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David on Rottnest Island.
David on Rottnest Island.
The lighthouse.
The only pool on Rottnest.

Rottnest Island

Thursday, October 18, 2001
Just 30 minutes from Fremantle and you're on your way to a quirky island holiday rich in Aboriginal history.

30,000-year-old Aboriginal tools were found on Rottnest Island which, until about 7000 years ago, was part of the western Australian mainland. Over the centuries, moving seas have turned it into an island.

Just 11 kilometres long and four-and-a-half kilometres wide, Rottnest was named by Dutch explorer, Willem de Vlamingh. He landed there in 1696 and thought the little native quokkas were rats, hence the name.

In the 1830s, William Clarke and Robert Thomson took town lots and pasture land on Rottnest, and saw it as a place for salt harvesting, farming and fishing.

In 1838, it became a place of incarceration for Aborigines, and by 1844 about 20 prisoners were held there. It was closed in 1849, but in 1855 it was again declared a penal establishment, and by 1883, 170 prisoners were kept there. In 1880, a boys' reformatory was built and it, along with the prison and saltworks, closed in 1903.

Once the prison was closed, the island became a place for recreation, and the buildings, which once held people in trouble with the law, began to accommodate holidaymakers.

During WWI, 1300 Germans and Croatians were detained on Rottnest for 15 months, and during WWII it became a defence post. By 1942, 2500 military personnel were stationed there.

Post-war, recreation slowly began to happen again and eventually military cottages and facilities were handed over to the island authority.

There are 270 holiday homes on offer all year. They consist of cottages, villas, units, bungalows and cabins, and snaring one for your holiday is a matter of luck. The island's popularity has made it necessary for accommodation to be balloted out during peak season. The government-run ballot's booking lines open on the first working day of each month for the same month one year later. 450,000 visitors go to Rottnest each year, many of them being day-trippers.

If you have been fortunate enough to be granted accommodation, a stay on the island is really something to enjoy. There are no cars, but there are a couple of buses. Most people walk or cycle to the beach, golf course, tennis courts and other amusements. Apart from snorkelling, scuba diving and fishing, there is a museum, various historical sites and the island's voluntary guides take walks to Oliver Hill Guns and Tunnels.

There are two main guns there and one has been restored so people can go in and under and see its workings. The tunnels were built for WWII and used for storage and as a safe place to plot and plan. A tour of the area takes about an hour, and on a clear day you can see the Perth skyline in the distance.

Around 10,000 quokkas live on Rottnest. The little herbivores are about the size of a hare and they congregate in groups under shrubs for shelter. During the day they are relatively quiet, and in the summer months they cleverly get their necessary water from plants.

When you are ready to eat, there is a choice of venue. While most accommodation is geared for self-catering, there are restaurants, tearooms, a bakery, cafe and pub, which sometimes offers entertainment.


A 30-minute boat ride from Fremantle in Western Australia.


Rottnest Lodge has one-night packages starting at $120 per person, including return ferry trip and breakfast.
Please note prices are valid at time of transmission and to the best of our knowledge are inclusive of GST.

More information

Rottnest Island Authority
Ph: (08) 9432 1111

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