Peter Leonard Campbell


A report of two important inquiries in the relationship between the indigenous people of Australia and the Australian criminal justice was published in 1991. The first report to be released was on 15th April 1991 and its final report was the report of Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody otherwise known as the RCIADIC. The report was initiated due to some controversies surrounding the deaths of certain indigenous people and the investigations into their deaths thereafter by the police. The circumstances under which the deaths occurred had fuelled anger and suspicion by the families and relatives of the deceased (Indigenous women and the RCIADIC). This essay will tell about an indigenous man called Peter Leonard Campbell. The paper will identify and discuss factors that led Peter into the police. We will look into Peter Campbell’s life and how he later came into police custody. The paper will also give RCIADIC’s explanations for Peter Campbell’s conflict with the law.

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Description of life and circumstances of Peter Campbell

Peter Leonard Campbell was born at Point Macleay mission in the South part of Australia on the 12 September of 1946. He descended from the Aboriginal people called Ngarrindjeri who moved onto the Point Macleay Aboriginal mission during its establishment in 1859. Peter grew up in the mission and left at age 16 and later an extraordinary incident happened when his brother Alan and some other 38 youths were charged with carnal knowledge of a pregnant girl. Peter was employed at a time when he left his family from 1970 to 1972 and moved to Murray Bridge. For eight years, peter did not maintain contact with his family or the Aboriginal communities and organizations. It was hard to trace his movements were it not for the several files developed by the police as a result of his offences.

Leonard Peter Campbell died in his cell in the Long Bay Gaol in Sydney, New South Wales. He was found dead on the morning of 12th February 1980 at time he was aged 33 years. He had been convicted and was serving sentence for grievous bodily harm which totaled four and half years. The sentence was with a non-parole period and was to expire on 20 august 1981. During that time of his death, Peter had not been classified but had been placed at wing four at the Central Industrial Prison. Peter was described as a quiet and cooperative prisoner who had no conflicts with the prison authorities. Other prisoners described him as a loner who used to keep to himself.

RCIADIC explanations for Peter Campbell’s pathway to crime

Peter always found himself in trouble and this started at the age 16. His first offence was in February 8th 1963 and was due to begging alms. The second sentence was two months later due to larceny. New Year’s Eve in 1963 he was convicted of being drunk which was an offence for the aboriginals, he was a heavy drinker and most of his convictions were on the same. In 1964 and 1965, he was in Magill Reformatory mainly for convictions of illegally using motor vehicles and for larceny. In September 1965 he was convicted on four charges of breaking and entering shops illegally. Peter was released from jail in December 1969 after after illegal use of a car, he was later arrested on the same day and fined for indecent language use, a few days later he was arrested and sentenced to charges of fighting, resisting arrest and indecent use of language.

Incidences to final arrest

May 19th 1979 and peter was arraigned in a Sydney court with unseemly language, assaulting a railway patrolman and damaging his uniform. He was to be sentenced to 21 days in jail starting from 2nd July. Peter was back in custody on July second 1979 with assaulting a woman who was just but a stranger walking by and as a result was injuring her eye making her spend 7 days in hospital. It was reported that peter was yelling abuses to other passers-by while making special mention of the white people. Peter spent July in custody but was out in august on bail. In 21st august 1979 while drinking in Hyde Park, Peter started yelling at passers-by. The foreman asked him to leave and instead he ran towards a museum and hit a Japanese tourist on the head with a wine bottle. The tourist suffered multiple head injuries and consequently peter was arrested and charged with inflicting bodily harm to the tourist.

Peter as a result was sent to the Metropolitan Remand Centre at Long Bay Gaol in August 23rd. On this particular occasion he chose to be represented by the Aboriginal Legal Service. 7th December 1979 he pleaded to two guilty counts; that of assaulting a woman and injuring the tourist and as a result peter was sentenced to 4 and half years behind bars with a non-parole period expiring 20th august 1981. In sentencing him, the judge noted of the serious consequences of the two offences and also Peter’s extensive record with the law. The judge was quoted as saying, “It is quite clear to me that you have a predilection towards violence it is also quite clear to me that this violence is brought on by your over-indulgence in alcohol.”

Identification and analysis of  factors that explain Peter Campbell’s pathway to crime

The story of Peter Campbell like that of all other aboriginal people does reflect the conditions of socio-cultural deprivation and racial discrimination which they experienced the whole of their lives. This plight by the Aboriginals saw them being taken into custody instead of receiving the right treatment. During all this time, Peter was suffering a severe psychotic condition illness that was manifested in acute and irrational outburst of violence. The circumstances of Peter’s condition can be better understood after a survey of his life is done.

During his period of wanderings, Peter was able to find employment for various periods of time. But due to his conduct of a more violent and irrational offences usually committed under the influence of alcohol and engaging in violent acts of violence to complete strangers, he was usually out of employment. Analyzing Peter’s circumstances, a psychiatrist at Victorian Mental Health Network for Aboriginal People Dr. Jane McKendrick concluded that peter was suffering from a severe psychiatric disorder which was characterized by psychotic and depressive symptoms especially towards the last few years of his life.

The earlier onset between the years 1972 and 1973, Peter was most likely suffering from paranoid schizophrenia otherwise known as paranoid psychosis. This is evidenced by his loneliness, isolated nature and itinerant lifestyle of not contacting his people or fellow the Aboriginals. The apparent motiveless attack on strangers was also probably as a result of psychotic phenomena. This behavior continued into his stay in Sydney where he was convicted of committing two offences; hitting a strager woman on the road and injuring the Japanese tourist.

Peter’s behavior can also be said to be as a result racial discrimination which he received while growing up, the racial discriminations were inflicted on Aboriginals at that time. Peter was growing under the control of an authoritarian regime where he had no rights accorded to him and left the mission at a young age of 16 years with little education and knowledge to equip him for the harsh world outside. Peter seems to have carried with him bitter dispossession of his people and the treatment they were subjected to. This is coupled by the brutal treatment during his time at a reformatory and this may have contributed to his acts. Instead of the authorities helping him, the psychological distress he was going through was expressed by such violent acts in later years.

Peter’s claim that he committed suicide might be true after all. Many of the Aboriginals’ suicide indicated struggles over autonomy and associated with revenge and rebellion. He was rebelling against a society where he felt he was not wanted and thus was not one of them. With respect to drinking, he may have been prone to a maudlin state of mind because he felt that no one cared about him. But this statement is not to propose Peter’s death. Peter’s death and behavior are a direct result imposed by all kinds of stresses with no clear and stable social order.


Like all other Aboriginals, Peter Campbell case and tragedy is that he had exhibited a psychiatric disorder for several years before he met his death but unfortunately received no psychiatric help. The police instead treated him like a normal and habitual criminal with less hope of rehabilitation. Peter over the years became increasingly violent and did bizarre and non-understandable acts that warranted the authorities to investigate the course and reasons for his behavior. A director of forensic services had indicated that, “It may be possible to instill some insight into him as regards his behavior. He has a reasonable amount of intelligence and it is possible that something may be able to be done for him.” This is quiet an inadequate diagnosis, Peter was suffering from a paranoid psychosis and the only treatment was to be available at a psychiatrist treatment. This is a pointer to flaws in the judicial service system and the attention Aboriginals received during that time.


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