AN interesting scene is enacted about once a month in a small weatherboard room within a few yards of the south eastern home of French Island, in Westernport Bay.
On what is known as “board day” at the McLeod Prison Settlement members of the Indeterminate Sentence Board, Messrs. S. Manner (chairman), W. R. Anderson, P. M., and C. A. Topp, supervise the work of the prisoners, who number between 40 and 50, and consider requests of a widely varying nature from the men, who are working out their own salvation on the island.
While awaiting their interview with the board the prisoners are lined up outside the small office which serves as board room, and on being called by name indicate a thousand and one reasons why they should be come possessed of, say, a pen, a mouth organ, a special supply of notepaper, or if they should not be lovers of sea bathing – a back scratcher.
Occasionally a strong plea is made for a reduction of the period of detention at the island. In some cases the requests are complied with, the answer depends largely upon the nature of them.
When an “indulgence” is granted the cost of the article is deducted from the allowance paid to the prisoners for afforestation work.
When the settlement was first established about seven years ago tents were provided for half dozen prisoners and staff, who were the pioneers of the camp, but weatherboard cubicles resembling bathing boxes have since been erected by prison labour.
Each man has a cubicle to himself, and many of them have a homely touch about them. Picture frames and similar ornaments have been constructed by many of the men from timber picked up on the island, and these adorn the walls of many of the cubicles.
There also is a small room in which concerts or lectures are given by visitors from the mainland, as well as kitchen, messroom and officers quarters.
A jetty of about 100 yards in length has also been constructed by the prisoners, and this, of course, has rendered the landing of stores and building materials a comparatively easy task.
In their leisure hours the men are permitted to indulge in such pastimes as cricket, football, swimming, fishing, &c.
Sometimes a cricket team will journey from the mainland and play a team selected from the prisoners. On such occasions the wearing of private clothes is allowed.
When engaged in ordinary duties the men wear dungarees. They are not branded with the prison mark, however, and the officers are unarmed.
The training of pets is encouraged, and several of the men devote a considerable portion of their evenings imparting instruction to various kinds of birds and animals captured on the Island.
It might easily be supposes from the foregoing the life of the men is one long picnic. On the contrary, they have to work, and work very hard. They are engaged for eight hours a day grabbing, burning off, fencing, ploughing, general nursery work and road making.
Miles of fire breaks are cut annually, swamps are drained, land cultivated and trees planted.
Since the inception of the settlement over one million pine trees have been planted, and some day the State will have a valuable asset in the pine forest.
The afforestation work is carried out under the supervision of officers of the Forestry department, which makes an allowance to the board for the prisoners labour.
A dam has been constructed along the Brella Creek, about one mile from the camp, for the conservation of water, and a pipe line laid to bring water to the settlement.
The supply is sufficient for irrigation as well as for domestic purposes. Many varieties of vegetables are grown, and in this respect the settlement is self–supporting.
The duties of the men are arduous, but hard work and loyalty to the institution are insisted upon. For their work the men receive about 10s a week, which is placed to their credit and handed to them in a lump sum less deductions for “indulgences”, when they are liberated.
In some cases the men have sums ranging up to £50 paid over to them which assures them the means of sustenance during the critical period in which they are seeking employment.
Occasionally a new arrival from Pentridge will grumble at the work he is called upon to perform, and endeavours to stir up discontent in the camp.
The officers in charge are watchful however, and at the least sign of this sort of thing they act quickly. No warnings are given (the men on entering the camp being informed what is expected of them) but one fine morning at dawn the officers will visit a certain cubicle, call on the occupant, to dress, and escort him silently to a boat, which lies waiting at the jetty.
The prisoner is taken to Lang Lang, and there handed over to waiting policemen, who conducts him once again to the blue–walled establishment on Sydney Road.
As a general rule, however, the men do not abuse the trust imposed on them. Though the regulations require a prisoner to serve a minimum term in a grade to earn promotion to a high grade, he may, for special merit, be promoted much earlier in the discretion of the board.
On the other hand, a prisoner who shows no desire to improve himself, and who gives no cheerful obedience to proper authority, is detained in his grade beyond the minimum time laid down.
According to official figures about 75 per cent of the men dealt with at the island do not relapse into crime.
THE shire engineer for the Frankston Shire (Lieut. Col. Lazarus) has received notice of his election to the Council of the Institute of Surveyors of Victoria.
He already holds a similar position in the Institute of Municipal Engineers of Australia, Victorian Branch.
AT the University Commencement last Saturday, Miss Vera C. Jennings had the degree of Minister of Arts conferred upon her.
AT the Frankston school last Friday, “Shakespeare Day” was well kept up by the children, who gave scenes from The Merchant of Venice, The Tempest, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
The performance was given under the greenwood tree, and the sylvan setting, and beautiful scenes, especially in the fairy scenes, had a fine effect.
The children deserve praise for their industry in memorising some long parts. At the conclusion all gathered round the “Shakespeare oak”, which is growing very well, and received sprouted acorns to plant other Shakespeare oaks.
MR Vicars has resigned the secretaryship of the Frankston Memorial Fund Committee, and Lieut–Col Lazarus has consented to act until the necessary sum is secured to see the local soldiers comfortably settled in a club room, and the amount necessary to erect a monument commensurate with the growth and population of Frankston.
At the committee meeting held on Tuesday night last, a suggestion was thrown out that when the shire council was making the necessary alterations for offices in their new building very little extra expenditure would be required to provide suitable rooms for billiards and meetings for the soldiers, and part of the money now being raised, spent in that direction.
From the pages of the Frankston and Somerville Standard, 5 May 1922