Aspiring curators create new Wadjemup exhibit

A program to develop the skills of emerging museum curators has resulted in a new exhibition on Rottnest Island’s Aboriginal culture and history.

The “Wadjemup: Koora Wordel, Kalygool Wordel” exhibition is the result of six-month partnership between the WA Museum (WAM) and the Rottnest Island Authority (RIA).

The WA Museum’s Emerging Curators Program enables Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participants across WA to gain museum-related skills and experience including curation and storytelling, exhibition development, and conservation and object handling.

The 2020 program supported two aspiring curators - Samara King, a Karajarri woman from Broome, and Manjimup Nyoongar woman Vanessa Smart.

Samara and Vanessa were employed by the RIA where they worked at the Island’s Museum to gain experience in caring for the collection, contributed to early planning for the museum’s upcoming refurbishment, and created new interpretative signage for the Wadjemup Aboriginal Cemetery.

The curators also researched and worked on the development of a small exhibition about Wadjemup (Rottnest Island).

The exhibition was to be launched during NAIDOC week, which was originally scheduled for July, but was converted into an online display at due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. NAIDOC week has since been shifted to November 8-15.

Inspired by the NAIDOC theme of ‘Always Was, Always Will Be’, the exhibition covers aspects of Aboriginal culture and history on Wadjemup spanning from the earliest archaeological evidence of occupation tens of thousands of years ago through to historical use of the island as an Aboriginal prison from 1838-1931.

In June the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs the Hon Ben Wyatt and the Minister for Tourism the Hon Paul Papalia announced the State Government’s plans to progress State-wide Aboriginal community engagement to reconcile the history of Aboriginal people's imprisonment at Rottnest Island.

Image: Acting Minister for Tourism and Member for Fremantle, the Hon Simone McGurk MLA (centre) with emerging curators Samara King (left) and Vanessa Smart.