil spirit, the “tall man”, believed by Aborigines to live in the hills of Palm Island, and believed to come down and haunt them in the middle of the night. The opening of her novel describes the rock art in the cliffs, of British troopers with long arms and long legs exerting violent authority over the aboriginal people, some of whom are drawn dead on the ground as a result. The connection to Hurley is less than subtle.