Mr Ward

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Ian Ward (1961 – 27 January 2008), commonly known as Mr Ward in media reports,[n 1] was an Australian Aboriginal elder from Warburton, Western Australia who died after being transported in the back of a prison van in the Western Australian outback.


Ward was filmed as a child leading a traditional life with his family in the 1960s by film maker Ian Dunlop. He was a central community figure at Warburton and in the surrounding lands with a knowledge of culture, land, and art, and was known as a "culture man".[1]

He was involved in forging relationships between his own community and non-Aboriginal communities in Western Australia, elsewhere in Australia and overseas: he was chosen to represent the Ngaanyatjarra[2] lands in a delegation to China. Mr Ward assisted and worked in outback Western Australia with a variety of scientists, geologists, paleontologists, geophysicists and others associated with geological surveying. He had worked as an interpreter in transactions relating to native title. Mr Ward was involved in Landcare, looked after water holes, and baited foxes, dingoes and wild cats. He was a highly skilled hunter, but also assisted many non-indigenous people to see native wildlife such as bilbies and rock wallabies. As an elder Mr Ward worked for many years in a battle to have the rights of his people in the Gibson Desert Nature Reserve recognised. Mr Ward was a well-known dancer and speaker and created works in glass including the art glass series The Seven Seals of the Ngaanyatjarra Lands.


On 26 January 2008, Ward was arrested by Laverton police and charged with driving under the influence of alcohol.[3] He was then driven 570 kilometres (350 mi) to a courthouse, remanded in custody, and driven a further 352 kilometres (219 mi) to a prison. The van's air conditioning was not working and the temperature was so hot that Mr. Ward had third-degree burns to his stomach from lying on the metal floor. It was noticed by the Prison transport contractors G4S driving the vehicle that Ward was unconscious. He died shortly afterwards.[4]

The mode of transport used in Ward's death had already been warned about prior to his death.[5] The response to the circumstances of the death was in part immediate.[6][clarification needed]

Inquest and response[edit]

Ward's death was the subject of a coronial inquest.[7] The inquest found the two guards who accompanied him, the company in charge of the prison transfer service (G4S)[8][9][10] and the WA Department of Corrective Services contributed to Mr Ward’s death.[11][12][13][14][15][16]

Compensation for his family after his death was delayed, and involved a number of government authorities[17][18][19][20] The delays caused significant loss of confidence in both the government and its capacity to have safe delivery of prison transport in isolated areas of Western Australia.[21][22][23] In 2010 the family were compensated.[24][25]

By 2011 some further responses were occurring,[26][27][28] including the Department of Corrective Services pleading guilty to his death in May 2011.[29][30]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Mr Ward's first name was generally not used in media reports in respect for Aboriginal naming customs.


  1. ^
  2. ^ Thompson., Liz (1998) The Ngaanyatjarra of the Gibson Desert written by Liz Thompson; photography by Liz Thompson and Gary Proctor. Port Melbourne : Heinemann Library. ISBN 1-86391-578-8
  3. ^ Who Killed Mr Ward? - Four Corners. Retrieved 29 July 2011.
  4. ^ An Indigenous GSL Death in Custody - Retrieved 29 July 2011.
  5. ^ WA Custodial Services Inspector Richard Harding wrote to GSL last year outlining six concerns including "GSL's capacity to cope with the logistical challenge of running a transport service across such huge distances as are involved with WA."
  6. ^ WA Corrective Services Minister Margaret Quirk said.A number of measures, including breaks in journeys of more than two hours, physical checks and interaction with prisoners during journey breaks will be implemented by March 28. "After a stringent review of operating procedures which have duty of care implications, I have directed that additional measures be implemented by March 28," Ms Quirk - quoted in - see also
  7. ^ WA Coroner Alastair Hope, who said in his findings that Mr Ward's death was "wholly avoidable" in
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^ Inquest details
  12. ^ The shocking story of a well respected community leader in outback Western Australia who was locked in a metal cell in the back of a prison van and driven through the desert in the searing heat. Four hours later he was dead. Liz Jackson reveals the tragic train of events that led to this death, despite repeated warnings that Western Australia's prisoner transport system was unsafe and inhumane. "...the vehicles are not fit for humans to be transported in. We are just waiting for a death to happen..." Prison Administrator, 2001. Trove ( summary of Off-air recording of ABC TV program Four corners, broadcast on 15/06/09. aired at 8.30 pm Monday 15 June 2009 on ABC1. in Jackson, Liz & ABC-TV (Australia) (2009). In Who Killed Mr Ward?. also found in Trove as Cohen, Janine, Spencer, Sue., Jackson, Liz (2009) Who killed Mr Ward [videorecording].
  13. ^ How a series of failures led to a tragedy in the outback heat - Natasha Boddy, The West Australian
  14. ^ Hunyor, Jonathon (2009). Disgrace: The Death of Mr Ward. In Indigenous Law Bulletin. 7 (15), 3-8.
  15. ^ Johnstone, Megan-Jane (2009-09-01). Justice as a basic human need: this was no ordinary death. As an inquest later revealed, Mr Ward's death (which occurred while he was in custody for a traffic offence) was slow, cruel, horrible, and 'wholly unnecessary and avoidable'.(ethics). In Australian Nursing Journal. 17 (3), 29(1).
  16. ^
  17. ^ Byline: Jessica Strutt 15 March 2010 (The West Australian - ABIX via COMTEX) -- The Western Australian Government is yet to release a promised ex-gratia payment to the family of an indigenous man ...
  18. ^ WA: Widow of van-death elder seeks $200,000 for family's sake. (2010-03-07). In AAP News. By Cortlan Bennett PERTH, 7 March AAP - The West Australian government is under pressure to pay $200,000 in immediate compensation to the widow of an Aboriginal elder who died in custody, after ...
  19. ^ Guest, Debbie (23 July 2010). "Hopes for justice now hinge on a Worksafe investigation and civil action SINCE his shocking death in custody 2 1/2 years ago, the family of an Aboriginal elder have p ... Family of prison-van victim dismayed by DPP's lack of action". The Australian. National, Australia. p. 2. 
  20. ^ WA: Authorities show scant respect for elder's high standing AAP News Byline: Warwick Stanley PERTH, 19 June AAP - On 27 January last year, on a scorching day in the WA outback, a man lay dying in the back of a prison van as the temperature soared past 50 degr ...
  21. ^ "Mr Ward's death 'shame for WA Labor'". The Sydney Morning Herald. 28 June 2009. 
  22. ^
  23. ^
  24. ^ "Ward family gets $3.2m payment for prison van death". PerthNow. 29 July 2010. 
  25. ^
  26. ^
  27. ^
  28. ^ "Prisons agency fined after Aboriginal 'cooked to death'". The Daily Telegraph. London. 7 July 2011. 
  29. ^
  30. ^

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