The hundreds of Indigenous deaths in custody that have occurred since 1991 have been remembered over the weekend in Western Australia’s South West region.
Organised by Amnesty Margaret River, the event was a peaceful installation of 437 Aboriginal flags at Riflebutts Reserve in Prevelly, ten kilometres west of Margaret River.
Amnesty Margaret River spokesperson, Rod Whittle, said each flag represented an Indigenous person who had died in custody since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody handed down its recommendations in 1991.
“Indigenous Australians are caught in a mire of injustice, bequeathed by history, and these flags represent our Aboriginal brothers and sisters who fell victim to it,” Whittle said.
Whittle said these deaths had sadly continued and that he wanted to call attention to the issue and seek reform.
“We remember and pay homage to them.”
Pibulman Wadandi Elder Wayne Webb and his wife Toni Webb, who are well-respected in the area, gave their support for the project. They said it would be a thoughtful and peaceful way to protest the devastating numbers of Aboriginal deaths in custody, which have occurred and still occur Australia-wide.
Diane Shanahan, another spokesperson for Amnesty Margaret River, came up with the installation idea. She thought it would be an effective way to visualise the numbers.
“It is very hard to understand what a number looks like and I wanted people to appreciate how large the number was,” Shanahan said.
The flags were placed in position by a team of volunteers and the weather conditions enhanced the experience, with over 100 people viewing the display Saturday.
“The flags were blowing in the wind and it created a powerful, spiritual effect,” Shanahan said.
A petition asking for the remainder of the Royal Commission’s recommendations to be implemented was at the event and community members were invited to sign it. Whittle said over 100 people signed the petition on the day and that it will later be presented to the WA Government.
The Amnesty Margaret River group meets monthly and works together on campaigns to raise awareness of human rights abuses within Australia and across the globe.
“We are currently working on the offshore detention issue, the Tamil family on Christmas Island, Closing the Gap and justice issues in Western Australia,” Whittle said.
By Clare Alcock