#ServoBlackOut launch

[by Stephen Hagan]

Stephen and Rhonda Hagan with Professor Gracelyn Smallwood posing in front of the Johnathon Thurston statue before the Elton John Concert. Image: Dorothy Smith

Flying out of Darwin for Townsville at the end of February with Rhonda was a special moment for us as we looked forward to catching up with lifelong friends and to enjoy the vantage point of good seats at the Elton John Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour concert.

 

As we said goodnight to good friend Professor Gracelyn Smallwood and her daughter Dorothy (Fabs) after sharing special times during and after the concert, we caught a couple of hours sleep before rising early to catch the first flight out of town to return home to Darwin.

 

Despondently, the high we were still on from the concert the evening prior was soon shattered with a most blatant and callous form of racial profiling I have ever experienced whilst attempting to refill my rental car at a Coles Express service station. At precisely 5a.m. with the sun yet to fully light the first day of March, I was startled at the failure of the bowser I was attempting to fill my car at before returning it to the airport.

 

When the pump wouldn’t work the first time, I heard a muffled voice over the public address system but thought it was directed at someone else.

 

It wasn’t until my second failed attempt at accessing diesel fuel for the rented SUV and on hearing the same muffled voice over the PA again that I was the focus of the inaudible announcement.

 

At the exact same time on hearing that voice I saw a non-Indigenous driver pull up behind me and was accessing his bowser without any problems.

 

When I walked inside the servo and faced the attendant behind his security barrier I was summarily instructed by him that I had to prepay for my fuel.

 

In shock on what I’d just heard and trying to maintain my composure I began to assertively question the attendant on why he thought I needed to pay in advance whilst other white drivers – one had just paid and another was in line behind me - weren’t being asked to do the same.

 

My concerns were confirmed when the attendant said, without hesitation as if on autocue, that he had problems “with others doing drive offs without paying”.

 

On observing the heightening of an uncomfortable commotion developing in the presence of other customers, he deescalated the predicament by allowing me access to fuel at my bowser.

 

From my perspective, the Coles Express attendant didn’t see a well dressed man, who so happens to be a businessman with an MBA and a PhD as titles on his business card, but adopting instead a deficit picture of me as a suspect man of Aboriginal appearance.

 

I was appalled that despite being the best dressed driver at the service station on that morning, as I was about to return home to Darwin flying Qantas business class with my wife and wanted to be suitably attired to take advantage of the facilities available, made the experience all the more blatant.

 

On return home I got in touch with my lawyer, Stephen Kerin from Kerin Lawyers, to commence proceedings against Coles Express.

 

My lawyer engaged the services of barrister Andrew See to draw up proceedings against Melbourne-based Eureka Operations Pty Ltd, trading as Coles Express Service Station, on their property located at 346 Ingham Road, Garbutt in Townsville.

 

In the application to the Australian Human Rights Commission under Sections 9, 13(b) and 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 my legal team claimed:-

 

(i)      Unspecificed special damages, for loss of earnings, medical care and support.

 

(ii)     Unspecified general damages, for humiliation, loss of dignity and injury to feelings.  

 

(iii)    Unspecificed aggravated damages, for the failure of the First Respondent to acknowledge the discriminatory conduct, when initially brought to its attention by letters dated 3 March 2020 and 16 March 2020.

 

(iv)    Unspecified punitive and exemplary damages, arising out of the conduct of a large corporate group, that should be held publicly accountable for the practise of discriminatory policies directed against First Nations people.

 

(v)      A public apology in relevant local and national newspapers and other news platforms.   

 

(vi)    Legal costs.

 

My legal team has also put Coles Express owners on notice not to destroy CCTV footage of the incident, after having confirmed its content in communications, but refused to hand it over when requested.

 

Following the prominent page 3 coverage in The Weekend Australian (6-7 June) under the heading Activist claims racism in pre-paid row at the servo I was inundated with similar stories of racial profiling from Aboriginal customers at Coles Express and other service stations around the country. Some explaining the elderly parents in their cars were instructed by service station staff to stand outside their vehicles whilst they went inside to pre-pay for their fuel, in fear of them doing a runner. Quite extraordinary claims!

 

So shocked was I on hearing these depressing cases of racial profiling that I spoke to my lawyer who agreed to do pro-bono (no-win no-fee) representation for any Aboriginal person who wishes to come forward with similar stories of racial profiling by a service station staff member anywhere in Australia. More details on how to register your complaint will be made available in First Nations Telegraph in coming days.

 

Join me in sharing your stories on social media.

 

#ServoBlackOut.

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