An Aboriginal elder’s claim for the return of wages he claims were stolen by the state has been rejected because of a lack of evidence.
An Aboriginal elder’s claim for wages he says were stolen by the state has been thrown out of court due to a lack of evidence.
Conrad Yeatman, 74, was seeking $35,000 for wages he said were never paid to him when he worked as a carpenter and labourer in north Queensland in the 1950s.
Under the Aboriginals Preservation and Protection Act 1939 part of his wages were placed in the trust of the superintendent of the Yarrabah mission where he lived.
Mr Yeatman’s District Court claim said that while some of his earnings were paid out when he became exempt from the law in 1958, 70 pounds that he earned working on a station was never recovered.
However, Justice David Andrews granted a state bid to put the case on hold permanently after exhaustive searches found almost no financial documentation, and that potential witnesses were dead.
“The defendants have effectively no evidence whatsoever to test these claims,” the judge said.
Justice Andrews said it wasn’t disputed that Mr Yeatman’s savings had been managed by the superintendent but the money could have been withdrawn on his behalf for food or other reasons.
There was some evidence money had been spent on the indigenous teen for clothes, medical expenses and trips.
“I don’t accept Mr Yeatman is capable of giving a useful account of the number and amounts of payments made for and on his behalf,” the judge said.
Mr Yeatman, whose claim was seen as a test case and was backed by the Queensland Council of Unions (QCU), must also pay the state’s legal costs.
His lawyer Charles Massy said it was an immensely disappointing outcome and the team was considering an appeal.
In 2002, former premier Peter Beattie acknowledged that as much as $500 million may have been stolen from Aborigines’ wages.
Mr Beattie offered $55 million in compensation, and a reparation scheme subsequently paid out about $35 million to 7000 applicants.
Mr Yeatman was offered the maximum $7,000 reparation but knocked it back as inadequate.