Today is Western Australia Day and I want to write about something I have been learning about over the past few weeks.
A few weeks ago my year 4 son told me he was working on a history project in class. He had to create a booklet based around the idea of the Horrible Histories series and he could choose any topic to write about within a certain date range. I asked master year four what he was thinking about researching and to my utter surprise he said he wanted to research the prison on Rottnest Island (for those non-WA people reading this, Rottnest is an island of the coast of Perth).
After some initial excitement at him selecting such an interesting topic, some apprehension set in. I let master year four know that there would not be a lot of information on the topic and that it would be a challenging topic to research. He had made his mind up so we proceeded to spend quite a bit of time searching the internet for information.
Although I knew the basics, the more I researched the crosser I got. I got cross because this important history had NEVER been mentioned to me as a child growing up in Perth (which was not that long ago). I also got annoyed at the lack of information available out there on the details of the running of Rottnest as a prison. What stopped me getting really angry is that there is a dedicated group of people out there determined to tell the whole story of Rottnest. There are some excellent sites out there trying to tell this aspect of Western Australia’s history.
Here is a list of links I have found useful. Please review these before working with children as some were not written for a child audience and needs the guidance of an adult to help them make sense of it.
So after spending many hours learning about this topic I am so glad for the conversations I have had with master year four and master year one about this aspect of our history. We have talked about the different points of view on the issue and how time influences this; the way history looks depending on who is providing or withholding the facts; as well as the confusion and sadness that surrounds the impact of forceful colonisation of the First Peoples. We have discussed the Dreamtime beliefs the Noongar people hold about Wadjemup (Rottnest Island) and why it was so soul destroying to send them over the water to be imprisoned. We have also talked a lot about the need for tourists to understand this history and pay more respect to the sites on Rottnest, such as the Quod and the burial grounds.
It has taken far too long for Western Australians to grow up and accept our history, particularly the uncomfortable truths. There is a need to make these important historical sites on Rottnest a place for respectful reflection and acknowledgement of the hurt caused to the First Peoples of our state. It is time to turn the Quod into a place of education about the Aboriginal history of Western Australia and the burial grounds into a site of reverence. These things have been proposed for too long, without action being taken.
While I love where I live I believe it is essential we are more aware of our history and the impact it had and continues to have on the present.