Wadjemup Aboriginal Burial Ground

The Wadjemup Aboriginal Burial Ground Project

The Wadjemup Aboriginal Burial Ground is extremely significant for Western Australian Aboriginal people due to Rottnest Island/Wadjemup’s use as an Aboriginal prison from 1838–1904, and a subsequent forced labour camp for Aboriginal prisoners during the years that followed until 1931.

It is estimated that at least 370 of the approximated 4,000 Aboriginal men and boys who were incarcerated on the Island are buried at this site in unmarked graves.

This history has affected a large proportion of the WA Aboriginal community, with Aboriginal men and boys incarcerated from many language groups across the State.

The Rottnest Island Authority is leading efforts to engage with the WA Aboriginal community to determine how the Burial Ground will be recognised and conserved.

What has happened to date?

A three-phase plan for the future of the site was developed following initial consultation with Aboriginal community representatives in 2004/05.

After a competitive tender process an Aboriginal company, IES Enviro-scapes, was awarded the contract to complete Phase One. The IES team consisted of Whadjuk traditional custodians who understood the sensitivities of the project as a major step towards protection and recognition of the site.

Phase One was completed in 2015, involving the removal of intrusive infrastructure, and the construction of a perimeter pathway around the site, and basic interpretation at the main entrance.

Guidance on future plans

In 2017, the Wadjemup Aboriginal Reference Group, comprising Aboriginal community leaders including Whadjuk traditional owners, was appointed by the Rottnest Island Authority to advise on this project and on the future of the Quod building (the former prison building which stands adjacent to the Burial Ground).

Where to next?

Phase Two of the project will involve further consultation with the WA community on the design concept developed in 2004/05, followed by landscaping of the site and the installation of comprehensive interpretation.

In collaboration with Rottnest Island Authority, the Rottnest Foundation has received a Lotterywest funding grant to commence Phase Two.

The overall project will provide opportunities and economic benefits for the WA Aboriginal community.

Phase 2 project update

  • The Rottnest Foundation advertised a Request for Tender in late 2017 seeking a contractor to commence Phase Two.
  • A contractor has now been secured, with the contract awarded by Rottnest Foundation on 21 March 2018 to the Fremantle-based company UDLA Pty Ltd. UDLA Pty Ltd and its partners have been responsible for a number of significant projects that have involved the recognition and interpretation of Aboriginal cultural heritage in widely dispersed regions of Western Australia. Their past works include the Jetty to Jetty Heritage Trail (Broome), the Halls Creek Community Town Walk, and the recently completed Murujuga Living Knowledge Centre Concept Plan and Feasibility Study on the Burrup Peninsula.
  • Updates on this phase of the project will be published on this web page as the year unfolds.