Last year, Aboriginal Elder and Palm Island Councillor was sentenced in Townsville (Queensland, Australia) to 6 years imprisonment.
Lex Wotten was found guilty by an all white jury in Brisbane the previous week. Lex had been charged with events that followed a pathologist white wash of the 2004 police killing in custody of a local man on Palm Island. The Queensland government responded to local indignation with the deployment of militarised police, the arrest of several Palm Island reidents and jailing of them in mainland.
After much protest, the police officer involved in the killing in custody was charged with manslaughter and was acquitted by an all white jury in a Brisbane trial. The police officer was promoted to rank of Inspector in the hi profile/hi tourist enclave Gold Coast receiving $100,000 compensation for his troubles.
Lex Wotten also received an all white jury in Brisbane and was found guilty recently and sentenced last Friday to 6 years imprisonment.
1) Ciaron O’Reilly Article on the Lex Wotton case
2) A short history of Palm Island 1914 -1999 from the website of the Foundation for Aboriginal and Islander Research Action
The history of theAboriginal reserve system from its foundation in 1898 was characterised by a largely incompetant and dishonest administration which acted with a blatant disregard to basic human rights.
Of the many Aboriginal reserves set up across Queensland,in particular gained a reputation as a “punishment place”, a reputation which still lingers today.
Before white invasion in North Queensland, Palm Island belonged to the Manbarra people. Descendants of the Manbarra were still living on the tropical island, 65 km NE. of Townsville, when in 1914 the Queensland Government gazetted the Island as a reserve.
No further action was taken by the Government until 1918 when a cyclone flattened the Hull River Aboriginal Reserve near Tully. The Queensland Protector, J.W. Bleakley, then decided that Palm Island would become the replacement site. He regarded the location as an ideal place to confine Aboriginal and Islander people who were regarded by white society as “problem cases” and “uncontrollables.”
Over the next two decades around 1630 people from 40 different Aboriginal groups across Queensland were removed by the Department and deposited on the Island.
Removal to Palm Island was the heaviest punishment a Department officer could legally administer. In charge of the new reserve settlement was an ex-army captain, Robert Curry, a man with no previous administrative experience.
From the start the settlement was underfinanced, with the residents of the island surviving on meagre rations and living in complete poverty. Leprosy and venereal disease spread through the settlement and the doctors appointed to the island were less than competent in their approach to medicine.
No inspections of Palm Island were made by the Department until the, Donald Thatcher visited in 1923 and was critical of the squalid living conditions he observed.
This quickly led to a visit by the Protector, Bleakley but no real improvement in conditions occurred. Administrator Robert Curry continued to feud with the other white staff on the Island. Gradually he succumbed to the combined effects of alcoholism and mental illness and in February 1930 he went on a destructive rampage, killing his own children and torching several buildings before he was shot by one of his own Aboriginal staffers.
As was the case on all Queensland reserves, the residents of Palm Island were subject to strict supervision. Conditions were jail-like. No one could leave the Island without the superintendant’s permission and he had the power to censor all outgoing mail.
Speaking Aboriginal languages was forbidden. Employment opportunities were limited and the wages earned by Aboriginal workers were ‘managed’ and misappropriated by the Department. Despite this high level of enforced control, poor health conditions continued to prevail. In 1957 a series of incidents involving the staff treatment of Aboriginal women and a decision by the Department to cut wages, led to a strike by the residents.
The Department responded by expelling 25 identified ringleaders of the resistance, and their families, from . A second strike occurred in 1974 when the Department sacked the local Community Council and threatened to turn control of the Island over to the Townsville City Council.
The Department finally relinquished control of the Island in 1985 when title for the Island was passed to the Community Council in the form of a DOGIT. (Deed of Grant in Trust.)
While this gave the residents a greater say in the administration of the island, the transfer of title led to the removal of much of the Government infrastructure. Soon after the decision was made, barges arrived and houses, shops, the timber mill and farming equipment were disassembled and shipped back to the mainland.
Like many remote communities, Palm Island today continues to grapple with social problems including high unemployment, alcohol abuse and crime, a direct legacy of 80 years of mismanagement by the Queensland Government.
3) Eyewitness of the trial longtime Brisbane activist Ian Curr
The Bush Telegraph site is set up and used a lot by Brisbane activists who came through the late 70’s when civil liberties were sispended for several years and perscution of activists was esclated. Besides a lot of the unresolved conflicts played out it is a good source of info on the present scene in Queensland, Austraia, where last week Aboriginal Elder Lex Wotten has just been sentenced to six years following the police killing of an aboriginal resident on Palm Island 2004
Tags: Prisoner Solidarity