Palm Island: Through a Long Lens
In November 2004, Mulrunji Doomadgee's tragic death triggered civil unrest within the Indigenous community of Palm Island. This led to the first prosecution of a Queensland police officer in relation to a death in custody. Despite prolonged media attention, much of it negative and full of stereotypes, few Australians know the turbulent history of "Australia's Alcatraz", a political prison set up to exile Queensland's 'troublesome blacks'. In Palm Island, Joanne Watson gives the first substantial history of the island from pre-contact to the present, set against a background of some of the most explosive episodes in Queensland history. The repressive regimes were under the guise of protectionism. But police control continues, and there is a continuing failure to address the causes of ongoing Indigenous disadvantage. Palm Island, often heart-wrenching and at times uplifting, is a study in the dynamics of power and privilege, and how it is resisted.
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Published by the innovative Aboriginal Studies Press, Palm Island is the first substantial history of the island from pre-European invasion to the present. Exploring some of the most explosive and intriguing events in Queensland’s history, Watson’s compelling narrative is the outcome of more than 20 years of oral history and archival research, including a comprehensive examination of church, court and administrative records and diverse media reports.
Yet this compelling history explores the rich tapestry of humour and hope, as well as helplessness and hate, and especially the combined existence of powerlessness and resilience that characterises the indigenous people of Palm Island.
Watson’s thorough research demonstrates that the island community has had an extraordinary past, a history at the same time “rich, staggeringly brave, stoic and humorous, tragic and inspiring”.
As historian Rosalind Kidd rightly points out, Watson’s work on Palm Island and its people is “an important caution to those who mistake official statements for historical truths”.
Indeed it is primarily talented, empathetic and hard-working historians such as Joanne Watson who can best write Australian history.
Ross Fitzgerald, Sydney Morning Herald Spectrum 17.4.10
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