Experts open up on Rottnest’s tragic past

November 9, 2016

credit James KerrDr Glen Stasiuk’s expertise on the tragic history of Perth’s favourite island playground has played a central part in the development of the ABC Radio National documentary Rottnest Island: Black prison to white playground.

Dr Stasiuk, a lecturer and Indigenous researcher at Murdoch University, was just a teenager when he first went camping with his mates on Rottnest Island (Wadjemup) in the 1980s.

He went skin diving, became inexplicably sick and had to be airlifted back to the mainland. He went back a year later and again became very sick. His mum told him it was probably about time he went and spoke to his Noongar nana.

"It's worra," she said. "It's worra, it's menditj. It's a sick place."

Stasiuk had camped at Tentland. For years and years, Tentland was the camping area on Rottnest; the place where families and teenagers pitched their tents, had a few drinks, and threw some sausages on the barbeque.

What campers didn't know was that they were sleeping on the unmarked graves of at least 373 Aboriginal men. It's the largest deaths in custody site in Australia and the largest known burial ground of Aboriginal people.

"See that spot over there with the Aboriginal flag?" Dr Stasiuk points as we're walking around the burial site.

"That's where they uncovered the first skeletal remains in 1971 and I reckon that's just about where I pitched my tent.”

Dr Stasiuk co-wrote and produced an award winning documentary Wadjemup: Black Prison White Playground with Jeffory Asselin in 2014 to examine the penal history of the island, and how it has since been transformed into a top tourist destination.

The ABC radio documentary can been heard here.

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