New exhibition: Beneath the Bitumen: Discoveries from the Chinese Cemetery, East Perth

A new exhibition will showcase some of the findings made during excavations in the former Chinese Cemetery.

‘Beneath the Bitumen: Discoveries from the Chinese Cemetery, East Perth’ is a dual language exhibition and part of the Western Australian Heritage Festival, supported by Lotterywest.

It will be on display in St Bartholomew’s Church, East Perth Cemeteries, from 19 May to 19 June.

“The Chinese Cemetery, on the western side of Plain Street, was one of the 8 original cemeteries that comprised Perth’s first colonial burial ground, the East Perth Cemeteries,” said Julian Donaldson, National Trust of Western Australia CEO.

“The excavations and the research that will follow can tell us about the early Chinese community in Perth and life in the colony at the turn of the 20th century.”

Prior to redevelopment of the East Perth site, which has also been used as tennis courts for the East Perth Girls School and Police Department vehicle licensing centre, excavations by archaeologists and forensic anthropologists were carried out in 2020. All the human remains were later reinterred at Karrakatta Cemetery followed by a ceremony conducted by members of the Chinese community to appease the disturbed spirits.

Also uncovered were artefacts including coffins and coffin furniture, fragments of clothing and a large number of buttons. A bracelet and some copper coins, grave goods intended to ensure the comfort of the deceased in the afterlife, were also found.

‘Beneath the Bitumen’ will display a small number of these artefacts, including a remarkably well preserved and extremely rare wool jacket dating from between 1889–99.

The exhibition has been made possible by donations towards conservation costs, primarily led by the Chung Wah Association, which raised funds from the Chinese community to enable the conservation of the clothing. These donations were also matched by the private development syndicate.

Heritage Minister David Templeman said the exhibition was an important story telling event for Western Australians.

“As we head to our bicentennial in 2029, it is important that we appropriately commemorate those who came before us and laid the foundations for who we are today.

“This exhibition is a fascinating look into a world and a time that predates us.”

Mr Donaldson thanked Lotterywest for the support that enables the National Trust to run exhibitions and events such as these to celebrate our heritage.

“As the only State Government owned lottery in Australia where all the profits are returned to the community, Lotterywest is committed to supporting Western Australian community groups,” said Mr Donaldson.

The National Trust would like to acknowledge the Chung Wah Association for its contribution to the exhibition design and translation.

Exhibition opening times

East Perth Cemeteries is open on Sundays from 2.00–4.00 pm, and during the exhibition will open on Wednesdays from 11.00 am to 1.00 pm.

Access to the exhibition is included with the entry fee to the site. National Trust members visit for free.

Book tickets online

Special events

We will be holding an exclusive members’ viewing with a talk from the curator, Sarah Murphy, Manager Interpretation and Collections, on 2 June. If you are a member and would like to attend please contact our events team.

Related content