Decipher the mysterious 'prison tree' of 1,500 years old

AUSTRALIA "Prison Tree" has been a popular tourist destination for decades thanks to the story of the giant hollow tree trunk that holds aboriginal people.

Curious tourist with Derby's baobab tree. Photo: Philiphist.

It is a 1,500 year old baobab tree in the south of Derby town, Western Australia (WA). This giant tree has a giant hollow trunk, with a diameter of over 15.2 m. In addition to the trunk there is a narrow opening.

The first story of the "prisoner tree" Derby appeared in the 1940s. At that time, Vlase Zanalis, a WA artist, went camping in the Kimberley region and was particularly interested in baobab trees. One of his paintings depicts a "prison tree" in the town of Wyndham, nearly 500 km from Derby. An article in 1949 reporting on the Zanalis exhibition mentioned the work, but misrepresented that it was a baobab tree in Derby - used to lock aboriginal prisoners in the 1890s.

From there, the "prison tree" Derby has become a popular tourist destination for decades. Not only that, it is also listed on the list of protected heritage of Western Australia.

Vlase Zanalis's painting, Boab Prison Tree Wyndham, was misrepresented in a 1949 article. Photo: ABC.

By the 1960s, a documentary series showed that local officials in Derby were well aware that the town's 1,500-year-old baobab tree was not a place for aboriginal people, but they could not deny its tourism value.

Jenny Kloss, manager of the Derby Visitor Center, confirmed the baobab tree was not a "prison tree". "It is the final gathering point before going to the official prison. They are not really locked up inside the trunk, but chained to the surrounding trees," Kloss said, without commenting further on the authorities. Should I rename my tree?

Dr. Elizabeth Grant from the University of Adelaide said that inaccurate information and the heat of the "black tourism" increasingly embellished the mysterious veil around the tree. In particular, black tourism is the activity of exploring destinations related to war, death or crime, the most common are battlefields, prisons and courts.

This scholar affirmed that until now there is no evidence strong enough to confirm the above story. She condemned the tourism promotion method as mentioned above, because false information does not reflect any details of how Aboriginal Australians have been robbed.

In addition, baobab, which is the sacred tree of aboriginal people, is regarded as individual characteristics. And the 1,500-year-old baobab tree in Derby is no exception, when Aboriginal people choose it as a place to store ancestral remains. This information is also not fully mentioned on the sign near the tree. Dr. Grant hopes future studies can find clues about the remains of the tree trunk, and insists the baobab tree should be seen as a sacred site - instead of a false story about a prison prison. people.

The "Prison Tree" is located on the Derby highway, a few kilometers from the airport and town. A fence was built around the tree to prevent visitors from getting too close, as many people used to engrave their names or paint graffiti on the trunk - this was banned. Visitors are warned that snakes live around the tree.

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