Saying Their Names, Fremantle


Saying Their Names, Fremantle

Ayman Qwaider and Suvendrini Perera

June 12, 2020

During the June 2020 global Black Lives Matter protests, the Deathscapes team orchestrated an event at which local residents, academics and activists collaborated with the Museum of Freedom and Tolerance WA and Projection Artist Steven Aliyan to project the names of some of the 437 Indigenous Australians who have died in custody on an iconic local sculpture in Fremantle, Western Australia. The sculpture, by Marcus Canning is known as the Rainbow (or sometimes Containbow). Located at 1 Canning Highway, it is a construction made up of shipping containers in the shape of a rainbow, a tribute to the city’s historic port.

The sculpture is located at a significant site that takes in the Derbal Yerigan (Swan River) and the harbour. Off the coastline is the island of Wadjemup (Rottnest Island), where hundreds of Aboriginal prisoners were held in the nineteenth century. Rottnest prison is now known as the largest deaths in custody site in Australia.  Western Australia is also the state in which the largest number of Aboriginal people have died in custody.

In a powerful opening speech Dr Hannah McGlade remembered her ancestors who were imprisoned on the island, and underlined the connections between forms of slavery in  Australia and other settler states such as the U.S. Another historic  local prison, The Roundhouse, she noted, echoes the architecture of the slave forts of West Africa: “The mass incarceration and criminalisation of Aboriginal people has been ongoing since colonisation and the first building that was enacted by the colony is The Roundhouse which was established to house Aboriginal incarcerated people who were resisting slavery.”

 ‘Our power comes not only from the people who are here but from the spirits that we cannot see. When we say their name, we invoke their presence.’

Melina Abdullah, leader Black Lives Matter, Los Angeles

Further Reading

‘Maybe the most important reason for writing is to prevent the erosion of time, so that memories will not be blown away by the wind. Write to register history and name each thing. Write what should not be forgotten.’

 Isabel Allende

Write what should not be forgotten by Shaheen Hughes, Museum of Freedom and Tolerance WA

Saying their names in  Minneapolis by Soo Kim, Newsweek

Kaya Nidja Noongar Boodjah Speech at Perth Black Lives Matter Protest Hannah McGlade, Curtin University


Video by Dominic Pearce


Between the river and the sea, overlooking the port of Fremantle, with the largest deaths in custody site in Australia in the distance, this is a site that carries layers of historical significance.

Directly above is Cantonment Hill, the seat of military occupation, reminding us of the colonial monuments being pulled down across the world. The names of Indigenous people who have died projected on the Rainbow Sea Container bring these sites and their effaced layers of violence into focus anew.

Suvendrini Perera

Thanks to:
Dr Hannah McGlade; Shaheen Hughes, Zoe O’Neill, Museum of Freedom and Tolerance WA; Steven Aliyan; Dr Antonio Traverso; Dominic Pearce; Dr Thor Kerr; Kerry Fletcher; Councillor Rachel Pemberton, City of Fremantle; Anonymous Drone Photographer; School of Media, Creative Arts and Social Inquiry, Curtin University


Please Read

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are respectfully advised that this website contains images of and references to deceased persons.

All viewers are respectfully advised that the site contains images of and references to the deaths in custody of Indigenous peoples, Black people and refugees that may cause distress.