Suing Qantas: a group of men say they were kicked off a flight and then locked in a bus. Photo: Dean Sewell
Qantas says eight young indigenous men who boarded QF2178 from Sydney to Port Macquarie during Reconciliation Week in May 2010 were ''intoxicated'' and ''abusive''; a rowdy bunch who tried to smoke inside the airport terminal and called a flight attendant ''f----ing white trash''.
However, the barrister representing the members of the Dunghutti nation who walked into the District Court on Monday said his clients had simply been ''boisterous'' after participating in a leadership program, and were ''excited'' about being on a plane.
Almost the only thing the prosecution and defence could agree on was that, only minutes after boarding the small aircraft, the men were removed by security guards, left sitting in a bus for at least half an hour, then escorted to the terminal by Australian Federal Police officers, where they were told there would not be another flight until the morning.
Half the men drove home to Kempsey in a hired car.
The others waited more than 12 hours for the next flight to Port Macquarie.
The men have returned to Sydney, represented by Anthony Black, SC, to claim damages from Qantas on the grounds of wrongful imprisonment.
Led by Aboriginal elder Michael Edwards, the men strenuously deny being drunk or behaving inappropriately, and argue there was therefore no justification for removing or detaining them in a bus with the doors locked.
''The action taken by Qantas that day was high-handed and contemptuous,'' Mr Black told the court.
''The behaviour of the defendant since has done nothing to redress that presentation.''
The men are seeking damages from Qantas for deprivation of liberty, as well as for embarrassment and aggravation.
Qantas will call witnesses who will say the men smelled of alcohol and swore repeatedly in the terminal before the flight, and that they continued their loud expletive-laden conversations when they boarded.
Flight attendant Kelly Kalimnios will claim that when she asked one of the men if he needed help with his bag, he said: ''This is s--t'' and then ''f--k off you f---ing white trash''.
Ms Kalimnios rang the pilot soon afterwards, saying she had been intimidated by the men and that she was not going to remain on the aircraft unless they were removed.
The security guards arrived soon afterwards.
The men deny Ms Kalimnios was abused. Mr Black said a number of passengers would give evidence that they had never used any loud, abusive or threatening language.
Among those witnesses is the outgoing independent federal MP Rob Oakeshott, who has written an affidavit supporting the men and decrying the actions of Qantas in removing them from the aircraft.