Judge rules in family dispute on final resting place for First Nations man

A Queensland judge has delivered a culturally significant and sensitive decision on which family member has the right to decide the final resting place for a 28-year-old First Nations man – his mother or his aunt.

The mother of the deceased man, neither of whom have been named here by Proctor for cultural reasons, applied to the Supreme Court in Cairns late last year for an order allowing her to bury her son in the Far North Queensland town of Mareeba.

The application was made as a result of dispute between the man’s mother and aunty over where his remains should be interred.

The man’s mother requested her son be buried near where she lived, however his aunt contended his funeral and interment should be conducted where the man had spent much of his adult life in Croydon, almost 500km south-west of Mareeba.

Supreme Court Justice James Henry, in a recently published decision, said the particularly sensitive and culturally significant decision on where the man, a former rodeo commentator, should be interred had fallen upon him because of an emotive and highly aroused family disagreement.

“The family of a deceased Indigenous man disagree about where he should be buried,” Justice Henry said in his eight-page ruling. “His mother wants him buried in Mareeba. His aunt wants him buried in Croydon.

“The disagreement aroused high emotions and could not be resolved by mediation. The making of a decision ordinarily made promptly in respectful privacy, sadly falls to now be made in the public and adversarial arena of a courtroom over two months after the unexpected death of the deceased intestate at the tender age of 28.”

In ruling in favour of the man’s mother, Justice Henry highlighted the need for the court to take “cultural considerations” into account when making its decision.

“The upshot on the materials (before the court) is that the burial of the deceased at Mareeba or Croydon would each appear to be consistent with some of the cultural considerations identified in the case,” he said.

“Practical considerations are relevant. Each of the proposed burial destinations are far apart.

“Inevitably, some who could attend a funeral at one location will not be able to attend a funeral at the other. That said, Mareeba is the more practical destination as between it and Croydon.

“In the main, that is because it is a logistically less demanding destination for the deceased’s relatives from locales other than Mareeba and Croydon to travel to.

“While Croydon has been the deceased’s home for significant parts of his life, his cultural connections with its lands were not, at least on such evidence as is before me, so exclusive or so compelling as to trump the mix of other considerations, including practical considerations and the common law starting point, trending in favour of a burial at Mareeba.

“While the matter is relatively finely balanced, in my conclusion, the (mother’s) application (to inter her son at Mareeba) should be granted.”

Read Justice Henry’s decision.

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