Murphy was trying to be as diplomatic as he knew how, but sometimes that was difficult. He knew the cop meant well, but being a detective, why couldn’t he figure out that asking questions was sometimes dangerous? Murphy decided to play a wild card, hoping the cop would take the hint.
“Call this number, and tell them I have given you some information,” he said, as he passed the business card to the cop. The cop looked from the card to Murphy, at the card again, and again to Murphy.
“Do you know who this guy is?” The cop seemed confused again. Murphy thought this cop seemed confused a lot of the time. The real question going through the cop’s mind was about Murphy: “Who the hell are you?”
The cop ran his left hand down and over his mouth, considering whether he should risk making the call. He decided it would be best to do it.
As the cop made the call, Murphy thought back to the previous year, when he had first gone to Woora Warra Aboriginal Community:
While working in the cotton fields of Central Queensland Murphy had realised he had actually lived his life wrapped in cotton wool. He had been through prison riots, fought bushfires, packed levees during major floods, been to some of Australia’s worst natural disasters, and even been clinically dead twice after a rather nasty car accident.
After all these, however, there was always a nice warm home to go to, or sometimes someone else’s home. Some times, the homes were a bit rough. More than once he had bunked down on a mattress on a relatives or friend’s floor. Sometimes it was for extended periods. The point is, there was always somewhere to go.
Before he went to jail, he was living alone in an eight-bedroom, double-story, 140-year-old bluestone house, located in grounds covering five blocks of land. It was the perfect bachelor pad, and the parties in the stables were always a lot of fun.
A mere four weeks in jail, and that life was gone. He found himself in central Queensland, knowing no one, and away from the comfort zone he knew back in his home town. He realised he had been banished from not just the town, but the whole state of New South Wales. That was the court order. He had started thinking then that maybe being out of Goulburn wasn’t such a bad thing.
He was on bail, and had tried several colleges for work teaching. The answer was the same everywhere: “We can’t hire you while you’re on bail. It’s against the law.”
He soon found out that, if he pleaded guilty, he could get a job with any of the colleges straight away. The criminal record didn’t matter, because of the nature of the offence he was charged with, and the fact that he would be working with adults, and not children. That is apparently how the law is.
But being on bail is different. The law states that you are innocent until proven guilty. Except when it comes to employment, and many other things, the reality is that an unstated presumption of guilt exists. Prohibitions exist that make it easier to plead guilty, and make the prohibitions disappear. Or remain on then prohibitions as long as “the system” feels like dragging it out for.
One college head of studies made a few phone calls. He came back to Murphy, and said he had spoken to the department of public prosecutions in Sydney, and they would not seek a jail sentence if Murphy pleaded guilty. It could all be done that afternoon, without Murphy having to return to New South Wales, and he could then start work at the college in Queensland in just a few days.
Murphy thought about this for all of about seventeen seconds. He needed to work, but the only way he could do the work he was trained for was to plead guilty to a crime that he didn’t commit. That meant a criminal record for life, and dependence on the serrvice had left years ago.
Then it dawned on him. The prosecutor didn’t want jail time, she just wanted to get a conviction. She didn’t think she could win the case, so was prepared to go easy if Murphy would lie, and admit they were right to charge him in the first place. She didn’t know the background of the matter, and the people that wanted me to work for them weren’t going to tell her. Murphy made a mental note to look up his old colleague one day, and even the score.
The college head spoke again. “If you fight it, they said they’ll keep you on bail for years. That means no work for all that time.” That made Murphy’s mind up. The prosecuters were scared, and were trying to force his hand. His former colleague was also trying to force his hand. He knew there would be strings attached if he took the job he had been offered after getting out of jail. He was angry, and decided he would fight it.
So he went and worked in the cotton fields, as a cotton chipper. This involved crawling on hands and knees through the rows of cotton plants, and removing all the weeds and vines growing between, and on, the cotton plants. This had to be done before the automatic harvesters could go through and harvest the cotton.
It was back breaking work, starting at four in the morning, and working through forty degree heat, until it was physically impossible to work any longer. Some days, he would cramp up, soaked in sweat, and just couldn’t go on. All for below the average wage, and seven days a week.
He was living in a single room in a reasonably clean boarding house. One time, he had to camp out for a week. That was OK, and he looked at it as an adventure. Surprisingly, he was happy. He had stood his ground and not given in. He had not admitted to something he hadn’t done.
One evening, while they were camped out, he was sitting with an Aboriginal guy, drinking a well earned beer, and talking about life. Most of the people who worked this type of work had experienced the things Murphy was now experiencing as well. The difference was, they had endured it all their life, this was something that Murphy thought was new to him.
It actually wasn’t. It had been happening all the time, and Murphy just hadn’t realised it.
The Aboriginal guy, John, was absorbing. Murphy listened to his every word, and recognised a depth of philosophy that amazed him. The guy was so switched on to life, and so understanding of just about everything. He listened, and made no judgement of Murphy explained his situation. John just nodded, and passed Murphy another beer.
The following day, John’s cousin turned up the camp site, and said John had called him, and they needed a teacher for adults on a nearby Aboriginal community. John’s cousin was an elder on that community. “Don’t worry about these stupid white man laws. If you don’t mind working for a black man, we don’t care about the lies they say about you.”
It was the same Aboriginal Community that Murphy’s former colleague had offered. In fact, the same position. Murphy asked John if he knew his former colleague. John said he did. Murphy’s former colleague had visited the Aboriginal community, and had told John about the guy who didn’t mind hiring Aboriginals for cotton chipping. Racism is rife in Queensland, and many jobs still will not employ Aboriginals.
Murphy had anger and respect at the same time for the way the service had played it. He went to the community, Woora Warra, and stayed for a year. It was like moving to a third world country. There was poverty and disease, about 90% unemployment, and a whole society excluded from the mainstream. But the people were the most valuable treasure Murphy had ever met.
Murphy learnt a lot out there, and it changed forever his outlook on his purpose in life. It made him aware of a world that existed outside the town boundaries of his old home town. Like the Hobbits leaving The Shire in Tolkien’s classic novel.
Murphy had been right; his former colleague did have an ulterior motive, but it was actually quite an honourable one. It was an investigation, but one that Murphy was quite happy to do. He kicked himself self for not accepting it in the first place. It would have saved a lot of hard work in the cotton fields. He guessed that’s how the service works; don’t reveal all the cards at once.
One thing always nagged at Murphy, though. He asked John’s cousin, Roy, about it one day. How did John call him, when there was no land line phone on the camp site, and no mobile phone reception for over fifty miles?
Roy laughed and gently touched Murphy’s shoulder. “Flamin’ white men. You don’t know nothin’. We been waitin’ for you long time.”
Murphy was puzzled, and didn’t know what Roy meant. “But how did he call you. There’s no phone where we were.”
Roy tapped his forefinger against his temple. “Who said he called me on the phone? We just knew, that’s all.” He was still laughing and shaking his head as he walked away.
Murphy remembered thinking that he still didn’t know what Roy meant, and he felt a little scared. In hindsight, he did understand, and this was where he had always been destined to be. The choice wasn’t Murphy’s, nor his now-current-again colleague’s, even though the colleague thought it was.
Murphy came back to the present, as the cop was hanging up the phone. He was obviously a little shaken, having called the Deputy Commissioner.
“They’ve put me on a task force. With you,” the cop said, pleased at the opportunity he had unexpectedly fallen into. “They said you’re a civilian authority. Authority on what?”
“I’ll tell you when I work it out,” Murphy said. He smiled as he left, realising the cop was confused again.