WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers please be advised the following contains names and images of deceased persons.
On the morning of October 5th 1995 17 year old Stephen ‘Whiff’ Smith’s body was found dead under suspicious circumstances along the railway tracks between the small rural communities of Quirindi and Werris Creek in North West NSW. Despite alarming evidence, bungled police procedure and pleas from a broken family, the coroner’s report returned ‘opened findings’ and the case was quickly closed and remained cold for 23 years. In 2018, following a parliamentary address from Greens MP David Shoebridge the death of Stephen Smith was again opened for investigation.
“Young, vibrant Aboriginal boys do not just lie down and die on train lines. Answers that are irrational and wildly out of character would never be acceptable to explain the deaths of non-Aboriginal young people.” David Shoebridge Greens MP
I grew up attending Quirindi High School. Whiff was 3 years older than me. I remember him fondly. We all do. He was that older kid that looked out for us young ones. I felt invincible hanging out at ‘Top Camp,’ on the school quadrangle, throwing the footy around under his watch. Rugby League is king in that community and it has produced some of the best over the years. Whiff was about as talented as they get. But he wasn’t just a footballer, he was confident, caring, warm and funny. He was a leader. He was academic. If you didn’t love Whiffy you were wrong. The day he died that community was rocked.
He lived in neighbouring town Werris Creek, home of the mighty Magpies, where he, myself and most of our mates played footy. Stephen Smith Snr, or Coog, was our trainer. Geez that was a solid side. On the days we didn’t win, at least we knew the other side was going home busted up, and though we always went deep into the finals we never did get to raise a trophy. One Silly Sunday we sat around the Commercial Hotel in Werris Creek licking our wounds and trading war stories of the season that was. I sat in a corner of the pub with my mate Jye as Coog began to open up about his son’s death 3 years earlier. With tears in his eyes he spoke of a lone magpie that would sit high on the scoreboard at David Taylor Oval and visit him at home in his garden. He also explained how Whiff’s favourite song, Kenny Rogers’ Reuben James, would just suddenly start playing out of nowhere.
That story has stuck with me for a long time. How could I forget? With permission and consultation from the Smith family I wrote Magpie. It’s not justice, not even close. I know that if it were my body found on those tracks all those years ago the death would’ve been treated differently and to pretend that privilege doesn’t exist would be just another kick in the guts to the family and friends in that community that have loved and looked out for me my whole life. Magpie is for Coog, Mack, Chris, Yogi and all the other lives that were touched by Stephen Whiffy Smith. It’s been 25 years and I’ll keep screaming beside you for the rest of mine until you get your justice.
Magpie is available for download HERE now and via all digital music and streaming platforms from Monday October 5.