SBS Learn
20 Jan 2015 - 4:23 PM  UPDATED 29 Mar 2016 - 4:35 PM

The participants visit Roebourne Prison and experience what it’s like to be incarcerated. The prison Superintendent explains the reasons why so many Aboriginal people are in the jail. Bo-dene says it’s a lot to do with choice and; “a bit of a cop out”.

"What we want to do is build a bridge between two worlds, we want people to understand one another."

Sharyn Derschow, 
Co-founder Linkidge Cross Communication Training Company, Karratha, WA
(former employee at Roebourne Prison) 
Meet Sharyn Derschow

Born in Port Hedland Sharyn is one of nine children. She is a Pilbara Aboriginal woman with connections to Banjima and Nyangumarta language groups. She speaks Yinjibarndi fluently and is based in Karratha. She has four sons who have Yinjibarndi blood ties also. The two eldest currently work in the mining industry. She has four grandchildren. During her career Sharyn has also previously worked at Roebourne Prison as part of the Indigenous Family Violence Program catering to violent offenders, and worked in a variety of community development, counseling and governmental roles. You can hear more about Sharyn’s journey by watching First Contact Episode 3 in full OnDemand.

  • Roebourne is located in the Pilbara region in northern Western Australia.
  • The nearest town to Roebourne is Port Hedland.
  • The Pilbara region contains vast deposits of minerals, petroleum and natural gas.
  • The name Pilbara comes from the Aboriginal Nyamal and Banyjima languages word bilybara meaning ‘dry’.


Superintendent: “All come over here for a minute please.”

The superintendent wants to set them all straight on why most prisoners are behind bars.

Superintendent: “The majority of the prisoners in this prison at any given time are in for driving offences. It starts early. The first time you get caught underage driving, no license – probably a suspended sentence. And from there every court appearance it starts to get…you’re now going to jail for a month. Next offence… you’re now going to jail for three months. And including in that…you’ve now lost your licence for life. There are guys in here who have licence suspensions for five lifetimes.”

Despite most prisoners serving time for relatively minor offences, Bo-dene thinks the solution is to get tougher.

Bo-dene: “Do you think then there should be harsher penalties from the beginning? ‘Cause if it’s just a suspended sentence from the first offence would it really deter you?”

Superintendent: “I wouldn’t say there should be harsh offences (penalties) from the start, I think it needs to be education.”

Bo-dene: “I think I’m a big advocate of … if you know something is wrong, don’t do it, ‘cause you’re going to end up here.”

Superintendent: ”Sometimes it’s not that easy. When you get to understand Aboriginal culture, it’s not like us. If we lost our licence and our uncle came up and said... ‘hey would you drive me to the pub’, we’d say no. Aboriginal people can’t say that. They have to respect what they are told by a significant relative or an elder. Some of the communities from this area are more than 2,500 kilometres away. There is no public transport in this region at all. From what I see every day, the bare choices that are made are not made with malice. They are made because there is nothing else to do and no-one to help them.”

Bo-dene: “I find it hard because I think that a lot of it is to do with choice. I just think it’s a bit of a cop out.”

Resources and related content

Click here for teachers notes and resources.

Related content

Living Black - Pilbara Petals.

Living Black - Reviving Roebourne.

Big hART has been working with prisoners in Roebourne on writing and recording music.

Focus on finding out about Indigenous Justice in Australia.