Unchain my heart

FROM early next year The Quad on Rottnest Island will no longer be used for tourist accommodation, following a backlash over the former Aboriginal prison being used by holiday makers.

Fremantle artists Tania Ferrier and Ken Wadrop, and indigenous filmmaker Dr Glen Stasiuk are commemorating the closure with Bardang, an exhibition showing the island’s beauty and its horror as a gaol.

Future use of the site is unclear and the trio want to keep the building and the cruel treatment of Aboriginal men and boys held there, in the public eye, Ferrier says.

Walls were removed to create spacious tourist accommodation from the three-by-two metre cells that had held up to 14 men.

Back in 1875, an article in the original Fremantle Herald stated: “As you approach the door, a subtle yet sickening odour assails you. It makes the head reel and give you a feeling of intolerable nausea.

• A scene from Black Prison – White Playground.

“As you get nearer, heart-rending moans are to be heard, moans which sometimes burst into shrieks of unendurable agony, but which sometimes burst into the low wailing of bitter despair.”

About 370 people died at the gaol from disease spread by over-crowding and squalid conditions. Others were murdered.

It is the highest number of deaths in custody in the southern hemisphere

Wadrop became aware of the island’s grim history only after years of visiting and a stint working there.

“I felt compelled to paint 371 views, as my way of acknowledging the past and bearing witness to what happened in this sad but beautiful place.”

• Tania Ferrier’s Ghost Tree

Each small painting of the panel has a raven on the back: “I have always considered it to be a spirit bird, but didn’t know the Aboriginal people say it is.”

Ferrier’s series, Ghost Tree, is a variation on a single tree at Pinkies Beach: “That expresses the beauty and the sorrow of the island’s history.”

Stasiuk’s Wadjemup: Black Prison – White Playground, won best documentary in the 2014 WA Screen Awards.

It highlights the traumatic impact on the Aboriginal prisoners, he says.

“The repercussions that alienation and dispossession had on Aboriginal families and cultural systems…and the lasting legacy of these on our contemporary society.”

It will be played continuously throughout the exhibition, which opens at Early Works Gallery, South Terrace, South Fremantle, Friday, November 10–19.

by JENNY D’ANGER

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