Thursday, January 06, 2011

tragic history

"Three hundred and seventy two Aboriginal prisoners are still buried on Wadjemup/Rottnest. They were imprisoned for crimes such as spearing a sheep."

We are grateful to the City of Melville for the heads-up on an artisitc event about the beautiful island.

The venue is Applecross, but the subject is Rottnest’s tragic past as a place of imprisonment and death for Aboriginal men...

The Quod Project is a multidisciplinary art exhibition by Non-Indigenous Artist Tania Ferrier about The Quod – a building that is better known as the tourism accommodation called the Rottnest Lodge.

South Fremantle Artist Tania Ferrier said unearthing the history of Rottnest (or Wadjemup as it is referred to by Noongar people) was an emotional experience.

“It is estimated that 373 Aboriginal prisoners died on Wadjemup/Rottnest and five of these people were executed by hanging. Three hundred and seventy two Aboriginal prisoners are still buried on Wadjemup/Rottnest. They were imprisoned for crimes such as spearing a sheep,” Ferrier said.

Historian Dr Neville Green was a source for Ferrier and in his book Far from home – Aboriginal Prisoners of Rottnest Island 1838 to 1931 Dr Green states that the number of Aboriginal men who died on the island makes it the largest deaths in custody site in Australia.

“This is Australia’s colonial history but you don’t hear about it because it’s actively suppressed,” Ferrier said.

The Quod Project is significant in size and includes a range of mediums from photographs and paintings to video and installations. Fortunately, for the purpose of the exhibition, three patients’ rooms inside the Heathcote gallery mirror the layout of the cells in The Quod.

One of the installations is a life-size cell which is based on research of the appearance of a Quod cell prior to it being turned into a holiday unit. The installation is accompanied by recordings of Indigenous Elders reading from texts about actual conditions in the cells.

In collaboration with James Kerr, Ferrier has produced approximately 25 large format photographic prints, as well as a series of digital prints on canvas that are re-worked archival Wadjemup/Rottnest tourist posters.

The exhibition included the involvement of Indigenous Elders Cedric Jacobs and Noel Nannup, who modelled for the photographs and added their voices to recordings.

For a photograph called ‘Ascension’, Indigenous dancer Michael Smith chose to interpret the history of The Quod by creating a dance called ‘Wardong Wadjemup’, which translates to Rottnest Crow. The crow embodies the spirit of the dead prisoners as Michael leaps, flies upward, ascends and sets their spirits free.

“Ascension transcends The Quod Project and speaks for Indigenous youth in prison today. It speaks for the past that has affected the present,” Ferrier said.

A series of small oil paintings called ‘Diatribes’ juxtapose images of Ferrier’s family holiday history at The Quod with images from the Rottnest Quod Penal history.

City of Melville Curator Soula Veyradier said, “I find the untold histories of the place both fascinating and extremely sad. But The Quod Project is ultimately positive because this public presentation and discussion means that we, as a community and a place, will know ourselves better.”

“I expect a range of responses to the exhibition from the very positive to denial of the damage done to the Aboriginal community.

“The Quod Project exposes hidden history and holds up a mirror to ourselves; are we responsible for our ignorance?”

The Quod Project will be opened by the Manager of Artsource’s Regional and Indigenous Development program Ron Bradfield (Jnr) at the Heathcote Museum and Gallery on Friday, 21 January from 6.00pm. People are invited to RSVP to the opening by Tuesday, 18 January 2011 to or phone 9364 5666.

The free exhibition will be open to the public from Saturday, 22 January to Sunday, 27 February 2011.

An Artist’s Forum with Artist Tania Ferrier, Writer Josephine Wilson and Indigenous Elder Noel Nannup will be held on Sunday, 20 February from 1.00pm to 3.00pm.

The Heathcote Museum and Gallery is located at Heathcote Cultural Centre, Swan House, Duncraig Road in Applecross. Gallery hours are Tuesday to Friday 10.00am to 3.00pm, Saturday and Sunday 11.00am to 3.00pm.

For further information contact 9364 5666 or visit

1 comment:

  1. Discover the whole truth more about this most shameful episode in WA's history - including Rottnest Island Board cover-ups, broken promises and ongoing WA Government inaction - at: