Rottnest Island



Rottnest Island is found approximately 20 miles east of Perth in the Indian Ocean. This island was known as Wadjemup to the Aboriginal people, who first inhabited the land before it became an island. We were able to visit the Rottnest Island Museum and learn about the history of the island.

Rottnest Island


The Rottnest Island Museum

The Rottnest Museum was built in 1857 by the Aboriginal prisoners, and originally served as a hayshed and granary. Today it serves a museum for the main facts about the Island, including natural history, marine wrecks, European settlement, Aboriginal prisoners, communications and recreation. It is a small building that is so full with exhibits that it is hard to be bored. We all found it very interesting to learn about the general history, as well as what we were there to study.

A History of the Prison on Rottnest Island

1838- Aboriginal prisoners were brought to the island. Part of their labor was to build everything on the island, including the prison that they were to be housed in.

1884- Inquiry regarding treatment of prisoners. Some findings included that the prisoners were always sick, they refused to eat, and they were bound by shackles. Sunday was considered a free day for the prisoners (under Warden Jackson). They were free from 9 am until 4 pm. No meals were served, so they had to catch their own food.

1903- The prisons were closed. Over the course of sixty years, there were two prisons on the island, which imprisoned over 3,000 Aboriginal people.

Why and How Did the Imprisonment of the Aboriginal Peoples Begin?

Ever since the beginning of the Swan River Colony there were evident problems between the white settlers and the aboriginal people. Aboriginal people were brought to the prison for infringement of white law. The settlers liked the law because it gave a sense of security and freedom.

Other Facts About Rottnest

- About 6,500-10,000 years ago the sea rose up and a high ridge of limestone separated what would later be known as Rottnest Island from the main land. There is evidence of that Aboriginal people lived on the mainland before it was separated. Some plants died out when the island was separated because of the strong climatic changes. An example is the Eucalyptus plants dying out.

- The quokka is the only native mammal to the island. It lives around swamps and marshy areas. Our class ran into a few on our travels around the island.

- Two times as many species can live on the island as on the mainland because of the wide variety of habitats.

- Sometimes when Aboriginal people come to learn more about their history, they perform a sort of ritual that many of the people who live and work on Rottnest really enjoy. Since it is known to the Aboriginal people that the spirits of their ancestors live in the trees, they put leaves on a fire to burn. After the ashes go into the ground, new trees grow and the spirits are once again there to protect the Island.




Thomas Bay


Today the island is a popular vacation spot for White Australians. The Aboriginal people often do not go to the island for a vacation, but rather to pay homage to their ancestors.



We spent our first full day on the island. A majority of us rented bikes and toured the various beaches of the island, where we could snorkel or just relax in the sun. Others, such as Kathy and Annie, toured the entire Island on the bus, stopping to enjoy their favorite beach scenes.


Riding bikes across the Island.

Climbing around on the rocks in the ocean.

Taking a break from a long walk.

Enjoying our first day in the sun!