No island home

In the evening the dry wind blows from the hills and across the plains
I close my eyes and I’m standing in a boat on the sea a-gain
And I’m holding that long turtle spear and I feel I’m close now
To where it must be and my island home is waiting for me
And my island home my island home my island home is waiting for me

– My Island Home, The Warumpi Band

The Townsville Correctional Centre replaced the old Townsville Prison at Stuart Creek.

Stuart Creek Prison, Townsville
Stuart Creek Prison, Townsville in the old days

Stuart Creek, as it was called, was a 19th century bucket-in-your-cell prison. Nearly all Palm Island men and many of the women spend time in the Townsville prison at some time in their lives. There are people doing life sentences there for doing nothing. Take Auntie Gwen, doing life because after years of domestic violence she killed her husband. White women get off on those sort of charges, juries give the benefit of the doubt to white women but not to blackfellas like Auntie Gwen.

In 1980, I was sent to Townsville Prison for doing nothing.

The Magistrate (Mr Winmill) convicted me summarily in the court one day. He told me that it was for contempt of court. Snr Sgt Sanderson, the police prosecutor told the magistrate that I had said to him during smoko that “You have that magistrate in your pocket”.

All I had dome was to go along to court to support my friends who had been charged with offences they did not commit — political graffiti (see photo). The only person who helped me that day in court was Cheri Imlah, her ancestors are from the Bundjalung Tribe. No whitefella helpedme that day.

I was in prison with two Murri men (among others), one named Murdoch and another named Poynter.

Whitefellas in prison told me to keep away from Murdoch. But he did me no harm. He just sat in the yard a said: “I have seen the promised land, I have been to the mountain top” quoting Martin Luther King’s I-had-a-dream speech. I do not think the other whitefellas understood, but I did. They were just simple men, many in there for the crime of poverty, they had not paid their fines for drink driving. Townsville is a hot, army town. The Lavarack baracks have been there for 40 years (since 1968). The americans were ther durting the Second world war. My Auntie was a telex operator in the airforce there during the war. My partner’s dad was there too, as a navigator.  Mu uncle Frank died up north-east  of there in the Coral Sea in 1945 flying a plane. He too was in the airforce. He won a Distinguished Flying Cross [DFC with bar] for his contribution during the war against fascism. Many Murris fought in the desert in Egypt and in the islands but they did not get any medals. One was refused service in the Cairns RSL when he was de-mobbed. [Peace – a workers’ journey by Phil O’Brien]

Back to 1980 and T’vlle prison. A big highland man from Papua New Guinea bashed me one day, out there in the yard. We were just sitting down playing drafts and the next thing I know i was thrown down onto the concrete and this huge man was on top of me about to smash my head into the cement.

Not one white fella came to my aid.

A prison guard pointed an armalite rifle in my face from above, telling us to stop fighting. The PNG man had a screw lose. I begged him that day to stop or we would both be dead. I thought the guard was going to shoot us both. The PNG man came back from wherever his mad rage had taken him. He let me go. The prison authorities put me in solitary confinement after that. They left the light on in my cell. They came to me in the night time and scared me. Horrible loud commercial music was piped into my cell day and night.

This bank has shares in Uranium - August 1980, Townsville
This bank has shares in Uranium - August 1980, Flinders Mall, Townsville

My lawyers were incompetent.

I served most of my sentence before I got out on appeal.

I won my appeal after I sacked my lawyers. The judge said that there was nothing he could do about the sentence because I had served most of it. I received no compensation. But my punishment is nothing to what the Murris get.

While I was in T’vlle Prison (called Stuart Creek in those days) there was a hunger strike after a prison riot. The prison superintendent goaded me, he wanted me to eat. I refused. He called me out in the yard,

“Com’ on Mr Civil Liberties, eat.”

I would not eat and break the strike.

At the time there was a young aboriginal man working in the prison kitchen. His name was Lance Poynter — one of the heroes of Palm Island after Mulrunji was killed by Hurley.

Lance, my brother, I send my respect for who you are and what you have done for your brothers and sisters.


This may be kind of work Lex will do:

And this is the Minister who put him there.

The most racist minister since Joh Bjelke Petersen.

When Labor won Government in July 1998, Judy Spence was sworn in as the Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Policy, Women’s Policy and Fair Trading. Judy Spence entered politics in 1989 as the Labor Member for Mt Gravatt and is now Queensland’s longest serving MP for the seat of Mt Gravatt. Ms Spence is also the State’s first female Police and Corrective Services Minister.

The minister may be contacted at Office of the Minister for Police and Corrective Services
PO Box 15195,
City East,
QLD, 4002.
Level 24, 50 Ann Street,
QLD, 4000.

Telephone: (07) 3239 0199
Fax: (07) 3221 9985


Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

— Dylan Thomas

“The poor tell us who we are,
The prophets tell us who we could be,
So we hide the poor,
And jail the prophets.”

from Phil Berrigan

One thought on “No island home

  1. What is the mailing address for Lex Wotton so we can send postcards from Melbourne please ?
    Also to let the Queensland prison authorities know Lex is being supported outside.

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