THE DEATH PENALTY

South Brisbane Cemetery

South Brisbane Cemetery

I have spent many hours walking through this cemetery by the river near my home. It is filled with beautiful old fig, fir and gum trees, and birds. But mostly it is filled with stories. Every gravestone tells a tale, not only of woe, but of the life that was led. Little Tommy who was killed on his way home from school. Poor Jane who died giving birth to her thirteenth baby. The family who lost child after child before they reached their first birthdays. Men lost at sea. Grandmothers remembered for their love.

And then there is the grave of alleged bush ranger, Patrick Kenniff, whose execution invigorated the movement to abolish the death penalty.

This movement grew in strength, and in 1922 Queensland became the first state in the British Empire to abolish the death penalty. A few years ago, a plaque commemorating the men and one woman who lost their lives to the gallows in nearby Boggo Rd. Gaol was erected.

Grave of Executed Prisoners

Grave of Executed Prisoners

Recently, as I wrote Dear Madman, this plaque began to bother me. I have always been fiercely against the death penalty, but writing this book lead me to question that belief. The issue is not as simple as I once thought. Perhaps sometimes the death penalty is a relief, not only for the family of the victims, but for the perpetrators themselves. In Belgium this year, a convicted serial rapist successfully fought to have the right to end his life through euthanasia.

What bothers me most though, is that the executed have a plaque commemorating them, often with flowers placed upon it, while the graves of their victims are gone. They are not remembered with a shiny new plaque, but have disappeared into history, forgotten.