It has resulted in #Justiceforwalker, which represents Indigenous incarcerations rates and deaths in custody. It is also seminal generational pushback against a generations-long emasculation of language, lore and culture.
In Yuendumu, the 1928 Coniston massacre has been also invoked in the aftermath of Mr Walker’s death.
Estimates of the dead from those attacks, reprisals for the killing of white dingo trapper Fred Brooks, range from a few dozen to 200.
On August 24, 2018, the same day Scott Morrison won the prime ministership from Malcolm Turnbull, the Territory’s most senior officer, Reece Kershaw, now the AFP Commissioner, went Yuendumu to apologise on behalf of the Northern Territory police.
As it turned out, this moment of healing was terminal.
To the other side of this line, Constable Rolfe, the son of a prominent white Canberra family, veteran of Afghanistan and a decorated officer once pinned by Governor-General Peter Cosgrove with a bravery medal for rescuing tourists from floodwaters, is the copper portrayed as being in an impossible situation serving in remote Northern Territory.
The charges alone have damaged rank-and-file morale, the police union says. Some officers have been sacked or investigated for inflammatory comments, including the sale of a T-shirt with the slogan: “Don’t wanna get shot, don’t stab a cop. #Blue Lives Matter”.
For the nation, it may be the most significant murder trial this century.
It was put to this masthead by one person with deep connections through the Territory’s central desert region: “If he’s convicted, the police force is f—–.
“On the extreme other end, if he’s innocent. Imagine that. Then there’s a real chance of unrest – a stick it to the system. That won’t be traditional people in Yuendumu. That will be people on the fringes with pent-up energy.”
Somewhere in the middle, that is, lesser findings open to the jury – reckless or negligent conduct causing death and engaging in a violent act causing death – “everyone feels like they’ve lost”.
Constable Rolfe faces a mandatory life sentence with a minimum 20 years if found guilty of murder.
Mr Walker was on parole at the time of his death.
It was among his conditions that he wear an electronic monitoring device.
In the early hours of October 29, 2019, Mr Walker allegedly cut his bracelet in Alice Springs and travelled to Yuendumu. On November 6, police went to arrest him, but he had allegedly armed himself with a small axe. He threatened the officers and fled, according to the prosecution.
The following day, Constable Rolfe, 300 kilometres away in Alice Springs, was among those briefed about Mr Walker.
Two days later the constable and colleagues, including a member of the dog squad, made their way to Yuendumu and found Mr Walker that evening at house 511.
The prosecution will allege that at 7.21pm and 50 seconds, Constable Rolfe told his arrest target: “Just put your hands behind your back”. He fired his first shot 11 seconds later, which was moments after Mr Walker stabbed him with the scissors. He then fired shots two and three, one of which was fatal.
Mr Walker didn’t die straight away. He was taken to the community’s police station, where isolated and anxious officers locked the gates. They tried first aid, for there were no health staff at the Yuendumu clinic that night – a series of home break-ins in the lead-up to November 9 had given them cause to leave.
Instead, an ambulance was called from the nearby community of Yuelamu but was too slow for Mr Walker. He died at 9.28pm. The community found out the next day.
In the days that followed, Aboriginal people of the desert boarded buses to the nearest seat of power, Alice Springs, and marched at least a thousand strong with comrades and activists who had come from across the nation.
In the capital cities, too, people who had never heard of Yuendumu or the Warlpiri marched in solidarity, while Facebook connected a network of police backers through pages such as “I support Constable Zach Rolfe”.
Both sides demand their version of justice for the two young Australian men. Only one can get it.
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