Maxwell (Max) Stuart
(c. 1932 - ) is an Australian Aborigine who was convicted of
murder in 1959.
was controversial, subject to several unsuccessful appeals and a
Royal Commission, which upheld the verdict. Newspapers
campaigned successfully against the death penalty being imposed.
his sentence, Stuart became an Arrernte elder and from 1998 -
2001 was the chairman of the Central Land Council. In 2002, a
film was made about the Stuart case.
Stuart was born at Jay Creek
in the MacDonnell Ranges, 45 kilometres west of Alice Springs in
the Northern Territory, probably in 1932. It was a government
settlement which for a time in the late 1920s and early 1930s
included 45 children from a home named 'The Bungalow' (37 of
whom were under the age of 12) temporarily housed in a
corrugated shed, with a superintendent and matron housed
separately in two tents. Jay Creek was home to the Western
Arrernte people. In 1937, Jay Creek was declared one of three
permanent camps or reserves for the Alice Springs Aboriginal
population. It was intended as a buffer between the semi-nomadic
people living in far western regions and the more sophisticated
inhabitants of Alice Springs and environs, in particular for the
non-working, aged and infirm around Alice Springs.
Legally, Stuart was a half caste Aboriginal as
his maternal great-grandfather had been a white station owner.
Stuart's paternal grandfather had been a fully initiated Arrernte
and leader of a totemic clan. His father, Paddy Stuart, was also
fully initiated, but as he had assumed an English surname and
worked on cattle stations had not had all the secret traditions
passed on to him. Max Stuart himself was fully initiated which, in
1950s Australia, was very rare for an Aboriginal who worked with
white people. Although his sister attended the mission school,
Stuart refused and had very little "western" education or
knowledge of the white man's religion. At the age of 11, Stuart
left home to work as a stockman around Alice Springs. As a
teenager, he went on to work as a bare-knuckle boxer and for Jimmy
Sharman's boxing tents. In late 1958, he was working on the
sideshows of a travelling fun fair. He was mostly illiterate and
had problems with alcohol.
In late 1957, Stuart had been convicted of
indecently assaulting a sleeping nine-year-old girl in Cloncurry,
Queensland. In that case he had covered his victim's mouth to
prevent her screaming when she awoke; he confessed to police that
he "knew this was wrong" but he did not "know any big women", and
that when he had liquor he could not control himself.
On Saturday 20 December 1958,
Mary Olive Hattam, a nine-year-old girl, disappeared near the
South Australian town of Ceduna (pop: 1,200), 768 km (477 mi)
Hattam had been playing on the
beach between Ceduna and Thevenard with her brother Peter and
their friend Peter Jacobsen. The two boys had left at 2:30 pm to
collect a tub to use as a boat but had been distracted and failed
to return. At 3:45 pm Jacobsens father, who had been fishing,
pulled his boat up at the beach where Hattam was playing but there
was no sign of her.
Hattam's father went to the
beach at 4 pm to collect her and then called on some neighbors to
help search without success. As evening fell Roger Cardwell, who
ran the local deli and was married to Mary's cousin, alerted the
local police and Ceduna citizens who were at the time watching
Dial M for Murder in the local Memorial Hall. A search commenced
and Hattam's body was found in a small cave at 12.30 am.
According to the attending
doctor she had been raped, mutilated and murdered between 2.30 pm
and 8 pm. At 10:30 am, the local police brought in a "black
tracker" Sonny Jim, who tracked the suspect from Hattam's body to
a nearby rockpool then back to the body suggesting he had washed
the blood off. He then tracked the suspect 3 km (2 mi) to where a
travelling funfair "Fun Land Carnival" had been the previous day.
The following day police brought
another black tracker, Harry Scott to the site who came to the
same conclusions as Sonny Jim. Both trackers claimed that the
footprints had been made by a member of a Northern Australian
tribe who had spent some time living with white people.
The local Aboriginal community lived at the
Lutheran mission at Koonibba which was 40 km (25 mi) from Ceduna.
As there was little work near Koonibba many families moved to a
block of land near Thevenard where around 200 people lived in bark
huts. Many had visited the funfair and were questioned by police.
Several suspects were brought to the beach but were discounted as
being responsible for the footprints by the trackers.
The 27-year old Rupert Max
Stuart, an aboriginal from the Arrernte tribe of central
Australia and teenager Alan Moir had been in Ceduna on 20
December, running the darts stall for the funfair operated by Mr
and Mrs Norman Gieseman. Both had gone out drinking during the
day and Moir returned late that night, losing consciousness
several times due to intoxication. Stuart had been arrested for
drinking alcohol at 9:30 pm and was in police custody. This was
because at the time, full-blooded Aboriginals were forbidden to
drink alcohol by law. In 1953 a Federal ordinance was passed
that permitted half-castes to drink, but they had to apply for a
"certificate of exemption". These were commonly referred to as
"Dog Licences" by the Aboriginal community.
Stuart was jailed on more than
one occasion for supplying alcohol to full bloods. The ban was
rarely enforced in rural towns however, since 1958 Ceduna had been
combating a perceived alcohol related "native problem" and was
enforcing the alcohol ban. Although he was not drunk, Stuart had
not renewed his certificate and when arrested for drinking, was
facing a sentence of 6 to 18 months in jail. He was released
without charge as police resources were being dedicated to the
When Stuart returned the next morning after
being released, he had an argument with the Gieseman's over
getting 15-year old Moir drunk and was fired. News of the murder
had not reached the funfair which packed up on Sunday morning and
moved on to Whyalla where police interviewed the workers that
night. Police interviewed Moir who claimed he and Stuart had been
drinking with several part-Aborigines in Ceduna on Saturday
morning. He had returned to the funfair at 10 am then left again
at 1 pm. He told police he had seen Stuart, drunk, outside the
Memorial Hall with "some other darkies". Police contacted Ceduna
to question Stuart for the murder.
When picked up on Monday,
Stuart was working for the Australian Wheat Board at Thevenard,
3 kilometers (2 miles) east of Ceduna. During interrogation
Stuart admitted being drunk and travelling from Ceduna to
Thevenard on Saturday afternoon but denied the murder. Police
took him outside and made him walk barefoot across sand, after
which the two trackers confirmed Stuart's tracks matched those
on the beach. Stuart later confessed and, although he could not
read or write, signed his typed confession with the only English
he knew, his name in the block letters that had been taught him
by his sister, misspelling his first name as "ROPERT".
Following his confession, Stuart was brought to
trial in the Supreme Court of South Australia, with the case
opening on 20 April 1959. The Judge presiding was Sir Geoffrey
Reed, an experienced judge; Stuart's lawyer was J.D. O'Sullivan,
assigned to him by the Law Society of South Australia. When
arrested, Stuart had only four shillings and sixpence halfpenny
($0.46) and was thus unable to contribute to his defence. The Law
Society had few resources and was unable to pay for many of the
out of pocket expenses required of the defence such as checking
Stuart's alibi, conduct forensic tests or consult expert witnesses.
There were footprints found on the beach and it
was claimed these matched those of Stuart. A taxi driver testified
that he had driven Stuart to the murder scene on the afternoon of
the crime. Hair belonging to the murderer had been found in the
victimís hand and had been visually compared to Stuart's by police.
The hair from the crime scene was introduced as evidence, however
no attempt was made by either the prosecution or defence to match
them to Stuartís own hair (the hair has since been destroyed so
cannot now be tested). The case against Stuart relied almost
entirely on his confession to the police. Stuart had asked to make
a statement from the dock but he could not, as he was unable to
read the statement prepared from his version of events. Permission
for a court official to read the statement on his behalf was
refused so Stuart was only able to make a short statement in
pidgin English: "I cannot read or write. Never been to school. I
did not see the little girl. Police hit me, choke me. Make me said
these words. They say I kill her."
This led the prosecutor to inform the jury that
Stuart's failure to give evidence was proof of guilt. Stuart had
no choice but to refuse to testify. Under South Australian law,
Stuart's prior criminal history could not be brought before the
court as it was prejudicial. There were two exceptions, if a
defendant under oath presents witnesses for his own good character
or impugns the character of a prosection witness, the prosecution
is entitled to cross examine the defendant and present evidence to
prove his bad character. As Stuart's defence was that police had
beaten him then fabricated his confession, to state this under
oath would allow the prosecution to present his prior criminal
history, including the Cloncurry assault, to the jury.
O'Sullivan advocated that police
had forced Stuart into the confession, due to Stuart's poor
command of the English language. However, the jury was unconvinced
by the argument and Stuart was convicted. In line with the law,
Judge Reed sentenced Stuart to death on 24 April 1959. Stuart's
application for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of South
Australia was rejected in May 1959. His appeal to the High Court
of Australia in June 1959 failed although the High Court observed
that certain features of this case have caused us some anxiety.
The prison chaplain was unable to communicate
with Stuart due to his limited command of English and called in
Catholic priest Father Tom Dixon who spoke fluent Arrernte from
his time working in mission stations. Dixon was suspicious about
the sophisticated upper class English used in the alleged
confession, for example: "The show was situated at the Ceduna
Oval." Stuart's native language was Arrernte, he was uneducated,
could not read and only spoke a slightly advanced pidgin Arrernte-English
known as Northern Territory English. Anthropologist and linguist
Ted Strehlow, who had been brought up in Arrernte society and had
known Stuart since childhood, also had doubts and after visiting
Stuart at Dixon's request on 18 May, was the first person to
translate Stuart's alibi from his native tongue. Stuart claimed
that he had taken Blackburn's taxi to the Thevenard hotel where he
had paid an Aboriginal girl £4 for sex and had remained there
until arrested that night. Strehlow also tested Stuart's English.
He later swore an affidavit to the effect that the confession
could not be genuine, enabling the appeal to the High Court. Ken
Inglis, then a lecturer at Adelaide University, wrote in July 1959
of the doubts of Father Dixon and Ted Strehlow in the Nation,
a fortnightly magazine. There was further reporting on the case in
the Sydney Morning Herald and then Adelaide afternoon
newspaper, the News, took up the issue.
Had police claimed the typed confession
summarised what Stuart had said there would have been little
controversy; however, the six policemen who had interrogated
Stuart testified under oath that the document was Stuart's
"literal and exact confession, word for word." One of the
policemen who interrogated Stuart, chief inspector Paul Turner,
stated on his deathbed in 2001 that police had "jollied" and joked
the confession out of Stuart, and that once they had it, they
bashed him. Fellow police officers denied Turners claims and
insisted that the confession was verbatim, "Yes, we altered it a
bit....but the substance is Stuartís." Stuart's guilt is still
Stuart's execution date was set
for Tuesday, 7 July and the Executive Council, chaired by Premier
Thomas Playford, was due to sit on 6 July to reply to any
petitions presented. The Advertiser had devoted all its
correspondence pages to Stuart with 75% of writers in favour of
commutation. Petitions with thousands of signatures supporting
commutation had already been received, but that morning the first
petition supporting the execution arrived by telegram. The
petition, circulated in Ceduna, Thevenard and the surrounding
districts had 334 signatures. The Executive Council sat at 12:30 pm
and considered the petitions for 20 minutes before issuing a
statement: "The prisoner is left for execution in the due course
of the law. No recommendation is made for pardon or reprieve."
Stuart was told of the decision and given a cigarette. He was then
informed that the execution would take place at 8 am the following
morning. Father Dixon was requested to keep Stuart calm and he
visited him that night. Asked if he was afraid, Stuart replied he
would not be if Dixon stayed through the night and Dixon agreed.
Not long after, Stuart was informed that during the afternoon,
O'Sullivan had lodged an appeal to the Judicial Committee of the
Privy Council in London and Justice Reed had issued a 14 day stay;
however, this appeal also failed.
By the time the Privy Council
had rejected Stuart's appeal, Father Dixon had questioned the
funfair workers, none of whom had appeared at the trial, and
returned with declarations from Mr and Mrs Gieseman and one of
the workers, Betty Hopes. Gieseman claimed that Stuart had left
the funfair at 9:30 am but had returned for lunch at 1:45 pm. He
then worked on the darts stall until 4 pm when Stuart left with
Moir. Moir then returned drunk at 11 pm while Stuart did not
return until the following morning. Gieseman's wife confirmed
this account. Hopes claimed she had worked with Stuart on the
stall from 2 pm to 4 pm and gave him 2 shillings (20c) to buy
her some chocolate when he told her he was going to the shop.
News of the declarations resulted in a petition calling for the
case to be re-opened. This in turn led to a petition demanding
the death sentence be carried out. The controversy forced
Premier Thomas Playford IV to call a Royal Commission.
In August 1959 a Royal Commission, the Royal
Commission in Regard to Rupert Max Stuart, was convened by the
South Australian government. The Commission was appointed to
enquire into matters raised in statutory declarations regarding
Stuart's actions and intentions, his movements on 20 December
1958, why the information in the declarations was not raised in
the Supreme Court or another authority before the declarations
were made, and the circumstances in which the declarations were
obtained and made. Before the commission, Stuart presented an
alibi that his defence had never raised at the trial, that he had
been working at the funfair when the crime was committed.
The detective who had questioned Alan Moir in
Whyalla had given three different versions of what Moir said in
his statement. Alex Shand QC, counsel for Stuart, asked the
detective which of the three versions was correct at which Justice
Napier stated, He is not obliged to explain anything Mr Shand.
Shand asked if he should stop the examination to which Napier
replied, as far as I am concerned, I have heard enough of this.
Shand withdrew from the case the next day claiming that the
Commission was unable properly to consider the problems before it.
Adelaide's daily newspaper, The News, covered the walkout
with front page headlines Shand Blasts Napier and These
Commissioners Cannot Do The Job.
Of the 11 witnesses before The Commission only
three, including the taxi driver, had testified in the original
trial. The three funfair workers claimed Stuart was at the darts
stand from 2 pm to 4 pm. Clement Chester claimed he was at the
funfair from 2 pm to 4 pm and did not see Stuart. Ray Wells
claimed he was in Spry's store in Ceduna when he overheard Stuart
on the telephone ordering a taxi. Spry, the store owner,
remembered Stuart waiting in the store for the taxi. Colin Ware
claimed he saw Stuart and Moir get in a taxi around 2 pm which
drove off in the direction of Thevenard. Taxi driver Bill
Blackburn claimed he picked up Stuart and Moir at 2 pm, and two
Aboriginal girls, aged 15 and 16, claimed they saw Stuart drinking
on the verandah of the Thevenard Hotel at 2:30 pm. The
Commissioners declared that the suggestion that police had
intimidated Stuart into signing the confession was "quite
unacceptable", and on 3 December 1959, the Commission concluded
that Stuart's conviction was justified.
Campaigns against death sentence
On 22 June 1959, Father Dixon
contacted Dr. Charles Duguid, who ran the Aboriginesí
Advancement League, to discuss Stuartís situation. On 27 June, a
meeting of the League, university teachers, clergymen and
representative of the Howard League for Penal Reform was held in
Duguidís Magill home, where Dixon and Strehlow gave a talk. It
was decided to mount a campaign to keep Stuart alive and the
distribution of petitions for Commutation of sentence were
arranged. The meeting was mentioned in a small report in The
News, an afternoon newspaper, but didnít mention the
participants. On 30 June the morning newspaper, The Advertiser,
printed a letter expressing concern over Stuartís conviction. On
1 June, The News printed a small story with the headline,
Petitioners Run a Race with Death. By now supporters and
opponents of the death penalty were debating in the two
newspapers' Letter to the editor sections, but there was little
concern expressed over Stuart himself.
When Dr. H. V. Evatt, leader of
the opposition, intervened, the news was featured on the front
page of the Newsí 3 July edition. The campaign so far was for
commutation, but Evatt argued for a retrial. Printed alongside
Evattís statement on the front page was one by the South
Australian Police Association intended, it said, to inform the
public "of the real facts". This statement claimed that Stuart was
not illiterate and spoke "impeccable English". It also claimed
that Stuart was legally classified as a white man and cited a
record of offences that are not offences when committed by an
Aboriginal. It also recounted a trial in Darwin where Stuart had
defended himself, personally cross examined witnesses in English
and given evidence himself. OíSullivan, Stuart's solicitor, wrote
a reply refuting the Police Association claims which was published
the next day, citing the fact that Stuartís police record included
seven convictions for "Being an Aborigine, did drink liquor," and
pointing out that the President of the Police Association was
Detective Sgt. Paul Turner, the most senior of the six policemen
who had obtained Stuartís contested confession. The Law Society
expressed outrage and stated that the Police Association statement
bordered on contempt of court and would prejudice any jury hearing
a future appeal. The Society strongly suggested the government
fund a further appeal to the United Kingdom Privy Council.
OíSullivan was denied access to records of Stuartís trials to
check the English that Turner claimed Stuart had used, and the
government also refused to prevent Turner from commenting publicly
on the case. As a result, the Sunday Mail, then a joint enterprise
of the News and Advertiser, printed prominently on its front page
OíSullivan's "suspicion" that the government was determined to
hang Stuart and was supporting the Police Association in order to
The Police Association statement,
and later comments from Turner including that Stuart had conducted
English classes for prisoners while in Alice Springs Goal, were
widely condemned and are credited for prompting the appeal to the
Privy Council, putting the Stuart case in the newspaper headlines
and keeping it there.
Two of the Commissioners appointed by Premier
Playford, Chief Justice Mellis Napier and Justice Geoffrey Reed,
had been involved in the case, Napier as presiding judge in the
Full Court appeal and Reed as the trial judge, leading to
considerable worldwide controversy with claims of bias from
sources such as the President of the Indian Bar Council, the
Leader of the United Kingdom Liberal Party, Jo Grimond, and former
British Prime Minister Clement Attlee. Australian Labor Party MP
Don Dunstan asked questions in Parliament and played a major role
in Premier Playford's decision to commute Stuart's sentence to
life imprisonment. Playford's daughter, Dr Margaret Fereday,
recalled arguing with him on the issue, calling him a murderer.
Playford gave no reason for his decision, and the case was one of
the principal events leading to the fall of the Playford
government in 1965.
The News, edited by Rohan
Rivett and owned by Rupert Murdoch, campaigned heavily against
Stuart's death sentence. Because of the campaign through the
News, Rivett, as editor, and the News itself were
charged in 1960 with seditious and malicious libel, with Premier
Playford describing the coverage as the gravest libel ever made
against any judge in this State. Dr John Bray, later Chief
Justice and Chancellor of the University of Adelaide, represented
Rivett, the jury determined that the defendants had not committed
an offence, and the remaining charges were withdrawn. A few weeks
later Murdoch dismissed Rivett. Rivett had been Editor-in-Chief of
the News since 1951.
It has been suggested that in Black and
White, a 2002 film of the case, the role of Murdoch was
magnified, and the part of his editor, Rivett, was minimised.
However, it was noted in the Royal Commission that Murdoch wrote
editorials, headlines and posters for the campaign. Murdoch
himself believed Stuart guilty: "There's no doubt that Stuart
didn't get a totally fair trial. Although it's probable that he
was guilty, I thought this at the time. In those days - although
less so now - I was very much against the death penalty." Bruce
Page, Murdoch's biographer said the case was pivotal in his career.
"It was the very brief period of Rupert's radicalism, which was a
very good thing for Stuart as it got him out of the hangman's
noose. Murdoch galloped into action, but it was a bad fight for
him. The truth is it scared him off from ever taking on
governments again. He reverted to his father's pattern of toeing
Stuart says of Murdoch that "He done a good one
in my case" and also, "He wanted the truth, you know. I could see
him out in the court. I was with the policemen; my lawyer told me
it was him."
released on parole in 1973. He was in and out of gaol until
1984, when he was paroled for the sixth and final time from
Adelaide's Yatala Labour Prison. During his time at Yatala
prison Stuart learned proper English, became literate, began
painting in watercolours and acquired other work skills. In
between being returned to prison a number of times for breaches
of his parole between 1974 and 1984, he married and settled at
Santa Teresa, a Catholic mission south-east of Alice Springs.
on the case
Books on the
case were written by Ken Inglis, one of the first to publicise
the doubts about the case, Sir Roderic Chamberlain, the Crown
Prosecutor, and Father Thomas Dixon, the priest who raised
concerns about Stuart's confession.
Inglis, K. S. (1961 (2nd edition 2002)).
The Stuart case.
Melbourne, Australia (both editions): Melbourne University
Press (2nd edition Black Inc.). Bib ID: 2479503 (2nd edition
Chamberlain, Roderic (1973).
The Stuart affair.
London: Hale. ISBN
Dixon, Thomas Sidney (1987).
The wizard of Alice : Father Dixon and the
Morwell, Victoria, Australia: Alella Books. ISBN
Black and White
feature film Black and White was made about his case. The
main cast was:
Stuart's lawyer, David O'Sullivan played by
Crown Prosecutor, Roderic Chamberlain played by
O'Sullivan's partner, Helen Devaney played by
Father Tom Dixon played by Colin Friels
Newspaper publisher, Rupert Murdoch played by Ben
Max Stuart played by David Ngoombujarra
appeared in the film as himself as an older man, driving along a
dirt highway near Alice Springs where he now lives, and saying:
"Yeah, some people think I'm guilty and some people think I'm
not. Some people think Elvis is still alive, but most of us
think he's dead and gone."
wrote the screenplay. The director was Craig Lahiff and Helen
Leake and Nik Powell produced the film.
The film won
an AFI award in 2003 for David Ngoombujarra as Best Actor in a
producer, Helen Leak has reported that Stuart's response to
seeing the film was, ĎIt ainít half bad, but itís a long time to
wait between smokesí!
of the case
Robertson QC said of the case:
It was a
dramatic and very important case because it alerted Australia to
the difficulties that Aborigines, who then weren't even counted
in the census, encountered in our courts. It alerted us to the
appalling feature of capital punishment of the death sentence
that applied to people who may well be innocent.
Patrick Dodson, then director of the Central Land Council,
appointed Stuart to a part-time job. This appointment
transformed Stuart, giving him respect and gave rise to his
successful rehabilitation. Stuart shared his knowledge of
Aboriginal law and tradition, which he had gained from his
grandfather as a youth, and become an Arrernte elder.
subsequently become an active figure in Central Australian
Aboriginal affairs, in particular with the Lhere Artepe native
chairman of the Central Land Council (CLC) from 1998 to 2001. In
2000, as chairman of the CLC, Stuart welcomed the Queen to Alice
Springs and made a presentation to her. In September 2001,
Stuart was cultural director of the Yeperenye Federation
Festival. In 2004, Stuart was the Public Officer for the CANCA
Aboriginal Corporation, a role derived from his employment with
the Central Land Council.
The tainted confession that nearly hanged
November 19 2002
Witnesses to an accused man's
innocence were never approached by police who preferred instead
a dubious document, reports Penelope Debelle.
The 1959 confession of Rupert Max Stuart was
a neatly typed description of rape and murder signed in a
spidery but legible hand by its supposed author:
"She was standing in a pool of water, playing.
I said to the little girl: 'There is some little birds over
there'. I pointed up towards the cave. She said: 'I will go and
have a look'. She walked into the cave. No, I am wrong. I
crawled in the cave first and she crawled after me. She said: 'Where's
the birds?' and I said: 'They are gone now'. I punched her on
the side of the head. She went unconscious. I took her bathers
off. Then I raped her. She was hard to root. I done her. Then I
hit her with a stone."
The view 43 years later of this "confession"
by former carnival worker now Arrente Aboriginal elder Rupert
Max Stuart to the murder near Ceduna in South Australia of Mary
Olive Hattam, 9, is that the police who set him up overplayed
their hand. Had they settled for claiming the document
summarised what Mr Stuart - a 27-year-old illiterate, an
uneducated and frequently drunk Aboriginal man - told them, they
would have got away with it. If so, Mr Stuart would be dead in
the manner of his order for execution dated April, 1959, that
instructed he "be hanged by the neck until dead".
Instead police insisted under oath that this
was Mr Stuart's literal and exact confession, word for stilted,
If it happened as police said it had, the
girl was raped and killed by a drunken, lust-filled man who was
not behaving rationally. It did not even ring true at the time
that such a confession could be so flat, unemotional and formal.
Looked at today, the confession - on display
in Adelaide to coincide with the wave of interest prompted by
the film Black and White - is a chilling and unbelievable
"People don't make statements like that,"
said South Australian Supreme Court historical custodian Bruce
Greenhalgh. "A literate white person would not be able to make a
statement like that."
Elsewhere in the confession Mr Stuart,
supposedly drunk and deranged, described methodically removing
his clothes as a precaution before the rape then washing in a
seawater pool afterwards to remove any splattered blood. This
remains another uncomfortable aspect of a confession whose lack
of authenticity was never fully accepted nor acted upon.
Mr Stuart's supposed choice of words cast
even more doubt over its accuracy. After murdering the girl, Mr
Stuart supposedly went to bed. "After a while I got up and went
to the lavatory," he supposedly said. Mr Greenhalgh points out
very few people use the term lavatory, and not someone from his
Whether or not Mr Stuart killed the girl
remains a mystery. History shows he would have been hanged until
a young Rupert Murdoch, and his editor at The News in
Adelaide, Rohan Rivett, raised enough public doubt for the death
sentence to be commuted. They did this by helping Father Tom
Dixon find people at the carnival who said Mr Stuart was with
them when the murder took place. Incredibly, their evidence was
never sought by police nor heard in court. A royal commission
followed but Mr Stuart was never exonerated, even though the
only evidence against him was the disputed confession.
Archie Barton, custodian of South Australia's
Maralinga tribal lands, the Maraling Tjatjura, was in Ceduna the
day Mary Hattam died. In 1959 he was 23 and carting wheat from
surrounding farms into Ceduna. He saw Mr Stuart a couple of
times during the day including around 1.30 when Mr Stuart
approached, looking for a taxi. Dr Barton directed him to the
bakery where the owner, Mrs Fowler, rang one for him. He was
going to Thevenard where the killing occurred but Dr Barton said
Mr Stuart was looking for a drink.
Dr Barton said that if Mr Stuart had
committed the crime, the Aboriginal community would have known
and tribal punishment would have been invoked. "Max Stuart
didn't do it, otherwise he would have had spears in his legs and
thighs," Dr Barton said.
"When you do that to a child, under
Aboriginal law they don't like it one bit," Dr Barton explained.