Western Australia 1904
Aboriginal Concentration Camp
The photo of prisoners is from a book coming out in November this year. http://uwap.uwa.edu.au/products/every-mothers-son-is-guilty-policing-the-kimberley-frontier-of-western-australia-1882-1905
The photo, in front of Wyndham gaol, ironically, is designed to show that the treatment of Aboriginal prisoners in Western Australia was humane and orderly. It was issued following Dr Walter Roth’s ‘Royal Commission into the Treatment of the Natives.’ Roth said the criminal justice system operating in the Kimberley was a ‘brutal and outrageous state of affairs.’ Men were arrested by police on horseback, usually without warrants or evidence on various East Kimberley pastoral stations that had been established on the Aboriginal country mostly in the 1880s.
Most (including at times children as young as ten ) were charged with the ‘unlawful possession of beef’ for allegedly spearing the introduced cattle and received sentences of up to three years gaol often including a flogging. On police patrols over several weeks or months up to 40 people at a time were caught and then neck chained together and forced to walk up to 300 km to gaol where, despite there being no regulation allowing it, the neck chains stayed on. Following senior police directives Aboriginal women were never arrested but were bought in with the same group. Not to act as witnesses for the defence but as witnesses for the prosecution. Again without any legal authority they too were neck or ankle chained. Prior to 1905 prisoners from Wyndham had their neck chains fastened with ‘iron split links’ that were extremely difficult to remove. The links were not police issue but purchased privately from an ironmonger in Perth. They could only be opened with ‘a hammer and a chisel with the prisoners head on a blacksmiths anvil’, a process that would take up to ten minutes. Most prisoners did not know what they were arrested for, why they were in gaol, or why they were being punished. Roth directed (among a litany of other issues) the government of the day to stop using neck chains although they were used in Western Australia until at least 1956.