Traditional Owners Of Rottnest Island

By Rise
02 November 2020

Did you know?

The traditional owners of Rottnest Island are the Whadjuk Noongar people.The name for Rottnest Island in the Noongar language is Wadjemup, which means ‘place across the water where the spirits are’.

During the last ice age, approximately 6,000-7,000 years ago, Wadjemup was connected to the mainland. At that time Whadjuk and other Nyoongar people could walk to Wadjemup and it was known as an important meeting place and ceremonial site. Today, the Island is known by Whadjuk people as the resting place of the spirits.

The Island is considered to be a place of transition between the physical and spiritual world and the spirit of the deceased is believed to travel to Wadjemup during its journey towards to the afterlife.

The Island was used as an Aboriginal prison until 1904 (except for a short period of closure from 1849-1855), and subsequent forced labour camp for prisoners until 1931. Around 4,000 Aboriginal men and boys from all over the former colony, and after Federation the State of Western Australia were incarcerated on the Island, many of them having been transported in chains for thousands of miles. General public access to the Island during the prison era was restricted.

During this period, Aboriginal prisoners were forced to construct a large number of buildings and other structures including the Quod, Seawall, heritage cottages in the main settlement, the museum, churches, lighthouses and other heritage listed infrastructure, mostly under the supervision of Superintendent Henry Vincent. Most of the development took place in Thomson Bay, including the Quod which was constructed as prison accommodation for the Aboriginal prisoners.

During the prison years it is reported that around 370 Aboriginal prisoners died. Wadgemup holds a special significance to Aboriginal communities across the state, due to its use as an Aboriginal prison and the Aboriginal prisoners that are buried there. To read more about the history of the Rottnest Island, click on the link below:,meeting%20place%20and%20ceremonial%20site.

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