A MAN described as one of the last of the north's original freedom fighters for the Aboriginal cause has died after a long illness.
Arthur Murray, a former cotton-chipping contractor and a long-time equal rights fighter for indigenous people, passed away in Moree late last week.
Besides fighting for the rights of his Gamilaroi tribe, Mr Murray fought for years to gather more evidence behind the death of one of his three sons, Eddie, at the age of 21 in a police cell in Wee Waa.
Eddie Murray's death in custody in June 1981 was the subject of numerous inquiries and was one of the first to be investigated by the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody in 1988.
Police at the time claimed Eddie Murray committed suicide.
He'd earlier been drinking with mates, celebrating his selection in an Australian Aboriginal touring team.
He apparently became so drunk he was asked to leave the pub, and police locked him up in the station's cell.
Within an hour, he was found hanging in his cell by a piece of prison blanket.
His blood alcohol concentration was 0.3.
A coroner later recorded an open verdict on his death, concluding Eddie had died by hanging at the hand of person or persons unknown.
He said there was no evidence to suggest Eddie had taken his own life, and that only police had had the keys to his cell.
Although the royal commission later on was critical of the police evidence, it concluded there was no basis for a finding of police culpability.
Another independent investigation 10 years later recommended his body be exhumed from his grave in Wee Waa cemetery.
A subsequent autopsy in late 1997 revealed a significant injury to Eddie's sternum.
Medical evidence said it could have been caused by blows up to three or four days before death or by vigorous attempts at resuscitation, although it concluded it was doubtful resuscitation attempts were made in the police cells.
The report said it couldn't determine whether the blows were from a person or the result of a fall.
For 31 years, Eddie's parents and family kept the faith in finding out the truth about what happened but his parents have since died, still grief-stricken, still believing he should have been brought home, just down the road from the pub, instead of being thrown into a cell.
According to his eldest daughter, Helen Wenner of Wee Waa, Arthur, a father to 12, instilled in his kids the need for respect and honour for their Aboriginal heritage and culture, and said education was the way to a better life as an Aboriginal person.
"He was somebody who earned the respect of many people," Mrs Wenner said.
"He was one of the fighters. He was always one of those ones who worried about Aboriginal rights."
Aboriginal elder and friend Lyall Munro Snr yesterday described Arthur Murray as "one of the last fighters left" and a proud Gamilaroi man.
"Arthur was a seasonal worker. I can remember him fighting in the early days for wages for Aboriginal people who were chippers," Mr Munro said.
"He was involved in tent embassies and campsites. He was a Citizen of the Year, too.
"Arthur was a champion boxer and he could have been a boxing champion.
"He was outstanding."
But despite the lights of Sydney and a career in the ring calling, Helen says her mum convinced Arthur their home and future was in the bush.
The former Wee Waa man, who, with his late wife, Leila, also lived in Tamworth for a few years, is survived by nine children.
Leila died in 2003.
Arthur Murray's funeral will be held on Wednesday, October 3, at the Anglican church in Wee Waa.