STORY BY SEBASTIAN NEUWEILER AND TYNE LOGAN
“Every time we eat, we’re practising our culture and our beliefs.”
Kelly Somers is spokesperson for the Bandyup Action Group, which advocates on behalf of prisoners inside Bandyup Women’s Prison, on the northeastern outskirts of Perth.
Ms Somers says that with Aboriginal women making up half the prison’s population, their cultural needs should be met.
“Inside the prison they cater to other diets such as vegetarian, gluten free and some religious diets,” she says.
“There’s so many restrictions in Bandyup, having the right to decide what you eat would give people a sense that there is choice, a small choice.”
An October, 2014 WA Custodial Inspector’s report – the most recent on conditions at Bandyup – noted that kangaroo meat, a traditional food for Aboriginal people, was no longer available inside Perth’s largest women’s prison, an observation now refuted by the Department of Corrective Services.
In the report, Custodial Inspector Professor Neil Morgan encouraged the prison to expedite the reinstatement of kangaroo meat to the prison menu.
According to the 2011 report, kangaroo meat had been removed due to the lack of a supplier some time between 2008 and 2011. At the time, prisoners requested “more bush tucker” be put on the menu.
“Prior to the 2011 inspection, Bandyup’s kitchen had ceased supplying kangaroo meat due to the loss of their preferred supplier,” the 2014 report said.
“Aboriginal women at Bandyup still cannot access traditional foods, yet they are keenly aware that male prisoners in a number of other prisons can.”
According to the 2014 report, Aboriginal women make up 50 per cent of the prison population, giving Bandyup the highest proportion of Aboriginal prisoners in any Perth metropolitan prison.
The report said the prison kitchen had acknowledged the need to provide traditional foods and had plans to serve kangaroo and damper once a week.
“The kitchen acknowledged this issue, and was arranging a new supplier and re-establishing plans to serve kangaroo and damper once a week,” the report says.
But the Department of Corrective services says the prison has been serving kangaroo meat regularly for the past two years.
“On Monday evenings, either kangaroo tail or kangaroo stew is available as a meal option for prisoners,” a departmental spokesperson said.
“Prison menus are developed in line with community standards and with consideration of nutritional, cultural, seasonal and other factors.”
The availability of kangaroo meat has been confirmed by former Bandyup prisoner Lesley Dowling, who was in Bandyup until September 2014, two weeks before the report was published.
In another recognition of Aboriginal cultural practices, Professor Morgan recommended the prison offer Aboriginal prisoners the opportunity to prepare and cook traditional food themselves.
The report also noted prisons should “give Aboriginal prisoners the opportunity to access and organise the cooking of cultural foods independently of the kitchen, including using the currently disused fire-pit”.
The department says this has also been implemented.
“A number of women, including Aboriginal women, have the opportunity to participate in cooking as part of their work placement in the prison kitchen,” the departmental spokesperson said.
“Bandyup’s fire pit is used for special occasions such as NAIDOC week.”
However, Lesley Dowling said the pit, though previously used for cooking and as a place for conversation, was closed off as a conversation place during renovations to the prison in 2014. She said during her time in Bandyup it was only used during NAIDOC week.
Professor Morgan was not available to comment on the discrepancy in his and the Department of Corrective Services accounts.
For Noongar elder Mingli Wungire, 70, it is important that traditional foods be available to prisoners.
She says kangaroo is a traditional food that reminds Noongar people of home.
“Kangaroo makes Noongar people feel good when they eat it, that’s my experience anyway,” Ms Wungire said.
“We’ve been eating it for thousands of years – it reminds us of country.”