October 2010


The mission

By Malcolm Knox
The mission
The Bowraville murders

At Sawtell on the northern coast of New South Wales, in the neat brick house of ‘Auntie’ Mooney Craig, the children materialise like coloured scarves from a magician’s wrist. So many children – some infants, some on the brink of becoming teenagers, some in between. When I think I’ve met them all, more appear; each is someone’s child. Auntie Mooney, a precise and gently spoken woman with eyes revealing both kindness and pain, talks me through the family trees. “But I don’t expect you to keep up with all that,” she says with a laugh. It’s a heroic laugh.

At Thomas Duroux’s house in Bowraville there are children, too. On the thin strip of his front yard, toys lie warping in the sun. Children scatter when they see me coming. Further down the footpath, children push other children in strollers.

Thomas isn’t up to laughing; he hasn’t been for a while.

There is a child on Rebecca Stadhams’ lap, taking spoonfuls of mush. He is her youngest. Rebecca lives in Urunga with her partner, Rob – who’s out mowing the lawn – and his octogenarian father. Their house overlooks a generous patch of lawn, and beyond to the river-mouth and the Pacific Ocean. Rebecca, a woman of quiet charisma, spends her time drawing and painting, and looking after her newest. She wears a sweeping print dress and carries herself with dignity.

“I have to go to that place next week. I don’t like it there,” she says, as if she’d need to explain. She won’t name “that place”, nor “that man”. I nod sympathetically, as if I understand.

She turns her attention back to her baby.

For all the children present, most palpable are the missing ones. On Auntie Mooney’s wall is a photograph of Colleen, pugnaciously beautiful and pale-skinned; on a pole in the bush outside Bowraville is a stencilled portrait of Clinton, dark and laughing; Rebecca keeps her image of Evelyn closer, hidden in her paintings. These homes feel peaceful, but a hole has been torn out of this place the size of two 16-year-olds and a four-year-old: Colleen Walker, Clinton Speedy-Duroux and Evelyn Greenup.

At the Bowraville Mission, they knew him as ‘The King’.

Fifteen kilometres along the Nambucca Valley from Macksville, Bowraville had around 750 white residents in 1990, and 150 Indigenous. For the white people, Bowraville was a genteel retreat from the tough, rugby-league town of Macksville: the twee town centre came complete with a white pub and a black pub. The whites lived in the cute bungalows with lawns and picket fences. Some of the blacks lived in the town, others out on the fringe – on Cemetery Road, in the Mish.

Jay Hart lived somewhere in between – on Cohalan Road – in a caravan outside an untidy house occupied by his mother, Marlene, and her boyfriend, Noel Short. From Cohalan Road, a back track cut through the pastures to the Mission. Hart worked at Bowraville’s tanning factory; he saw his mother to hand her his washing each week. He and Noel avoided each other. This wasn’t unusual for Jay Hart: he had few friends in white Bowraville.

On the Mish, though, he was the big white man who came with grog and ganja. Hart kept his 185 centimetre, 105 kilogram frame in reasonable shape by lifting weights in his caravan and from the repetitious work hanging hides in the factory. Size gave him confidence, but his popularity in the Mish came from being the mobile party, the candyman for minors who couldn’t get booze for themselves.

Then three kids were murdered, and Hart left town. The murders stopped. Nobody has been convicted for them.

If a man is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law, Hart is an innocent man. The Monthly makes no suggestion that he is guilty of the three murders, and unless a trial for all three were to take place and convict him, he remains innocent. He is a free man, in a way, though he lives elsewhere in New South Wales with a new name and a silent past.

Arrested and charged after the remains of two of the missing children were found, Jay Hart caught a break in 1993, when Justice Badgery-Parker of the NSW Supreme Court ruled that Hart could not be tried for the two murders together. Rules of ‘similar fact’ and ‘tendency’ evidence were more favourable to an accused person then than they are now.

Hart was tried and acquitted of the murder of Clinton Speedy-Duroux in 1994, and of the murder of Evelyn Greenup in 2006. Nobody was charged with the murder of Colleen Walker, as only her clothes were ever found. The juries in each of Hart’s trials were unaware any of the other murders had occurred in Bowraville.

This month, 20 years will have passed since the first child, Colleen, disappeared. The families of all three children are divided by many things – indeed, the entire community is fractured – but one wish unites them: that Hart be tried for the three murders together.

After an initial period, while debilitated by shock and blame, the families organised themselves and have waged one of the most durable campaigns in Australian legal history. Over two decades they have petitioned the NSW director of public prosecutions (DPP). Last year, after a succession of battles, they enlisted the legal firm Allens Arthur Robinson to make a submission to the state attorney-general, John Hatzistergos, arguing that trying Jay Hart for the three murders in a single trial would fit the criteria of a new law that suspends the principle of double jeopardy.

They waited 10 months for Mr Hatzistergos to reply. At the time of writing, no reply had arrived.

Bowraville Mission consists of a row of simple houses down one side of Cemetery Road, now renamed Gumbayngirr Road. Once, elder Marje Jarrett says, she and the black women of the Mission would hide in the culverts of that road with their mothers when they heard drunken white men coming out of town; as the men approached, they would stuff sand into their vaginas.

Across Gumbayngirr Road from the houses is a little park with a large, spreading gum tree under which the children and adults gather. Beyond the park is a golf course, where Clinton used to hit a ball with a single club and run for cover if he saw a club member coming. In the park is a memorial made of three stones with plaques for the three missing children. Or, at least, for two: one of the plaques is itself missing. “We’ve got to fix that one,” says Marje, Clinton’s step-mother. Her husband, Thomas, Clinton’s father, watches us from behind the curtains of his house across the road. A low-slung brick residence, it has a laneway running beside it. It was in that laneway, on the night of 13 September 1990, that the first of the children vanished.

Colleen Walker knew The King better than most others on the Mish. Hart, who was 25 in 1990, had been living in Bowraville since his teens and had moved from his mother’s house into the Mish to live with his girlfriend, Alison Walker – who was Colleen’s aunt. Hart and Alison had a son, Joshua, but after Hart repeatedly bashed and verbally abused Alison, she moved with Joshua to Queensland in 1987.

Hart moved into the caravan beside his mother’s house, and was working at the tanning factory. His break-up with Alison didn’t cut his ties with the Mish. He was still The King, boasting that he could bring marijuana (“yarni”), from a small plantation he maintained on the turpentine-forested slopes of the Nambucca River. He said he could access the plantation off Congarinni Road via a dirt track that followed the river.

Although the Aborigines from the Mish were his friends, his relations with them weren’t always peaceful. On 13 April 1990, Hart was drunk and stoned at the house of Mark Thompson and Maxine Jarrett when an argument resulted in Hart headbutting Jarrett and punching Thompson, before fetching a golf club with which he smashed in their front door while shouting threats about burying them under his yarni plants.

If everyone were to be ostracised after a fight, Rebecca Stadhams says, “there’d be nobody left.” Hart was back at the Mission one night in July 1990, chatting with Alison’s niece, who was nine years his junior. He invited Colleen and her friend Patricia Grainer to come up to his caravan on Cohalan Road, watch music videos and sleep the night. It wasn’t a sexual proposition: he promised the girls that they could sleep in his double bed and that he would fold out the dining table, which doubled as a second bed for himself. The girls drank some more with him, then fell asleep. Next morning when they woke, Hart was gone, but Colleen told Patricia he had climbed into her side of the bed during the night and tried to have sex with her. She had been groggy, almost anaesthetised, but had fought him off. Patricia had been sleeping so soundly she hadn’t woken.

Colleen had little contact with Hart over the next two months. Most of the time she lived with her mother, Muriel, known as Aunt Mooney, in Sawtell. “She was just reaching that age when she wanted to discover the world,” Muriel says. Hart was persistent, however, and when Colleen went to Bowraville in September he persuaded her to spend another night in his caravan. This time she took a male Aboriginal friend, Adrian Jarrett, for protection; nothing untoward happened.

The next day, 13 September, Colleen planned to attend a party at the Mish until midnight, when Marje Jarrett would take her and two friends to Macksville for the 3.00 am train to the nearby town of Goodooga, where they were going to stay with friends. The party started in the afternoon, and was spread between a campfire in the park and the laneway beside Marje’s house. The King was there – the source of beer and yarni, as usual – and Colleen’s friends noticed him pestering her to stay another night in his caravan. Colleen fended him off, saying she was leaving for Goodooga.

Around midnight, Colleen walked down the lane and was never seen again.

“The police didn’t take it very seriously at first,” says Muriel Craig. And communication wasn’t always the best among the Aboriginal kids on the Mish. Some thought Colleen had gone to Goodooga. It wasn’t until 17 September that Muriel was sure Colleen was in neither Bowraville nor Goodooga, and reported her missing. Even then, she says, “she was an independent 16-year-old who moved around between towns. The police said she’d probably just turn up.”

Nor did Colleen’s disappearance disrupt life on the Mission. Three weeks later, on 3 October, a long party took place three doors up from Marje’s house, where Rebecca Stadhams lived with her mother, Patricia, and her three young children, Aiden, Aaron and Evelyn.

Jay Hart, who had slept with both Rebecca and Patricia on different occasions, showed up at the party after dark. Rebecca took the children to another house where their father, Billy Greenup, lived. She and Billy were estranged and he proved too intoxicated to look after the children. Rebecca returned to Patricia’s place, and took the three children to sleep with her in one bedroom.

The party had wound down, but Hart was still around. Patricia asked him to go home after seeing him looking in one of the windows of the house, then went to bed. Soon after, she heard Evelyn crying and tried to get into the bedroom. She couldn’t, but heard a thump before Evelyn fell silent again – something she had not mentioned in various police interviews. Patricia went back to bed.

Another woman staying in the house, Fiona Duckett, was up preparing a bottle for her baby when she saw Hart come out of Rebecca and the children’s bedroom. He was moving fast, almost running, towards the front door. Fiona tried to catch up, but when she got to the front of the house and looked into the yard, she couldn’t see him. Wondering why he had left so quickly, she finished making up the bottle and went to bed.

The next morning, Rebecca woke with more than a normal hangover. She also noticed that her pants had been pulled down during the night. Aiden and Aaron were playing in the bedroom, but neither boy could tell her where their four-year-old sister was. Rebecca inquired after Evelyn in other houses on the Mission, then in Bowraville proper.

Meanwhile, Hart returned to Patricia Stadhams’ house to collect his boom box. He told her he had spent the night on her couch, though none of the others who’d slept in the living room recalled seeing him sleep there. He left the house before Rebecca returned – frantic – in midmorning. Neither Billy nor anyone else had seen Evelyn since the previous night. Heading out to search further, Rebecca found one of Evelyn’s pink sandshoes in the front yard.

Again there was a three-day delay before police came in. Searches were unsuccessful, not assisted by a handful of ‘sightings’ of Evelyn in Bowraville. None of these was Evelyn – witnesses had mixed her up with other children.

The police investigation into Evelyn’s disappearance had lost urgency by the time Clinton Speedy-Duroux arrived in Bowraville in December 1990. A free-spirited, ever-smiling 16-year-old, Clinton came from Tenterfield to stay with his father, Thomas Duroux, on the Mission. Soon after his arrival, Clinton struck up a relationship with Kelly Jarrett, Marje’s niece and a good friend of Colleen Walker’s. Nobody knew where Colleen was, but suspicions over a link between her disappearance and Evelyn’s were still only half-formed. Evelyn had obviously been taken but it had been on a night when it was hard to piece together a coherent story. Further complicating matters was the fact that relations between the families on the Mission were distrustful.

The King was still hanging around. In January, he was drinking and smoking dope at a party at Thomas and Marje’s house when he fell into an argument with two relatives of Colleen’s, Hilton and Phillip Walker, who said that Hart, flying into a temper, claimed he had “killed people” and “buried them under the yarni”, and that he was not a man to be messed with. He left the house, later returning with a broom handle and whacking Phillip as he slept on a couch.

On the last day of that month, another party was held, this time in a public-housing flat in Herborn Drive, close to Hart’s house. He showed up, and Clinton was among the group. Twice Hart left to go to the Bowraville RSL to buy more beer; he had his uses, this legal-aged white man at a thirsty party.

After midnight, Hart tried to talk Kelly Jarrett into coming back to his caravan. She wouldn’t leave without Clinton, and Hart said they could both come. Going back with him around 3 am, they sat and watched music videos; Kelly drank with Hart while Clinton lay on the double bed. The sleeping arrangement, Hart explained, would be the same as when Colleen Walker had stayed: the Aboriginal kids could have the double, and he’d fold out the single. Before they went to sleep, Kelly asked Clinton not to leave her alone with Hart.

At 4.30 am, Noel Short woke up inside Marlene Hart’s house and got ready for work. Noticing the light still on in Jay’s caravan, Short complained to Marlene about the electricity bill, then left at 4.45 am in his yellow Kingswood. A few minutes later, a neighbour, Betty Le Cerf, looked out her window and saw Marlene’s orange-red Galant leaving as well.

Around 5 am, two delivery drivers, Michael Scafidi and Greg Innes, were passing a corner 200 metres from Hart’s house when they saw a white man standing over a prone, barefoot Aboriginal figure. They asked the white man if he needed help, but he said he’d already called police and was trying to move the person out of the way of his orange-red vehicle. Scafidi and Innes reported this sighting later, but were not re-interviewed and, for reasons that remain unclear, their evidence was not led at Hart’s eventual trial for Clinton’s murder.

Two witnesses told the trial that they had seen a young Aboriginal man hitchhiking out of Bowraville early that morning, evidence that the defence used, successfully, to raise doubts over how Clinton had left the town. If the hitchhiker was Clinton – uncharacteristically, travelling without his shoes – it means he was picked up, murdered and dumped off Congarinni Road by person or persons unknown. The alternative is that the hitchhiker the witnesses saw was not Clinton.

Kelly Jarrett would never see Clinton again. She woke at 8.40 am in the caravan, having slept unexpectedly deeply; she couldn’t find her shorts and underpants, though she was certain she had been wearing them when she fell asleep. She was woken by Hart’s voice: he had gone to work earlier, then returned to the caravan at 8.30 am before heading back again.

Kelly found her underpants and, more worryingly, Clinton’s shoes. She took them to Thomas Duroux at the Mission. Clinton wasn’t at home. Thomas searched for him all day, then reported him missing.

Sixteen days later, on 18 February, Clinton’s body was found in the leaf litter off Congarinni Road, near where a small marijuana crop would later be found. He was dressed in the clothes he’d worn to Hart’s caravan. Down the front of his trousers was stuffed a pillowslip belonging to Hart, and near him was a blanket. He had died from a blow to the head.

On 8 April, Hart was arrested and charged with Clinton’s murder.

Nine days later, a fisherman snagged Colleen Walker’s jeans and belt in the Nambucca River – down the slope from where Clinton’s body had been found. Police divers later found four weighted plastic bags in the river with Colleen’s clothes in them. Her body was never found.

Ten days after the fisherman’s grim discovery – also off Congarinni Road, 3 kilometres from where Clinton’s body had been found – some locals alerted police to a bad smell that led them to the decomposed body of Evelyn Greenup. Her other pink sandshoe was nearby, and her skull bore the kind of blow also evident on Clinton’s.

On 16 October, Hart was charged with Evelyn’s murder.

Over the next three years, a stop-start inquest into Colleen’s disappearance would deliver an open finding that she was deceased.

Jay Hart would speak only once in a public forum about any of the deaths – at his trial for Clinton’s murder in early 1994. In August 1993, Justice Badgery-Parker had ruled that the evidence against Hart over Evelyn’s and Clinton’s murders would be so prejudicial as to make it impossible for him to get a fair trial if they were run together. Leonie Duroux, the widow of Clinton’s uncle Marbuck-Duroux, says that in the grieving families’ view, “this decision meant that Hart had won his trial before it started.”

Hart’s trial for Clinton’s murder in February 1994 was plagued by predictable problems. The defence made much of Kelly Jarrett’s state of intoxication the night she slept in the caravan. Likewise, many of the Aboriginal witnesses who had seen Hart at the party had their credibility undermined because they were confused and embarrassed by the court proceedings, or because their presence at a drinking party gave the defence opportunity to question the reliability of their evidence.

Yet Hart’s story was hardly convincing. He told the court he had fallen asleep, drunk, in the caravan and set his alarm for 5.15 am or 5.30 am, which was when he normally rose for a 6 am start at the tanning factory. When his alarm sounded, he said, he hit the snooze button and fell asleep, though not so deeply that he did not hear “someone” leave. He could not explain Mrs Le Cerf’s evidence that she had seen the orange-red Galant being driven away from the house at around 4.50 am.

Hart had arranged for a workmate, Robert Provost, to pick him up a few minutes before 6 am. But instead, Hart told the court, at around 5.45 am, he went into the house, woke his mother, and persuaded her to give him her car keys. Just when Hart got the keys would prove crucial. The Crown’s case was that he had gone into his mother’s room after Short left at 4.45 am, taken the keys out of her handbag, loaded Clinton’s body into her car, and driven to Congarinni Road at the time Betty Le Cerf saw the car leaving. They argued that Hart, having spiked Kelly Jarrett’s drink with a sedative, had set about assaulting her in the caravan. The Crown was not allowed to lead evidence that Hart had done the same with Colleen Walker in his caravan and Rebecca Stadhams in her mother’s house. The jury knew nothing of Colleen or Evelyn.

The Crown contended that Clinton had woken while Hart was attempting to assault Kelly, and that Hart had killed him, stuffing the pillowslip down his pants when the boy began to urinate.

Marlene Hart, in her initial police interview 18 days after Clinton’s disappearance, said she kept her keys in her handbag at the foot of her bed. But, in the 1994 trial, she said her keys were in her pillowslip under her head, and when Jay had come to ask for her keys she had looked at the clock and seen the time was 5.50 am. Marlene Hart’s evidence changed in another respect as well. In her police interview, she said Jay had used blankets such as the one found near Clinton’s corpse; in the trial, she said he had never used her blankets and that the police had inserted the word ‘blankets’ into her initial record of interview.

Even if you accept these things, Hart’s story was odd. Provost gave evidence that he had come to the caravan as usual, just before 6.00 am, and looked inside. Hart wasn’t there but Provost saw the sleeping Aboriginal girl’s feet sticking out from under the sheets of the double bed. Provost left for work but as he was driving away he saw Hart coming back in his mother’s car.

The Crown said Hart was coming back from Congarinni Road after taking an hour to dispose of Clinton’s body. Hart said he had taken his mother’s car at around 5.50 am but instead of going to the tanning factory had turned around and come back home for a cup of tea. This, he said, was when Provost had seen him driving back.

Hart then drove to the tanning factory, where he arrived – still visibly drunk – at 6.20 am. Two hours later another workmate, Danny Summerville, went home with Hart, so he could return his mother’s Galant for her to drive her seven-year-old son, Benjamin, to school. This was when Hart’s voice woke Kelly Jarrett.

When he was first taken by police to be interviewed, Hart was allowed to go into his caravan. He removed his weights. The weights, Clinton’s family believe, were what Hart used to strike the boy’s head. But he disposed of them after taking them from the van, and they were never found or used as evidence.

Notwithstanding his strange account of his movements the morning of Clinton’s disappearance, Hart was acquitted. The charges over Evelyn’s murder were subsequently no-billed. But community concern was so great that the state police commissioner, Peter Ryan, set up a strike force in 1997 to reinvestigate the Bowraville children’s disappearances. In 1998 the office of the DPP assessed the strike force’s report but did not proceed with a prosecution. After a coronial inquest in 2004, however, the DPP charged Hart again over Evelyn’s murder.

Hart’s second trial was in 2006; again, no evidence from the other two cases was heard by the jury. The witnesses to Hart’s behaviour in Patricia Stadhams’ house the night Evelyn disappeared were, again, compromised by their struggle to understand court proceedings – not to mention the 15 years that had passed. They were easy meat for the defence. Hart did not give evidence this time and was acquitted again.

The jury’s difficulties in understanding Aboriginal witnesses in court were examined during the trial by Dr Diana Eades, an honorary research fellow at the University of New England, who visited Bowraville in 2005 and observed the 2006 trial. She found that many common features of Aboriginal communication worked to the witnesses’ detriment in court.

Dr Eades wrote in a report to the NSW Law Reform Commission that typical Aboriginal gestures, such as long silences and lack of eye contact, might have been interpreted as evasiveness. Witnesses were probed about numerical distances and times, when “many Aboriginal people give specific details in relational rather than quantifiable terms … and it can be problematic to ask Aboriginal people to give specific information using numbers.” There was also much confusion among jurors about the Aboriginal social response of ‘gratuitous concurrence’: witnesses would reply “Yes” to a question for the purpose of politeness, then apparently contradict themselves by explaining their response to the same question in the negative.

As a result of her observations, Dr Eades advised the Law Reform Commission that judges should give juries detailed and specific directions about how to understand Aboriginal communication, and not simply tell them – as did Justice Hulme in the Evelyn Greenup trial – that Aboriginal witnesses might “have some problems in terms of understanding or expressing themselves”.

Trials across Australia, Eades concluded, consequently risk producing unjust outcomes because juries “base their evaluation of witnesses on ignorance, stereotypes, or even misunderstanding of Aboriginal communication”.

The rule of double jeopardy – a procedural defence dictating that an accused cannot be tried again for a crime they have previously been acquitted of – has a long history. In December 2006, the families of Colleen, Evelyn and Clinton achieved a win that gave them new hope, however. The NSW parliament’s amendment to the Crimes Appeal and Review Act, which was heavily influenced by the Bowraville cases, allowed for a retrial of a previously acquitted person if “fresh and compelling evidence” emerged.

In recognition that the amendment was driven in part by the Bowraville case, the leader of the National Party, Andrew Stoner, said: “It is a tragic story and the cases have never been resolved to the satisfaction of the families, the Indigenous people who live in Bowraville and the community in general. The changes in the legislation, particularly relating to double jeopardy, give some hope to those families that justice may eventually be done.”

By this time, the Bowraville families had formed an association called Ngindayjumi, or “Truth Be Told”. This group, allied with the Clinton Speedy-Duroux Association, was quick to move, petitioning the DPP for a new prosecution on the basis that changes to the Evidence Act would now allow at least two, and possibly three, of the murder trials to be held together. Also, fresh evidence, such as that from Scafidi and Innes, would strengthen the prosecution’s case.

The DPP rejected this argument, and the families went to Hatzistergos last December. One of the key arguments in their submission was that it defied belief and probability that the three murders could not have been carried out by the same person. Between 1989 and 2005, they argued, Clinton and Colleen were the only two 16-year-olds murdered within a six-month period in a single small, remote town. Further, there have never been murders of three children in a small Australian town over a six-month period that have not been committed by a single person.

We cannot say whether or not Jay Hart is guilty of the murders of Colleen, Evelyn or Clinton. That is a question that can only be determined by a jury that has heard all the relevant evidence. If there were a new trial of Jay Hart, then he may be acquitted again, and shown to be not guilty of these murders. What the families of the victims petitioned for was a new trial for all of the murders in which the question of Hart’s guilt could be finally determined, on the basis of all the relevant evidence.

Beyond this, broader, troubling questions remain. In a country where the names of missing or murdered children remain indelibly in the national consciousness, why do the Bowraville children not figure? The Beaumont children, Samantha Knight, Jaidyn Leskie, Kiesha Abrahams – these and many more are embedded in the Australian lexicon of tragedy. Why are Colleen Walker, Evelyn Greenup and Clinton Speedy-Duroux not firmly fixed in our national memory?

The murders of Bowraville’s children stopped after 1991, but not the pain. “The whitefellas there,” says Rebecca Stadhams, “they say we should get over it. Let bygones be bygones. Twenty years is a long time ago. But is it? It feels like yesterday.”

For Muriel Craig and Thomas Duroux, too, there are constant reminders that they don’t live in a friendly world. Clinton’s memorial, marking the site where his body was found off Congarinni Road, was vandalised two years ago.

The life of every person connected to the three children was ruptured. Kelly Jarrett moved to Alice Springs. Adrian Jarrett committed suicide. Alison Walker never goes back. Marje Jarrett and Thomas Duroux live in a more or less permanent state of grieving. On several occasions, when I asked what had become of young men who lived around the Mish at the time of the disappearances, I was told they had committed suicide in the past 20 years. Some members of the Stadhams, Duroux and Walker families no longer speak to each other. Rebecca Stadhams left Bowraville for Urunga. She has a young daughter who still lives on the Mish, with Rebecca’s sister Lulu. “She’s the image of Evelyn,” Lulu says. “You look at her, you see Evelyn.” But I don’t get much of a chance to look at her. An unfamiliar white man in a house in the Mish is enough to send a child running off to hide.

Malcolm Knox

Malcolm Knox is a former literary editor of The Sydney Morning Herald, and has won three Walkley awards for journalism. His books include Jamaica, The Life and Bluebird.

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