Project Spotlight – Reimaging Wonnerup House – What happens when two worlds collide?

by Creative Spaces

Nestled amongst tall tuart trees and extensive wetlands, the peaceful setting of Wonnerup House is at odds with the stories of hardship, danger and tragedy that lie within.

Located on Wadandi Country, Wonnerup House is a State Heritage Listed property in the southwest of Western Australia. For the past two decades, it has been presented as a traditional historic homestead focusing on the Layman family. Early colonial settlers, the Layman family built and worked the property for over a century.

The Wadandi Noongar people have lived in the Wonnerup area for tens of thousands of years, yet their story was absent. In partnership with Traditional Owners and property managers and The National Trust of WA, Creative Spaces produced a new suite of simple and provocative interpretation for the site.

The new interpretation explores stories of the property’s significance as both a frontier settlement site and a place of conflict and trauma caused by the displacement of the Wadandi Noongar people from their lands. A focus on first-person storytelling provides a rich and interactive display, interweaving stories of colonial and Aboriginal experiences to highlight different perspectives of a shared history.

Quotes and extracts from oral histories, diaries, letters and newspaper articles were used to create ‘conversations’ that encourage visitors to question their knowledge of the past and consider how we understand truth. Graphically, the key colours of yellow, pink and green are inspired by the surrounding environment; the flowers of the tuart trees, the berries of the pepper trees and the red and white geraniums which once lined the verandahs. The injection of bright colours and geometric shapes disrupts the layout, creating a visual clash. The layering approach reflects the duality of stories and the disruption to the landscape due to colonisation. 

This interim display is only the start of a journey of truth-telling and reconciliation that the National Trust will continue as it undertakes more detailed planning for a long-term interpretation approach for Wonnerup House. At Creative Spaces, we’re proud to have taken the first steps of the journey with them.