Colonial cannibalism on menu

Aaron Nottle.
Aaron Nottle.

Some are disgusted by it, some are interested in the practices of other cultures, and more still are confounded by what could force a person to succumb to such a practice.

Not many people realise Fremantle has its own ties with cannibalism dating back to 1859, when five convicts escaped from three work parties. They had run until exhausted and starving, when they turned themselves in.

However, ringleader Stephen Lacey was missing; he died of dysentery, the others said.

Few believed them, with rumours circulating the others had killed and eaten him.

Notre Dame University history lecturer Simon Stevens researched such rumours, culminating in his talk Convicts and Cannibalism, at the university today as part of the Fremantle Heritage Festival.

Dr Stevens said cannibalism stories were widespread in the convict era and became more prevalent from the 1890s.

‘Many of WA’s cannibal stories involve colonial children who went missing in the bush and were never found again,’ he said.

‘The likelihood that the children simply got lost and died of exhaustion was usually dismissed, but why did such incredible explanations replace the credible ones?

‘Fremantle’s past is a rich tapestry of stories such as these that reflect real values, concerns and hopes of people who have travelled life’s journey through time and space and while their footsteps may be a faint echo now, their stories can live on in this celebration.’

Mayor Brad Pettitt said the festival was an important way to look into the history of one of WA’s oldest areas.

‘From its Aboriginal past and European colonisation in the early-1800s, Fremantle has evolved into a thriving port city rich with international stories,’ he said. ‘The Heritage Festival allows us to take a break from modern life and access these stories via events, tours, workshops and awards.’

The festival runs until June 3. See www.fremantle.wa.gov.au/festivals.

Events still to come

May 29: Shadow Puppets

May 31: Convict Mysteries

May 31: Debauchery in the West End

June 1: Arthur Grady Motorcycle Ride

June 1: Vintage Prams

June 2: Bocce Per Tutti