A QUESTION OF POWER - Michelle Schwarz

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A Question of Power
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Book Synopsis

A gripping courtroom drama and a fearless work of investigative journalism, A Question of Power is the story of a man who spent his life gaining power only to be accused of its ultimate abuse.

Geoff Clark was once the most powerful Aboriginal man in Australia. As chairman of ATSIC he was at the pinnacle of his career when, in 2001, newspaper reports revealed that four women accused him of rape. The crimes they described were brutal - but the claims, dating back to the 1970s, were difficult to test.

In A Question of Power, Michelle Schwarz interviews the key players in the case: Clark, the women who accused him, their respective supporters and lawyers. She digs deep to show the story behind the case and explores the hard questions it raises. Was this a case of trial by media? Was there more to the story than the first reports suggested? What do we really know about Geoff Clark? 

Book Review

In 2001, when a series of newspaper reports revealed that four women had accused Geoff Clark of rape I distinctly remember trying to follow the complicated legal and reporting machinations that were going on.  I also distinctly remember feeling like I'd failed in that endeavour badly, but was never exactly sure why.

Reading A QUESTION OF POWER gives you a distinct understanding of why this case was so complicated, so intense, so emotional.

This book really is a fantastic example of investigative journalism, and ultimately, of the very best sort of true crime writing.  A book in which the events of the allegations are laid out clearly and concisely, with any conclusions left to be drawn by the reader.

The story, for those who do not follow these sorts of news articles was that Geoff Clark - at the time arguably one of the most powerful Aboriginal men in Australia, had been accused of a number of brutal rapes dating back to the 1970s.  Because of the lapse in time, not only were the claims difficult to test, there were legal impediments to civil cases being bought against Clark.  It was actually a civil case that eventually was allowed to proceed, with one of the victims opting to take Clark before the courts herself.  The book interviews, amongst other people, the accusers, Clark himself, lawyers for everyone, and many of the various parties supporters, and people who were around Framlingham at the time.

Along the way, the book tells the story of Framlingham, an Aboriginal Reserve established originally in 1861, Fram has always had a difficult and chequered history with numerous attempts at closure, until finally land handover in 1987.  Post that time, the reserve and it's management committee have continued to struggle to provide housing and facilities, and as is laid out in A QUESTION OF POWER, an ongoing power struggle between two main (mostly) familial groups (the Clarks and the Clarkes) continued to complicate things.  

One of the things that A QUESTION OF POWER clearly demonstrated was the complexity of the case, and many of the actions of interested and disinterested parties that confused, at least, my understanding of what had occured.  Allowing for the fact that the book allows the reader to draw their own conclusions, there are some elements - in particular - of the media's involvement that really did give this reader pause for thought (and a sense of profound disappointment and disillusion) with sections of the media that I'd thought better of.  As to whether or not the cases were proved / not proved / whether Clark was justly or unjustly accused and whether or not the victims received proper treatment and resolution of their situation - well I can only suggest that you read A QUESTION OF POWER.  It was one of the best true crime books I've read in a very long time.

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