The Prison BOAB Tree is a 1,500 year old Boab south of Derby in Northern Territory that was allegedly used as a lockup for prisoners on their way to Derby.
The tree has a girth of nearly 15 metres with an opening on one side of it and hollow within it, however, it was more likely prisoners were simply chained to the tree as a stopping point in transit.
This particular tree may not have been the prison tree, however, it is a tourist attraction and it attracts a lot of tourists, so its story is maintained.
Regardless if it is the right tree or not, it is a wonderful tree to take a look at and marvel at the many centuries it has been there.
The Prison Boab Tree originates from a dark history in the days before Derby was established in the 1880s. The pearling industry wanted divers and workers for the pearling boats and some settlers became kidnappers known as blackbirders.
Blackbirders rounded up Aboriginal people from the West Kimberley region and put them in chains to march them to the coast. Some may have held the captives at the Boab Prison Tree while waiting for a boat.
Pastoralists supported the blackbirders believing the older Aboriginal people would be more peaceful if the younger men were removed. It is hard to imagine they could think they would be peaceful about it and a settler ended up killed.
In the late 1880s, the government built the Derby Gaol and hundreds of Aboriginals were held captive in it and another near Derby Jetty. Prisoners transported to Derby walked between 24 and 48 kilometres per day and camped overnight at stations, waterholes, or wells. Some prisoners who rested at the Prison Boab Tree would have spent the night before at Yeeda Station or Nobby’s Well.
Most of the Aboriginal prisoners were charged with killing and eating livestock, a common story from colonial days where Aboriginal people were charged for killing animals when they were essentially hunting as they have always done, only the type of animal changed.
In contrast to the horrible history for the Aboriginal people, the Boab tree is significant to the Nyikina people and is considered to be imbued with special mystical forces.
They call the boab tree Larrkardiy and according to traditional law, people who injure or intrude upon one without authority could suffer from retribution by the mystical forces.
The green and mature nuts were used for food and medicine. String can be made from the bark of the trunk and root. Water can be found in the hollow of the tree after rain.
To get there:
Coming from the Great Northern Hwy, continue to Derby on the Derby Hwy (continue straight ahead from Broome or turn right from Fitzroy Crossing). Follow Derby Hwy for about 35km and turn right at the brown sign for Prison Boab Tree. The parking area is about 300m.
From Derby, head south on the Derby Hwy towards Broome. The brown sign for Prison Boab Tree is about 3km or so out of town. Turn left and the parking area is about 300m.