Prison rethink

FREMANTLE PRISON’S role in the incarceration of Indigenous people is to be reinterpreted so its displays more accurately represent the dispossession and discrimination they faced.

The UNESCO world heritage site recently received $411,000 from the Morrison government for an Aboriginal heritage management plan, as well as to improve its universal access.

WA arts minister David Templeman welcomed the money, as well as announcing a $915,000 contract had been awarded to an Indigenous construction company for conservation works at the prison’s Commissariat.

“We are working to fund conservation works to ensure Fremantle Prison – one of the most significant heritage sites 

in Australia and the world – remains protected, harnesses its tourism and storytelling potential, and opens more areas of the prison to be discovered,” Mr Templeman said.

“It has a rich, deep history both in its built form and in the development of Fremantle and the State, but also in the truth-telling of our past – a history that is part of Western Australia’s path to reconciliation.”

The McGowan government has already spent $3.5 million repairing the main cell block and a further $1.6m has been allocated from its Covid recovery plan for the main parade ground and hospital.

Local MLA Simone McGurk said it was a much-loved attraction and she was particularly pleased Indigenous company Kardan Constructions had won the contract.

Federal Labor MP Josh Wilson said last year he wrote to environment minister Sussan Ley calling for heritage infrastructure to be part of the Morrison government’s Covid recovery plan, and was pleased to see $1.6m put towards the prison.

But he says the reinterpretation of its Indigenous history was also an opportunity to reflect on what they still faced today.

“Taking care of our natural and cultural heritage is critical to our character and history,” Mr Wilson said.

“It’s how we connect our stories and identity to the physical world, and it has a key role in the ongoing journey of reconciliation.

“When we consider the brutal treatment of Indigenous people through the colonial justice system, we should apply ourselves to the national shame of entrenched injustices that still see appalling and unacceptable rates of incarceration and deaths in custody.”

Mr Wilson said the $411,000 was welcome, but fell short of the estimated $5m needed to address basic conservation works.

Prison heritage interpretation officer Ooagh Quigley says “the journey is just starting” with regards to telling the Indigenous history, but said a well-conserved prison was the first priority.

“Without keeping the buildings in shape … the Indigenous stories can’t be told,” Dr Quigley said.

by STEVE GRANT and SAXON OMA

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