Prison Trees

Looking (in winter at least) much like they have been turned upside down with their roots waving proudly in the sky, Boab trees are a beautiful, ancient symbol of the Kimberley outback. One such specimen, the Boab Prison Tree near Derby is 14m in diameter and believed to be around 1,500 years old.

Its narrow 1m by 2m doorway leads into a gloomy enclosure which speaks of sorrows untold. Capable of holding a number of prisoners, it was allegedly used by police during the 1800s as a lock-up for Aboriginal prisoners on their way to Derby for sentencing. Whether or not it was actually used as a prison tree is open to debate but it is certainly symbolic of some of the harsh treatment dealt out to the local indiginous people.

Not far from the Prison Tree is Myall’s Bore and Cattle Trough which was built in 1910 and later extended to a whopping 120 metres. It could handle up to 500 bullocks at one time. Just imagine the chaos, ruckus and bullock poo with 500 of them jockeying for a drink! The water apparently has a rich mineral content and was reputed to have therapeutic properties. That, gentle reader, sounds to us like another way of saying it is bore water which is probably so mineralised as to be undrinkable for humans, without lashings of red cordial. A bath-house once stood near the trough, intended we can only infer, for stockmen to make the transition from bush to bar at the end of a long ride, with minimal olfactory discomfort to the gentle ladies of Derby (and anyone with a sense of smell for that matter).

Around the Kimberley there are also a multitude of World War II airstrips and bases and the Derby region once hosted a large military presence. It’s a little-known fact that during WWII, Derby was bombed by Japanese planes, as the air base and jetty were steadily being used by Australian forces. More recently, refugees are now housed at Royal Australian Air Force Base Curtin, which is located to the south of Derby.

Should you ever find yourself on a quiz show, it may also be helpful to konw that Derby was famous in the 1920s as the terminus of the first scheduled aviation service in Australia. West Australian Airways Ltd began their service with a first flight on 5 December 1921 and at one time the Perth to Derby service was the world’s longest passenger airline route.

A sleepy, little-known but fascinating part of the world.

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