Holding the hand of a female guard who escorted her from prison, 40-year-old Petrina James came to say goodbye to her popular, motorbike-crazy, “try anything once” child Elijah.
“You were so perfect in every way, that’s why it’s so hard to let you go, son,” James and Elijah’s father, Darryl Doughty, wrote in a eulogy for the third eldest of their seven children.
“We wish you could come back and unbreak our hearts.”
The 14-year-old Aboriginal boy’s death under the wheels of a 4WD ute last month was a flashpoint in racial tensions that can no longer be ignored in the West Australian goldmining town of Kalgoorlie-Boulder. Elijah was buried in the red dirt of Kalgoorlie Cemetery late yesterday afternoon as the white man accused of mowing him down was preparing to appear in a Perth court this morning.
After a wake at the tin-roofed basketball stadium near the house Elijah shared for years with his grandfather Albert, his mother was taken back to her cell at Goldfields Regional Prison. James has been there since March after admitting to a string of amateurish burglaries committed in the grip of a long methamphetamine addiction. A tribute from Elijah’s big brother Shontaye was read out to mourners before his teammates from the Kangas football club signed his coffin.
“You were the crazy brother who tried anything once, and you were the one who spoke his mind,” Shontaye said. “There’s nobody your age who could ride a dirt bike like you could.”
Scores of police streamed into the town ahead of yesterday’s funeral. Authorities were determined not to be caught out if there was going to be trouble, as there was outside the Kalgoorlie-Boulder courthouse on August 31 when an angry mob broke the windows of the building then turned their anger on police. The community has been on a knife-edge since — police say a house linked to Elijah’s death burnt to the ground in a suspected arson and Superintendent Darryl Gaunt says his officers have witnessed non-Aboriginal residents driving fast and close to the bush vigil where he died, yelling abuse at mourners.
How it came to this is a long story, though WA police commissioner Karl O’Callaghan has previously said tensions and resentment probably escalated in Kalgoorlie-Boulder during the last mining boom when mine workers had enviable disposable income. The contrast with indigenous fringe dwellers could not have been more stark. In a landlocked town where almost every parent buys their kid a dirt bike, the thefts of motorbikes became common and a source of ongoing tensions. Elijah died riding a motorbike police say was reported stolen the day before by the man driving the car that hit him. His death dragged ugly claims into the light, including that fed-up residents had been chasing kids on stolen motorbikes.
Before hundreds of mostly indigenous mourners walked silently into Elijah’s service yesterday, James had already called for an end to hostilities. Her letter to the local newspaper, The Kalgoorlie Miner, read in part: “I am asking both Aboriginal people and non-Aboriginal people for calm and harmony, and to allow us to lay Elijah to rest in peace.”
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