By Taylor Hunt
Visitors to Rottnest should be made more aware of the history of the island, says Glen Stasiuk, a Minang-Wadjari man and lecturer and senior indigenous researcher at Murdoch University.
Rottnest Island, or Wadjemup as it is called by the Ngoongar people, is located 18 km off the West Australian coast and was voted the number one holiday destination for 2014 by Experience Oz readers.
But Mr Stasiuk says many people aren’t aware of the historical significance of the island for local indigenous people.
“About 4,000 men were incarcerated over a 100 year period and up to 400 never made it off the island, and are still buried in unmarked graves there,”
“(The island) was a part of the whole dispossession of the Swan River Colony…there was a dilution of the culture, a withering down of the resistance,” he says.
Mr Stasiuk says much of what happened on the island is not openly disclosed to tourists but acknowledging the past could have a positive impact, similar to South Africa’s Robben Island.
“It is a beautiful, pristine, particularly natural island, but I believe this could add to the experience of the island. People say that Robben Island has Nelson Mandela, but what they don’t realise is that these people were our Mandela’s,” says Mr Stasiuk.
“A lot of the men who were incarcerated were law men, they knew the law, they knew initiation, they knew song lines, they were warriors, politicians of tribes,” he says.
The rankings released by Experience Oz come on the same week as the anniversary of the use of the island as a prison.
Mr Stasiuk believes the anniversary is a time for the wider community to acknowledge the actions that have taken place, but until the movement is endorsed by the state government and all indigenous groups the event will only exist in a private pocket of the community.
“Until it is a unified, fully collaborative movement, then its not going to have the public recognition it deserves,” he says.
Mr Stasiuk explores the history of the island in his latest film – the award winning, Wadjemup: Black Prison – White Playground and says indigenous people still won’t travel to the island, but burying the past won’t make it go away.
“It’s really important that we embrace the memory and the challenge and the resistance and the strength of the ancestors who are still buried there and who got off the island. I think it’s really important we reconnect to get some ownership of the island and some remembrance,” he says.