Tag Archives: Derby

The prison tree

Outside Derby there is an ancient boab tree.   They call it the prison tree.  They say this tree is around 1500 years old.  It has watched many cycles of human history.  When boabs age, they become hollow inside.  Trees this old are big enough for men to stand in.

The story is that the boab was used as a staging post for captured aboriginal people in early colonial days.   Under the beauty of a Kimberley sunset lies the dark past of the region.   The original inhabitants were treated with cruelty and disdain.  Dispossessed of their land, they were made into indentured servants, little more than slaves or killed if they did not submit.  They were captured and tethered to trees awaiting their fate.

While the history of this particular tree as a temporary prison is apparently suspect, it symbolises this violent period of Australian and British colonial history.  

I found it a very disturbing place.  A reminder that this country was built on dark deeds.  

This boab tree is still alive.  It’s not a monument but a living individual, scarred by tourist graffiti and morbid attention.  Has it absorbed some of the evil that was done here?  Perhaps. I felt I needed to see and acknowledge its pain.   I needed to say sorry for what we’d done.

Call me a tree hugger.  Call me crazy.  But that’s what went through my mind when I walked around this old boab tree.  It is still imprisoned by our past.


Watch the sunset from Derby wharf.  Bring drinks, nibbles a comfortable chair and your camera, if you like.  Or simply your eyes and ears.

It’s not a big tourist town.   You won’t have to peer over the shoulders of Country Road clad holidaymakers from the big cities.   The wharf is simple, industrial.   Timber planking underfoot, walk out along the wide pier and watch the eddies of the tide swirl in the water.

Walk west along the wharf.  The water becomes translucent, rose pink, amber, shimmering.  The sun seems to grow larger, dripping its final molten rays into the sea.  I apologise for the flowery words, but it’s a beauty.