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Imprisoned by Nature – The Harsh Reality behind Wyndham’s Boab Tree

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Written By Lakeisha Ethans

Heritage Gardener with Grafting Expertise

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Home » Ancient & Remarkable Trees » Imprisoned by Nature – The Harsh Reality behind Wyndham’s Boab Tree

Positioned just south of Wyndham, Western Australia, close to the rustic allure of The Diggers Rest and the essential Moochalabra Dam, the Boab Prison Tree marks a significant point of historical interest.

A hollow behemoth, this Adansonia gregorii (Boab) tree on the King River road was more than just a part of the landscape; it was a silent witness to a turbulent chapter of Australian history.

In the late 19th century, as Wyndham grew as a frontier town, its police noticed something intriguing about the large Boab.

The tree, already marked by nature with holes in its upper branches, revealed its hollow nature.

It was 1890s practicality that transformed this giant into the Hillgrove Lockup, a makeshift prison for Aboriginal prisoners en route to Wyndham for trial.

Historical accounts tell a vivid tale of its use—a bottle tree with a storied past.

When “blacks were bad,” as an old 1931 news clipping uncomfortably phrases, the tree’s spacious hollow (over 100 square feet of dark, earthen room) served as a nighttime cell for up to 30 prisoners, though this number might be an overestimation.

Inside the Wyndham Boab Prison Tree
Inside the Wyndham Boab Prison Tree – Image by Jon Connell via Flickr (CC BY 2.0 DEED)

The 1940s brought more tales of makeshift incarcerations under the shadow of the Boab.

One evening, a trooper found himself with too many prisoners and too little space within the tree. The solution was harsh yet pragmatic; he chained some prisoners to the tree’s massive trunk.

One of these prisoners, described in the records as a man of imposing build, managed to escape by the morning light, leaving behind only the bent remnants of his iron chains, shaped now like a hairpin.

As decades passed, the tree grew in girth and lore, measuring nearly 40 feet in circumference.

Inscribed on its trunk was “Hillgrove Police Station,” a title that seemed to anchor the tree in its role in local law enforcement.

This inscription, along with the names and initials of countless travelers, was deeply carved into the tree’s soft bark.

These marks have faded over time, much like the memories of those who passed through its shadow.

By 1966, clarity was needed as confusion arose with another Boab Prison tree in Derby, which, contrary to some reports, had never been used as a prison.

The Wyndham Boab Prison Tree
Image via Jon Connell via Flickr (CC BY 2.0 DEED)

This distinction underscored the unique, if somber, role of the Wyndham tree in Australia’s penal history.

Today, the Boab Prison tree near Wyndham is not just as a natural wonder, but a poignant reminder of its past life as a prison.

It continues to draw visitors, serving as a historical marker that prompts reflection on the intersection of natural beauty and human history—a tree that locked away more than just secrets in its hollow heart.

Digging Deeper

Location

Located just south of Wyndham, Western Australia, the Boab Prison tree sits strategically on the King River road, near local landmarks The Diggers Rest and Moochalabra Dam.

Type of Tree

This historic tree is an Adansonia gregorii, commonly known as a Boab, notable for its hollow trunk and expansive girth.

Is Wyndham’s Boab Prison Tree Still Alive?

The Boab Prison tree in Wyndham remains a living piece of history, continuing to thrive and bear witness to the stories of ages past.

Can You Visit It?

Yes, the tree is accessible to visitors, standing as a significant historical and natural landmark on the tourist map of Wyndham.

Conservation

Efforts to preserve the integrity and health of the Boab Prison tree are ongoing, reflecting its importance to Australian heritage and the local ecosystem.

Legacy

The tree’s legacy extends beyond its biological life, serving as a poignant reminder of the historical practices and cultural narratives of the region.

Want More?

If the story of the Wyndham Prison Boab has sparked your curiosity, explore the captivating histories of other notable trees from around the world.

Consider the enduring narratives of the ancient Olive Trees of Gethsemane.

Experience the tranquil solitude of That Wānaka Tree in New Zealand, the esteemed Lone Cypress, or the intriguing story of the Great Kapok Tree.

Each tree is a stunning representation of nature’s lasting splendor, offering distinct and memorable views into the planet’s ecological wonders, including the towering Ombalantu Baobab tree.

The striking Sycamore Gap tree, however, tells a somber story, as it was cut down, marking a poignant chapter in its history.

Source – Wikipedia

Featured Image Credit: Djambalawa, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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Lakeisha Ethans

Heritage Gardener with Grafting Expertise

Lakeisha grew up in East Africa, literally surrounded by nature which sparked her interest in learning more about trees and plants from a very young age. She belongs to a family of gardeners, so for her, gardening is a way of life, a tradition she’s proud to uphold. As a self-taught gardener, Lakeisha has successfully grafted trees to produce hybrids for gardens and landscapes. When she’s not gardening, she’s writing about her experience with nature or watching baking fails!