Islands of Liminality: History, memory and transformation of meaning on the Cemetery Island.

Ms Emma Sheppard-Simms1

1University of Tasmania, Hobart, Australia


From the 19th Century onwards, Australian islands have been employed as places of institutional incarceration; including prisons, asylums, Indigenous reserves and quarantine stations. Those who were imprisoned on such islands were isolated by spatial designs that contributed to their ‘social death’, characterised by the loss of agency and human connections to broader society. Physical death was also common, and burial grounds were established to contain the bodies of those who had lived at the margins of the mainland.

While most of these institutions have long since closed, their ruins and burial grounds remain as reminders of their former use. Such places might be called ‘burial islands’; places where the traces of violence and social death remain inscribed upon the landscape. Reflecting qualities of liminality, many burial islands have become sites of Thanatourism (death tourism) where the burial ground has become a site of consumption and of intensified symbolic meaning. This paper traces the shifting landscape significance of the burial island as found in one Tasmanian example – The Isle of the Dead at Port Arthur. It is intended that this research will feed back into a broader set of case studies of burial islands as found within Australian tourism contexts.


Emma Sheppard-Simms is a landscape architect and PhD candidate at the University of Tasmania.  Her research interests include the geographies of exclusion and environmental justice. Her PhD involves an investigation of island burial grounds as landscapes of absence and memory.


The Institute of Australian Geographers (IAG) is the principal body representing geographers and promoting the study and application of geography in Australia. It was founded in 1958 and since then has promoted, supported and defended Australian geography.

IAG Website

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