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This morning as the world slowly wakes and the songbirds sing, two wretched ragged men will be dragged from their prison cells by heavily armed guards, garbed in a livery of chains by their captors, and strapped tightly into the seats of a van made of thick solid steel and bullet proof glass.
The van into which the men are cast by their captors, custom made for its pointed purpose, is rectangular in shape, simple and functional by design. Dark grey in color, of a hue seen usually only in the murky depths of a storm ravaged sea, the van is neither a coffin nor a hearse, although in the days to follow many will aver that it should have been either, or both, but in my imagination as it passes through the prison gates and solemnly winds its way through the waking suburban streets the big six-wheeled beast is merely a garbage truck, carrying the fetid, rotting waste of the still silent city to a huge hole dug on its fringe, into which the pair of killers inside will be dumped, covered with soil as black as their wretched souls, and forgotten before days end as the sun sinks over both the mountains to the west and the men’s wicked, wasted lives.
Australia is a land of incredible natural beauty, a vast country filled with awe-inspiring wonders, but the aggregation of them all is a but mere ant heap stood next to the true source of our nation’s greatness. Its people. Here, far away from anything, we have created our own society, on our own terms, and it is good. We are decent people with goodness in our hearts, people who have spurned the wanton cruelty the elites of old transplanted here in a vain attempt to create a culture that was a mirror of their own.
Instead we chose to become a country that offered anyone who came here the opportunity for a better life, and being a modest, self-deprecating mob we called it a fair go, but really it was a belief in the value called mercy. The core of our hearts is our country but the core of our country is mercy, and it is for this reason that these two men – brothers Farhad and Mumtaz Quami – are not now entering the basement of Sydney’s Supreme Court in a garbage truck destined for the gallows, but instead in an air-conditioned prison van taking them not to death but to a courtroom where they will be treated mercifully as they are punished for their terrible crimes..
These men whose chosen path has made them prisoners will be taken peacefully if they elect, or dragged kicking and screaming if they won’t, to a small room full of people with hearts that grieve and faces wet with tears that seep like a slow running river from their eyes, and in that room like Houdini they will be placed shackled into a small perspex box, but unlike the Magician’s famous self-selected prison it will not flood with water, and there shall be no escape.
Soon the Qaumi brother;s sentences will be pronounced, but first a man will stand and speak softly to the court, his words followed keenly by those who sit silently, weeping softly in the room.
The man’s name is Nemer Antoun.
He is the brother of Joe Antoun, the innocent man whose death in a hail of bullets delivered while his wife and children watched on was arranged by the men sitting in the perspex box, and he is a kind and decent man who I am proud to call my friend.
Nemer is a a good man but like each of the Antoun men he is also strong, and that strength has been channeled into a steely determination to bring the men who he knows are ultimately responsible for his brother’s execution out of the shadows and into the glaring light. Nemer regards bringing these criminals to justice as his sacred duty to his Joe, the lastly earthly act he can perform for the man he had admired and adored since birth who was so cruelly snatched away, and he will not stop his his quest is complete for he knows without equivocation that his brother cannot truly rest in peace until each person involved in Joe’s murders punishment is mete.
The Qauni brothers who sit before him are merely violent psychopathic soldiers, pawns in a much larger evil game in which riches are the prize.
Money is always at the root of impersonal evil, and the men who play this dangerous game don’t wear bling and meet in dingy rented rooms in the state house lined streets of Sydney’s impoverished west; they sit in boardrooms and big offices wearing flash designer label suits set off by subtle diamond studded Rolex watches.
Just like millionaire Ron Medich – who was not involved in this crime – these men rarely get their hands stained by the executions they order, until they do. If it becomes hot in their kitchens they order the chefs to be shot, and if the bullets miss they board planes and fly to swanky secret hideouts on far away shores, safe in the knowledge that men in blue uniforms who may or may not be in on the game are unlikely to seek an order for their return.
These are the men that Nemer Antoun holds responsible for his brothers death, and today in his Victim Impact Statement this is what he will have to say.
Thank you for the opportunity to make a victim impact statement today Your Honour, to talk to you for a moment about Joe’s life, and help you understand the infinite depth of his loss.
At an early age my brother was nick-named the White Rooster in the neighbourhood, for his pale face and for the unusual way he walked.
We in our family though just called him Joe
Growing up in the inner-city suburb of Redfern back in the seventies you learnt quickly to be tough and streetwise. The neighbourhood was different then, and you had to if you wanted to survive.
You also learnt to jump the fence at Redfern Oval so you could go and watch the Rabbitohs. In those days, there wasn’t too much spare money floating around among families for tickets, and Joe loved his sport and his team too much to ever miss watching a game. He also loved the challenge of getting over that fence: Joe was always a competitor, and he loved to win.
While most kids at school were swapping Marbles and footy cards, Joe was selling them. He was always an entrepreneurial type, and learned very quickly to groom himself, to walk upright and with confidence. From an early age, he had strong leadership qualities, and back then mixed them with a fiery young energy that bred confidence and strong beliefs, qualities that meant that Joe made friends wherever he went
Like many of us Joe got into some trouble at a young age, and for a time lost his way. He was confused, and struggled with defeat, and for a while it caused him to walk down the wrong path.
But my brother was strong and he was loved, and like the prodigal son Joseph found his way home.
And when he arrived Joe was like a new child. He read books on self-help, learnt about communication skills, and soaked in lessons from successful people. He even wrote a book: it sits on my desk, waiting for his story to be finished.
Joe loved cooking and loved his food, but loved to stay fit too, and worked hard at it. He slept early at night and was always up and out each day before dawn to train.
His hard life taught him to say it as it is; he learned to look you in the eye up front and personal and say no when no was the answer needed, and said it without fear or shame.
Joe was honest and he was firm, his word was his bond and his hand shake was the contract. He was sharp and direct when it came to his dealings; there was no pleasure for Joe in business, it was about providing for his family. Joe conducted his business in a no-nonsense manner with integrity and honour, and his reputation was important to him.
At home however Joe was just the opposite.
He visited his elderly Mother every Sunday of the year, without fail.
He was always ready for fitness training sessions with whoever was available and could keep up with him.
He was a loyal friend, a loving brother, a devoted partner, and a simply amazing father.
Joe’s life changed in a way he never imagined one summer’s day when his partner Teagan gave birth to a pair of beautiful twin girls with sparkling eyes and great big smiles, just like their Dads.
The girls were given the names Lily and Layla, the same names as their beloved grandmothers on both sides, in honour of them.
That day was a turning point for my brother. He was no longer just Joe; now he was Dad, and he absolutely loved it.
Joe adored Layla and Lily, and played a huge part in his daughter’s lives. He revelled in reading books to the girls, and in lovingly putting them to bed. He would help them dress, feed them, and play with them. He was there when the twins took their first steps, and delighted in the moment when they kicked their first ball in the park.
The girls brought out the best in Joe, and suddenly everyone realised that the Gentle Giant was human.
Joe would leave a business meeting to attend to the kids and put them to bed. He’d stop at the 7/ 11 on the way to pick up their milk. He would do anything for his girls anytime, and he did.
His business reputation started to soften.
The decades after the twin’s birth should have been the best years of Joe’s life. He had changed, but some people in this life never see the sun shining like Joe did, they only see the darkness that reflects from his soul, and the wolves were circling.
Joe’s competitors saw his joy as weakness, an opportunity to do what bad people always do. They maneuvered, and they shifted, and finally they moved in and stole.
First, they stole my brother’s money.
Then they stole his business.
And then they stole Joseph’s life.
December the 16th, 2013 was a black day for my family and for those who loved Joe, the darkest day that ever dawned. It was even darker for our 85-year-old mother, and for his partner Teagan, and for his daughters Lily and Layla, the little loves of his life and he of theirs.
Joe was taken away before his time.
Stolen from us.
Murdered in cold blood in front of his wife and children.
A mother lost a son.
A partner lost her lover.
Two beautiful innocent little girls lost their Father.
I lost my brother.
And for what? For what?
It’s a question I keep asking myself, over and over and over, but I can’t find an answer. I don’t think there is one. How can you make sense of something that makes no sense?
I can’t. I don’t know that anyone can.
My nieces had their father ripped away from them. They lost their Dad, their hero, the centre of their universe. No one can ever replace that.
Joe won’t be there to see his beloved angels grow up to become young women.
He won’t be standing in the crowd of parents beaming as they stride up to the stage to receive their graduation certificates when they finish school.
He will never meet the special boys in their lives, the young men who in a world that isn’t upside down he would one day give away his daughters to at their weddings as they become their husbands.
He certainty will not be walking them down the aisle on that special day that should be filled with love and laughter, but will now be haunted by loss.
It breaks my heart; it breaks all our hearts. We’ve all cried a million tears since Joe was murdered, no doubt we will cry a million more. Sometimes I wonder if we’ll ever stop crying.
It’s wrong, it’s just so wrong.
Who has the right to kill a man without cause?
Who has the right to rip a father away from his children?
Who has the right to steal a boy from his mother?
My mother, my poor mother. She has not slept one night without crying herself to sleep, without making an offer to God to bring her son back, at the expense of her own life. Our Mum is still alive in body, but her spirit died with Joe on that dark December night.
Your Honour this tragedy has affected so many lives. Our family’s loss has travelled far, it has swept across the rivers and mountains and plains of this sacred ancient land.
At the same time as we were preparing for Joe’s burial here in Sydney, a church service was being held at his birth place, the place where he was baptised.
Another service, was being held too, a farewell ceremony that has been taking place in our country for millions and millions of years.
It was on held on Sugar Loaf Mountain, a special and sacred place 47km inland from the town of Kempsey, to the west, a place past Nulla Creek known to First Australians since the dawn of time as Burrel Bulai. It is the Land of the Thunghutti People, a sacred, powerful place where Joe in life was welcomed and invited to sit with the community as a brother. A place where a part of him will always remain, mingling with those of the ancestors in this very special part of our great land.
I was privileged to be invited to visit Burrel Bulai last year. There I was shown the place where Joe’s ceremony was held, and the places that Joe and his indigenous brothers fished and ate bush tucker. They told me stories about Joe, about his love of life, and about his sense of fun and his jokes. Almost everybody in the community had a story about Joe, or Uncle Joe as many called him, and these stories and the sacred ceremony that was held were an acknowledgement of his place here, a sign of respect for one of their own.
Joes brother in Burrel Bula, an Elder Uncle, allowed me to experience some of the magic that Joe experienced and revelled in while living on the Land. That experience allowed me to gain a deeper understanding of Joe, to see him as others who loved him saw him, and to see him like a reflection of one’s self.
If you see Joe as a friend you get back love, friendship, loyalty and respect.
But if you see him as a competitor, you get a bulldozer.
I remember the story of a woman known to me only as the Bag Lady, and how hard she cried when she heard that Joe had passed away. She told me every time he passed by Joe would sit down with her and talk. He would leave her with riddles and questions, puzzles for her to solve and answers that she could proudly pass to him on his next visit.
That was Joe as I remember him, my brother, my hero, my best friend.
Joe, we miss you, we love you and we will never forget you.
Today we are here to celebrate justice.
And to say thank you to the police, counsel, and to all staff of the court. And to you Sir, for your efforts to find Justice and deliver it.
I stand here before you sir and ask that you deliver the Justice that my father came to Australia seeking. The justice that the Anzacs so bravely fought for.
For the sake of our Children and the safety of every Australian citizen, I ask that you deliver that justice to these murderers who took our Joe away.
Your Honour, absent from the courtroom today are some men and women who hide behind desks wearing expensive suits. They should be seated before you in that box too, for they are as guilty as the men here that they paid to pull the trigger.
These people – these cowards – these parasites – they will always find someone to do their dirty work.
These wolves who hide in sheep’s clothing – they are a cancer on our nation.
These criminals who order cold-blooded executions but never get their own hands soiled are nothing but tumour – big ugly malignant tumours that infect the whole of our society and poison the freedoms that we Australians hold so dear.
The cancer must be cut out before it spreads.
The people who paid these men sitting before you today to kill my brother cannot be allowed to continue to walk free.
What will I say to Joe’s two little girls if the Mr Bigs who ordered his murder are not brought to this court to be tried for the evil thing that they have done?
How could I possibly explain it to them?
Joe’s daughters deserve Justice.
My mother deserves justice.
Joe deserves justice.
We all deserve justice.
May God be with you as you sentence these men who murdered my brother Your Honour.
Let justice be done.