Aunty Penny Bonney's song about death in custody released to help other families heal
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are advised that the following article contains the names and images of people who have died.
Usually, when someone shows signs of cardiac arrest they are taken to hospital in an ambulance but Aunty Penny Bonney says her brother spent the last hours of his life in the "dog van".
"I remember the morning we got the phone call," Aunty Penny said.
"You're wondering, 'How can he be dead?'"At 7:45am on June 30, 1990, Raymond Bonney was pronounced dead on arrival at the Royal Adelaide Hospital.
The afternoon prior he had been playing a game of football at the Mobilong Prison in Murray Bridge, South Australia, where he was an inmate.
He had coughed up blood after the game and asked an officer to see a medic.
In the 15 hours that followed, Raymond was taken to Murray Bridge Clinic, then — due to a lack of beds and presence of a guard — to Yatala Infirmary, and on to Modbury Hospital where he went into cardiac arrest and was resuscitated before being transferred to the Royal Adelaide Hospital.
"I get really angry that he was treated that way, like an animal. Just chucked in the dog van and forgotten about.
"That's happened to a lot of our people.
Unable to heal
While Raymond's death was not featured in the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody the following year, it was highlighted by criminologist John Dawes in his Deaths in custody: Moving beyond a statistical analysis report some years later.
"The prisoner ... was subjected to extraordinary deprivational factors that may have contributed to his death. Due to a breakdown in communication between the correctional authorities and the local doctor, the prisoner was taken to an inappropriate medical centre," Dr Dawes wrote.
It brings some comfort to Aunty Penny, but not much.
"I still think about what he would be thinking, what he would be thinking when he was laying on that bed at the hospital when the doctors didn't come to have a look at him straight away," Aunty Penny, a Moandik Meintangk Narungga and Adnyamathanha woman, said.
Her song Only Brother Knows, an ode to Raymond, explores the intergenerational trauma that followed his death. She wrote and recorded the song on tape in 2004 in an attempt to process some of the grief.
From night till dawn … you're transported slow
Your life was slowly fading away
Nobody listened to your cry in vain
Now this time around … we wear the pain
"Raymond was the eldest Bonney boy and I think after Raymond's death it affected all my brothers," Aunty Penny said.
"You get rid of the male and you'll break up a culture, you'll break up a family."
Soon after Raymond's death, the family of 13 lost another two brothers, one in a car accident and another, Tommy, a quadriplegic, who was found burnt in front of a gas heater.
"We were all still grieving and then we lost another brother and we never got over that grief," Aunty Penny said.
Finding the song
After 17 years she dusted the tape off last year, inspired by Black Lives Matter protests and the 30th anniversary of Raymond's death.
Through encouragement from her friends, Aunty Penny recorded the song with a full band this year. Something she never thought she would do.
"I think it was meant to sit there for a while until I could get back and get stronger on country," Aunty Penny said.
She moved back to country, Kingston, in 2015.
"I did move back here for healing because our family, all Aboriginal people need a lot of healing.
"It's like I'm somehow getting guided by my ancestors and it's something I need to see through."
She hopes the song will help her family and other Aboriginal families heal.
"I hope we can use something like this to bring about awareness.
After a lifetime of looking for answers, justice and healing, Aunty Penny has learnt to keep what family she has left close.
As she cries out in the chorus of Only Brother Knows:
So brothers, black brothers … care to take care
Oh brothers, black brother, black brothers … care to take care
So brothers, black brother, black brothers … care to take care