A project to reconcile the history of Aboriginal people’s imprisonment at Rottnest Island is one step closer, with the development of a cultural authority process to lead State-wide Aboriginal community engagement.
The Wadjemup Project, named after the Noongar name for Rottnest Island, will be one of Australia’s first large-scale and genuine acts of recognition related to the impacts of colonisation on Aboriginal people.
It will focus on how best to commemorate the Aboriginal men and boys who are buried on the island, and the use of the old prison building at the historic Thomson Bay settlement known as the Quod.
Rottnest Island was used as a place of incarceration, segregation and forced labour for Aboriginal men and boys from across Western Australia from 1838 to 1931.
More than 4,000 Aboriginal people from all over WA were forcibly taken there and almost 400 men and boys, who died while imprisoned, were buried in unmarked graves on the Island.
The Whadjuk Noongar people are putting in place cultural authority protocols to lead engagement with other Noongar and Aboriginal people across WA.
All Aboriginal people recognise that Wadjemup is part of Whadjuk Noongar traditional country, and consistent with Aboriginal customary protocol, it is proper that Whadjuk people lead community engagement for reconciling the island’s history.
As stated by Aboriginal Affairs Minister Ben Wyatt:
“Extensive research, ground probing radar and community consultation has taken place over many years to recognise and commemorate Rottnest Island’s Aboriginal history.
“However, there have been challenges developing a unified State-wide Aboriginal view, which has meant that reconciling the island’s history has been difficult to conclude.
“Ensuring the history of Aboriginal people on the island is recognised is imperative for reconciliation and will begin the healing process of historic and intergeneration trauma from the colonisation of Aboriginal people.
“I commend Whadjuk Noongar elders Mr Farley Garlett and Mr Neville Collard for their leadership in developing a cultural authority process that brings together a unified Aboriginal voice to reconcile the history of Wadjemup.”
As stated by Tourism Minister Paul Papalia:
“Appreciating the significance and story of Wadjemup will help us all better understand our shared history and move together on a journey of reconciliation.
“The pathway of cultural authority and processes proposed by Whadjuk elders will deliver over time a reconciled story of Rottnest that will be inclusive of all Western Australians and enhance the island’s status as an iconic tourist and cultural landmark in Western Australia.”
As stated by Whadjuk Elder Neville Collard:
“This has been a very important issue for Aboriginal people for many years, but we now believe the time is right to work with Government to recognise and commemorate the history of the Island.”
As stated by Whadjuk Elder Farley Garlett:
“As Whadjuk people we really appreciate the responsibility we have, under Aboriginal cultural protocol, to lead this engagement. It is a responsibility we take up in the spirit of healing and moving forward.”
Aboriginal Affairs Minister’s office – 6552 5900