The last remnants of the Swan Valley Nyungah camp have been demolished after its closure by the West Australian government more than a decade ago following allegations of widespread sexual and substance abuse.
The bulldozers moved into the camp near Lockridge on Tuesday morning, flattening the derelict buildings that used to house the indigenous families who claimed via the Federal Court of Australia the camp closure was contrary to the Racial Discrimination Act.
The WA planning department said work would now continue to resurrect the land as a place of indigenous cultural significance, including a ceremonial area, a memory wall and story trails.
Duncan Ord, acting director general of the department, said the buildings were uninhabitable due to extensive vandalism.
“Extensive consultation with Aboriginal groups, representatives and the wider community has been undertaken … and there is overwhelming support for returning the former camp site to its natural state,” Mr Ord said.
But Swan Valley elder Bella Bropho said the demolition was a “desecration”.
“The government is intensively trying to destroy the last visible vestiges of what was a thriving community,” Ms Bropho said.
“The government actions are just one more example of the desecration of sacred land and the complete disregard that all governments hold for the first peoples’ law, culture and religion.”
National attention was focused on the camp in 1999 when 15-year-old Susan Taylor committed suicide in the reserve.
The subsequent inquest accepted evidence that rape and sexual abuse of minors at the camp was widespread, that sexually transmitted diseases were higher than with non-Aboriginal children and that drug taking was a major problem.
Former camp elder Robert Bropho, who compared himself to Martin Luther King and Gandhi during his trial, was originally jailed for 12 months for indecently assaulting a 13-year-old girl at the Swan Valley reserve in 2006.
He was then jailed for six years after the WA District Court convicted him of five counts of unlawful carnal knowledge of a girl under 13 years between 1990 and 1991.
He died while serving the sentence.
Ms Bropho, his daughter, said she still would not accept her father was guilty, adding WA’s child protection authorities were culpable for Ms Taylor’s death.
“It was a political attack on him – and in the eyes of the family we don’t see that (guilt),” she said.
“And the trouble with Susan was none of her case workers understood her, and she had a history of suicidal thoughts.”
Mounted police are at the camp monitoring protesters, who last week marched on parliament.