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Rupert Maxwell STUART





Classification: Murderer?
Characteristics: Rape - Mutilation
Number of victims: 1 ?
Date of murder: December 20, 1958
Date of arrest: 2 days after
Date of birth: 1932
Victim profile: Mary Olive Hattam, 9
Method of murder: Hitting with a stone
Location: Ceduna, South Australia, Australia
Status: Sentenced to death on April 24, 1959. Commuted to life in prison. Released on parole in 1973. He was in and out of gaol until 1984, when he was paroled for the sixth and final time.

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Rupert Maxwell (Max) Stuart (c. 1932 - ) is an Australian Aborigine who was convicted of murder in 1959.

His conviction was controversial, subject to several unsuccessful appeals and a Royal Commission, which upheld the verdict. Newspapers campaigned successfully against the death penalty being imposed.

After serving 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.

Early life

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.

The Crime

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) from Adelaide.

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 Hattam investigation.

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.

The Stuart Case

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 debated.

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.

Royal Commission

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 do so.

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 the line."

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."


Stuart was 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.

Publications 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 ISBN 1863952438).

  • Chamberlain, Roderic (1973). The Stuart affair. London: Hale. ISBN 0709140975.

  • Dixon, Thomas Sidney (1987). The wizard of Alice : Father Dixon and the Stuart case. Morwell, Victoria, Australia: Alella Books. ISBN 0949681180.

Film: Black and White

The 2002 feature film Black and White was made about his case. The main cast was:

Stuart's lawyer, David O'Sullivan played by Robert Carlyle
Crown Prosecutor, Roderic Chamberlain played by Charles Dance
O'Sullivan's partner, Helen Devaney played by Kerry Fox
Father Tom Dixon played by Colin Friels
Newspaper publisher, Rupert Murdoch played by Ben Mendelsohn
Max Stuart played by David Ngoombujarra

Max Stuart 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."

Louis Nowra 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 Supporting Role.

The film's 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!

Significance of the case

Geoffrey 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.

Indigenous politics

In 1985, 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.

Stuart has subsequently become an active figure in Central Australian Aboriginal affairs, in particular with the Lhere Artepe native title organisation.

Stuart was 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 a man

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, educated word.

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 document.

"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 background.

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.


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