**Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples should be aware that the following contains names of the deceased.**
Newcastle-based singer-songwriter Ben Leece released his outstanding debut album, No Wonder the World is Exhausted, two years ago and while that album is rich enough to keep fans going for years it is welcome news that Leece has released a new single. As with the songs on the album, ‘Magpie’ is direct and heartfelt – one of Leece’s trademarks is that, in a manner of speaking, he is not playing around. He does not waste the listener’s time, or his own, with songs that do not have an emotional, often visceral, impact.
‘Magpie’ is written in memory of 17-year-old Stephen ‘Whiff’ Smith, a young Aboriginal man who was found dead along the railway tracks between the small rural communities of Quirindi and Werris Creek in north-west New South Wales. Despite evidence that Smith’s death was suspicious, the coroner returned an open finding; the police investigation was reopened 23 years later, in 2018.
Leece attended Quirindi High School, where Smith was three years ahead of him. He remembers Smith fondly; he says everyone does. Smith lived in the nearby town of Werris Creek, home of the Magpies football team. He was a talented footballer and his father, Stephen Smith Sr – known as Coog – was the Magpies’ coach. It was with the Smith family’s permission and consultation that Leece wrote ‘Magpie’.
‘It’s not justice,’ says Leece, ‘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.’