Cultural tours at Wadjemup

Immersive Aboriginal cultural tours have begun at Rottnest Island, known as Wadjemup in Nyungar language, to educate visitors about the island’s history and Nyungar traditions.

Multi award-winning tourism company Go Cultural run the 90-minute walking tours which include a Welcome to Country, traditional sand ceremony and song, and Dreamtime storytelling.

Nyungar Whadjuk Elder and Go Cultural Aboriginal Tours and Experiences Director Walter McGuire said the tour also taught visitors about the injustices Nyungar people suffered on the island.

“Men were taken away and removed from their homeland and their families and were incarcerated for crimes that they didn’t understand,” he said.

“We talk about the prison history, and how the Aboriginal men were prisoners that came across to the island for around a 100-year period, from the late 1830s to the mid 1930s and how they then built most of the buildings on the island during that time frame, through slave labour.”

Mr McGuire said the tour’s participants were open to learning information and were often left emotional by the content.

“People are quite emotionally moved when they know what happened and they hear some of the stories told and how it affected the families back home on mainland,” he said.

“It’s been a number of years since there have been tours operating on the island that have been run by Nyungar people, so it’s about making sure people know about the stories from a Nyungar Whadjuk perspective. 

“Many people haven’t been a part of the story or been associated with the Nyungar dreaming stories, so it’s good to see people wanting to know – it’s all about truth telling and the reconciliation movement across Australia.”

Rottnest Island Authority Executive Director Michelle Reynolds said they continued to take any opportunities to showcase Aboriginal cultural history.

“With visitors to Rottnest continuing to increase, we want to provide more services and ways to advocate the island’s natural and cultural history,” she said.

“Key stops on the tour include South Thomson Beach, Prisoner’s Holding Cell, Prisoner’s Walk leading to the outside of the Quod and finishing at the Burial Ground.”

Western Australian Tourism Minister Paul Papalia said the introduction of tours at popular holiday destinations resulted after increased demand for Aboriginal cultural experiences from domestic and international visitors.

“The Aboriginal cultural connections and history of Rottnest Island should be recognised and it is important we create opportunities for it to be shared,” he said.

“Aboriginal tourism plays an important part of Tourism WA’s Two-Year Action Plan.

“The State Government will continue to work with the Western Australian Indigenous Tourism Operators Council and local Aboriginal operators to grow the sector in the lead up to next year’s World Indigenous Tourism Summit.”

Audio: Walter McGuire talks about his tour.