Deathscapes

Ward 5b - Removal From Country

Deathscapes

Aboriginal Prisoners and Removal from Country in Western Australia

A group of Aboriginal men are standing in a row, chained together around their necks. White men and their horses stand behind them. [imagecaption] Collection: (Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery Q1986.8.138). ‘Chain Gang Western Australia’. Photographer Alexander Morton 1897. Prepared by J. W. Beattie. [/imagecaption]

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Much of the attention on Mr Ward’s case has focused on questions of transport, and especially the condition of the vehicle in which he was transported. Yet these questions must be located against the wider picture of the removal and dispersal of Aboriginal people across the state, of transportation away from Country to missions and reserves, as well as of enforced transport to prison in convoys by road and by boat.

According to historian Fiona Skyring, ‘The first legislative action by the colonial government that was specific to “the Aboriginal Natives of Western Australia” was the 1841 Act constituting the prison for Aboriginal offenders at Rottnest Island, off the coast of Fremantle… Rottnest Island [Wajemup] was used as an Aboriginal prison through to the early 20th Century. During World War 1 an internment camp for “enemy aliens” was also established there. Between 1893 and 1931, at least 3,670 Aboriginal people were incarcerated at Rottnest. They included men of all ages and boys, some as young as eight years old, brought from regions across Western Australia. The island is covered with unmarked graves of at least 373 Aboriginal men and youth who died there… Most of these people died from disease exacerbated by appalling conditions, and at least five Aboriginal men were executed at Rottnest’ (Fiona Skyring, Justice, 3-4).

Skyring notes that ‘Photos taken in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries show rows of Aboriginal men in neck manacles and cuffs, chained together for a journey of thousands of kilometres along the coast from the Pilbara, Murchison Gascoyne and Kimberley regions to Fremantle jail’ (256).

 

 


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