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Rottnest visit a powerful experience: Johnson

Veteran Fremantle defender Michael Johnson has opened up about the moving AFL Players’ Indigenous Camp visit to Western Australia’s Rottnest Island.

Johnson said the trip to Rottnest Island – a former Aboriginal prison – was particularly difficult for a number of the younger players in the squad.

From 1838, for nearly 100 years, Rottnest Island, was a prison where 3700 Aboriginal men and boys, ranging in age from eight to 70, were imprisoned, often for minor offences such as stealing food.

According to some elders, being incarcerated on Rottnest was a double punishment for the indigenous people because the island is a place forbidden to them culturally.

“I think a couple of the young guys found [visiting Rottnest Island] real tough” – Michael Johnson

The prison closed in 1931. During this time 10 per cent of the prison population, 369 prisoners, died from illness or malnutrition. It is reported that five were hanged.

Those who died were buried in unmarked graves on the island.

“Being a local Noongar man and knowing a little bit of the history over here, it’s been good to bring all the boys who have been playing AFL for opposition teams to come over and experience the history, and learn about the island, and what it was before people came here and holidayed,” Johnson said.

“It’s a really strong, powerful visit to Rottnest but it’s good to see people are still strong ,and happy enough to teach other Indigenous people out there,” Johnson said.

“I think a couple of the young guys have found it real tough.

“It’s something everyone wants to learn about because there’s a lot of history about this beautiful place.”

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