Hearsay ... the Journal of the Bar Association of Queensland
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Issue 72 - Mar 2015
Duffy Murder Drama Print E-mail


Alas, not what you might think, but rather the most recent project of the Queensland Theatre Company’s Legal Chapter – the commissioning of a play based upon the murder of Nellie Duffy at Carpentaria Downs Station in western Queensland in 1908.


The Legal Chapter is a group of lawyers and others associated with the profession with a shared passion for the theatre. They gather throughout the year for three plays, together with pre-show cocktails at which writers, directors and others attend. The Chapter takes an active role in promoting specific projects, such as the most recent one – the dramatization based upon the book by Stephanie Bennett The Murder of Nellie Duffy.

Nellie Duffy was a housekeeper at Carpentaria Downs. In September 1908, she was found dead – her throat slashed - in her bed in the main house on the station. An aboriginal stockman, Billy Wilson, was prosecuted for the murder. The barrister who represented him was a young Robert Johnstone Douglas, called to the Bar only some two years earlier. He was later to become a Justice of the Supreme Court and was the grandfather of Justice James Douglas, the latest of a number of family members to serve the Court.

It was Justice James Douglas who first brought the idea of the Nellie Duffy Project to the Legal Chapter. He still has his grandfather’s original brief, complete with handwritten notes made by the young barrister at the time.

The young Douglas successfully convinced the jury to not convict Wilson, a remarkable feat for more than one reason, including that Wilson had been said to have “confessed” on more than one occasion.

Indeed, no one was ever convicted and it remains one of Queensland most notorious unsolved crimes. A fitting subject for dramatization.

His Excellency the Governor of Queensland, the Honourable Paul de Jersey AC and Mrs Kaye de Jersey, recently hosted a Reception at Government House in support of the Project.

Enquiries about joining the Legal Chapter, or supporting its work, or otherwise about the Nellie Duffy Project, may be directed to Amanda Jolly, Philanthopy Manager, Queensland Theatre Company Phone: 3010 7621 or by email to ajolly@queenslandtheatre.com.au 

Adrian Duffy 

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