Named by Captain Cook in 1770 and established in 1918 to replace a mission destroyed by a cyclone, Palm Island, 70km off Townsville, was by the 1930s a penal settlement for Aborigines.

Thousands of people from communities around Queensland were sent to the open prison for "crimes" such as being of mixed blood, falling pregnant to a white man or simply "being a nuisance". Nearly all property on the island, including the one supermarket, is owned by the state government.

In 1957, 25 people were expelled by the authorities after a strike over wages and working conditions, among them Neville Bonner, later to become Australia's first Aboriginal senator.

Indigenous people were forcibly relocated to Palm until the late 1960s; today the island - home to one of the country's largest indigenous communities - is a byword for dysfunction and despair.

Palm Island is particularly disadvantaged. Its unemployment rate is said to be as high as 95 per cent. It has high levels of alcoholism, domestic violence and child abuse. An average of 17 people live in each dilapidated house. In one eight-month period there were 16 youth suicides and eight domestic murders.

In 1999 it was named in the Guinness Book of Records as the most violent place on earth outside a war zone - based on its high murder and suicide rates and the low life expectancy of its inhabitants. However the figures were disputed by the state government, police and the Palm Island Community Council.