‘Too many kill’em. Too many make ’em ill’: The Commission into Rottnest Prison as the context for Section 70
journal contributionposted on 29.02.2016, 16:24 by Katherine Roscoe
Rottnest (known to Whadjuk Nyoongar people as Wadjemup) is an island 18 kilometres off the coast of Western Australia. It served as a prison for Aboriginal men and boys between 1839 and 1903, and held a number of Aboriginal prisoners as an annex of Fremantle Prison until 1931. Over this time 3,676 Aboriginal males were incarcerated on Rottnest. An 1882 outbreak of influenza, which led to ten deaths, prompted only halfhearted government investigations. However, further influenza and measles outbreaks, which led to at least 53 deaths, occurred during the first few months in office for the new governor, Sir Frederick Napier Broome, in 1883. Broome took more decisive action than his predecessor had done, and in September formed a commission 'to inquire into the treatment of the Aboriginal Native Prisoners of the Crown in this Colony: And also certain other matters relative to Aboriginal Natives'. After an extensive inquiry, the commission recommended measures to improve the health of prisoners on Rottnest and, more broadly, the formation of a board which would supervise a network of 'Native Protectors' to provide welfare to 'old, infirm or needy natives'. After a series of political struggles over Aboriginal policy, an Aborigines Protection Board was established three years later, in 1886.