History & Culture

Quokka at Government House Lake

The Island earned its curious name when in 1696, Dutch explorer, William de Vlamingh, mistook the island’s unusual marsupial population for common rats and named it Rottnest – literally translating to ‘rats nest’. Today, having a photo taken alongside the ‘rats’ – known as Quokkas – is one of the main highlights for visitors to the island.

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The Rottnest museum is housed in the original old mill and haystore that was built by Aboriginal prisoners in 1857. It provides fascinating insights and comprehensive information about the Island including history, marine wrecks, European settlement, Aboriginal prisoners, communication and recreations.

Salt Store windows

Constructed by Aboriginal prisoners in 1868, the Salt Store was originally used to hold the bagged salt collected from two of Rottnest Island’s salt lakes, ready for transportation to Fremantle. In 1997 the limestone building was restored but still retains many of its original features.

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Today, this relaxed and unconventional venue is primarily used as a gallery space and hosts a variety of interpretive displays and unique art and photography exhibitions.

Lomas Cottage

Located on the Heritage Common, Lomas cottage was originally built for John Lomas, an ex-convict and later ‘Imperial Pauper’ for whom the Government provided housing and provisions. Over the years the cottage has served many different purposes. In 1997 it was restored to its original form and now serves as an exhibition space. The cottage provides interpretive information on the intriguing life of John Lomas and houses The Angelo Collection. The 15 photographs which comprise the Angelo Collection represent some of the most significant portraits of life on Rottnest Island in the 19th Century. The collection contains photographs of male Aboriginal prisoners engaged in a variety of activities on Rottnest Island and are perhaps the most significant and poignant photographs of their type.

Our Oldest Street

Walk past the Colonial streetscape of Vincent Way which is said to be the oldest ‘in-tact’ colonial streetscape in Australia and is an important part of Rottnest Island’s rich cultural history.

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A striking display of Rottnest’s maritime history, featuring a replica pilot boat and historic photographs are located in the Pilot Boathouse, which is located in the seawall east of the Visitor Centre.

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More than thirteen ships have been wrecked within the waters of Rottnest Island. These wrecks are protected under Commonwealth legislation, Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976, as well as State legislation, Maritime Archeology Act 1973. Plaques have been located next to the wrecks and are complemented by onshore plaques indicating their locations.

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The Island’s first lighthouse was completed in 1851 and was constructed by Aboriginal prisoners, under the supervision of the Prison Superintendent. Half a century later it was replaced with a new, taller lighthouse on Wadjemup Hill; and a third was built in 1900 at Bathurst Point after the loss of 11 lives when the ship, the City of York, was wrecked in 1899. The Bathurst Point and Wadjemup Hill lighthouses remain today. The Wadjemup lighthouse was opened to the public on November 2nd, 2005, tours are held daily.

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Rottnest Island has played a military role in both World War I and World War II and has also had post-war training functions. Two Military heritage trails are the Bickley Battery Heritage Trail and the Oliver Hill Heritage Trail which give visitors a full appreciation of the newly restored Bickley Battery 6-inch guns which were an integral part of the defence of the Port of Fremantle during WWII and a massive 9.2 inch diameter gun at Oliver Hill.

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Read the interpretation at the Wadjemup Aboriginal Burial Ground and take a moment to sit and reflect on the sad time in history when Rottnest Island was used as an Aboriginal penal settlement. The Rottnest Foundation is currently seeking funding to enable the appropriate repair and recognition of this site.