The first stone

Simon Smart ponders "unconscious bias" towards Indigenous Australians, and how lives can be profoundly impacted by seminal moments.

When I was about 7 years old, mucking around with a mate, I decided it might be fun to throw rocks at cars. I was a good kid—more teacher’s pet than class terror. But for some reason my small brain thought this would be a good laugh.

The second projectile I launched went through the open window of a moving car and put a small crack on the inside of the windscreen. We ran for our lives, but we were caught. The result? A walk of shame followed by a short lecture from the driver. She didn’t even want to see my parents.

I was reminded of that episode this week when reading a story in The Sydney Morning Herald about what happened more recently to another small boy who’d decided to throw rocks at a car. His mother, Indigenous Australian Jane Williams recalled how her 8-year-old was picked up by the Police and was left on his own in their truck back at the station for at least two hours before she was able to find him. Four years later his Mum says he is still distrustful of Police.

It made me think of the way the trajectory of a life can be profoundly impacted by seminal moments … and the way those around you react. Ken Wyatt, Minister for Indigenous Australians, says more needs to be done to stop Indigenous Australians being targeted by Police, citing an “unconscious bias” from officers towards Aboriginal people.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, while only 2% of the Australian population make up 27% of those in prison. It’s a shocking statistic, and the damage starts early. My moment of madness didn’t affect the path of my life. I experienced mercy. Was I just lucky? Or privileged?