"I am convinced that life outside of jail in this state is no good to me at all for the simple fact that a native such as myself is better off in jail. At least living standards here are 100 percent on those we are accustomed to on the outside." Revel Cooper, 1962 in a letter to his friend Jim Davidson
On 3rd September, 1952, Revel and two other Aboriginal young men went to purchase alcohol from Jimmy Dee Long in Narrogin, Western Australia. Although Long was known for selling Aboriginal people alcohol illegally, he refused to serve the young men and they left.
Lee's body was found about 36 hours later. He was thought to have died as a result of a depressed fracture of the skull. Revel was arrested and charged with wilful murder. The prosecution's case was that he had thrown a hoe through an open window and this had hit Long.
Revel was transferred to Fremantle prison to await trial in the Supreme Court of Western Australia. During this time, a former teacher at Carrolup Mission, Mrs Olive Elliott, wrote a letter about Revel to the Resident Magistrate in Albany. Here is part of that letter:
The jury could not reach a decision about Revel's guilt during the first trial. Within a week, he was tried a second time and found guilty of manslaughter. Sir John Dwyer, Chief Justice said:
"In sentencing you to confinement, I express the hope that it will not be in gaol at Fremantle, but some move will be made to sending you to Pardelup [Prison Farm near Mt Barker - Ed] or some similar settlement where you will lead a life that will be more natural to you than an existence round about the town."
Revel served four years for manslaughter in Fremantle prison. But should he have been convicted? Was the legal case handled equitably? Many people believe Revel did not commit the crime. We will explore further.
Revel continued painting in prison and he taught other young Aboriginals who spent time as inmates. He met Mr White again who was later a teacher in the prison.
Sadly, Revel spent a good deal of time in-and-out of prison over the following years, both in Western Australia and Victoria. At times, he seemed to prefer life inside prison.
"The 1950s presented Aboriginal people with legal challenges that we can only guess about today.
Revel was young, he had been cloistered in a culturally insensitive dormitory, his mother died when he was six , his father was alienated, and he had no close siblings. His lawyer probably took instructions from the Department, stripping him of any agency. If he felt supported at court, we would be surprised.
A man had died in bizarre circumstances. Revel's so-called mates gave evidence against him. He was facing the death penalty.
There were two trials. In the first, an all-white jury was unable to agree to his guilt on the wilful murder charge. A second jury trial, conducted within a week of the first, resulted in a manslaughter verdict. Revel was sentenced to four years prison.
Revel was in gaol. The dormitory might have been bad. Gaol would have been just horrendous." Dr Kate Auty, Author of Black Glass
Sandy Toussaint, Kate Auty and Cathy Coomer at the Supreme Court of Western Australia in November 2015 to look at Revel's court papers.
Art from Fremantle Prison Collection
> Revel, The Man