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08 - Rottnest Island - Quokka

Rottnest Island Timelines

Under construction... completion ETA June 2024

May 1903 The number of prisoners held on Rottnest Island is now down to 21, with “a further eight transferred to work in government offices such as police and telegraph stations across the state until they completed their sentences”.


1904 – Upon permanently closing the island’s aboriginal prison, a forced labour camp is established, which sees Aboriginals exploited for the construction of roads and other work on the island. Rottnest Island becomes reclassified as a penal settlement, an annexe of Fremantle Gaol, for both Aboriginal and well behaved non-Aboriginal prisoners. Until its closure in 1931, Aboriginal inmates are given basic tasks like “wood chopping, carting water and sanitary requirements,” whilst the non-Aboriginal prisoners attend the more “sophisticated tasks”.


1907Colonial Secretary John Connolly drafts a plan to turn Rottnest’s prison island into a place of recreation and holidaying. This would see the Aboriginal burial ground repurposed as a camping ground and the main prison building, the Quod, converted into a hostel.


1917 – Rottnest Island is declared a Class A Reserve and the Rottnest Island Board is formed to oversee the island’s management, as the island becomes a public destination for recreation and tourism.


1922 – For a period of six months starting from December, all Aboriginal prisoners are returned to Fremantle Gaol for the tourist season. They return to Rottnest six months later and this would continue annually, until the island’s prison camp permanently closed in 1931.



August 14 – Japan unconditionally surrenders and World War 2 ends.


December – Rottnest Island opens for tourism with business leases renewed for ferry and air services (1).

15 - Radar Reef - West End Demersal Zone

1961 – A golf course is established on the island (2)


1963 – A bowling green is established (2)


1965 – The Commonwealth leases the site comprising of the Mt Herschel reservoir to the Rottnest Island Board (1).


1972 – A new army jetty is constructed (1).


1977 – Construction of a new settlement in the Geordie and Longreach Bays area begins, consisting of 100 units. To the north of the sea wall at Thomson’s Bay, 15 new villa units are built on the foreshore (2).


05 February 1987 – Rottnest Island releases a $3 million five-year management plan, which would see a strict curb on development. Focus would instead be on maintaining the island’s low-key lifestyle. This comes as a newly rebranded and expanded Rottnest Island Authority (RIA) replaces the Rottnest Island Board, under new legislation. They are expected to be self-funded within five years.

            As part of the restrictions on future developments, no extensions is to be made at the Geordie and Longreach settlements, nor construction of any new building west of the eastern shoreline of the island’s lakes. The first priority of focus is to “control any further degradation of the island’s environment” (New $3m. Rottnest Plan, The West Australian).


August 1997 – A leak is detected in Thomson Bay’s 2-stroke fuel supply bunker, near the fuel jetty.



August – A detailed risk assessment for Rottnest Island is completed, resulting from the Treasurer’s Instruction 109.


October – Internationally renowned historian and author Professor George Seddon, officially opens Lomas Cottage and provides an informative narrative on the island’s unique history with the significance of Lomas Cottage, which was constructed in 1871 (3).

            Signage is erected at the Wadjemup Aboriginal Cemetery, commemorating and promoting its significance (3).


December 5 – Premier Richard Court officially opens the new Rottnest Island Tearooms. It seats 150 people inside and 100 outside (3).


December 1999  – The Minister for Tourism officially opens the reconstructed fuel jetty, which was upgraded at a cost of $654,000 and replaces the former one.

01 - Wadjemup Lighthouse


August – Expressions of interest to redevelop the Quokka Arms is advertised.

            Rottnest Island Voluntary Guides Association members close the H1 gun to carry out maintenance of the gun and tunnels (4).


September – The asbestos roof on accommodation units in the south area of Thompson Bay are replaced. Two more units in the central part of Thomson Bay, the Golf Club and the Department of Interior Defence Shed at the entrance of Kingstown Barracks will also have their roofs replaced, as part of the Asbestos Management Program. This is based on “independent advice from specialist consultancy group MPL Health, Safety and Environmental Solutions (MPL)” and also includes random air sampling for airborne fibres. (4).


November 26 - A report by the Auditor-General finds that the maintenance and repair issue on Rottnest Island, is so dire that it may come to a point where the island is required to close, unless some $50 million in remedial work is undertaken.

  • The RIA is responsible for approximately $150m assets.

  • Generated revenue during the 2002-2003 financial year was more than $20m.

  • The RIA’s deteriorating financial position is “coupled with a legacy of under investment in key assets”.

  • “Escalating costs have exceeded revenue growth” with the RIA recording a deficit of $3.1m in the last financial year, the fifth year in a row.

  • A range of infrastructure, particularly water and sewerage, is in poor condition. Some water mains are older than 40 years and urgently require replacing, with the water main to the settlement last being refurbished in the 1960s. The location of the pipes aren’t well mapped.

  • An estimated $50m is required to bring the island’s accommodation and infrastructure assets up to standard.

  • The island is unable to provide adequate accommodation for island residents.

  • The RIA is acting reactively in lieu of proactively in “managing adverse impacts on the environment”.

  • Heritage places are deteriorating as a result of conservation being impeded.

  • Slow progress is being made to repair the environment.

  • 21 Allison Cabins are currently not being rented out due to their extremely poor conditions and over 50% of the accommodation is due or overdue for refurbishment.

  • Four water tanks are non-operational due to requiring repair, one is under repair due to the roof collapsing and the sixth is operational but urgently requires repair due to concrete cancer.

  • The sewerage reticulation consists of pre-1935 clay pipes which are deteriorating, asbestos pipes installed in the 1940s and galvanised pipes installed in the 1960s.

  • A number of buildings urgently require rewiring.

  • Some components of the gas network, which were installed in the 1970s, are not compliant with current standards.

  • Whilst accommodation prices are comparable with other coastal destinations, they don’t offer many of the features normally provided, such as “linen, ceiling fans or air-conditioning, insect screens and televisions”.

  • The RIA are yet to conduct a comprehensive search of sites that may have previously been contaminated, including land that was previously used by defence, for agriculture and contained asbestos-built constructions.


Tourism Minister Bob Kucera announces the Rottnest Island Taskforce to help address the increasing structural and financial problems (5).

54 - Kingstown Barracks.JPG


January 18 – Coastcare donate a 4.2m Zodiac boat to the RIA, in addition to a $5,000 grant to the Rottnest Island Foundation to assist with their water monitoring programme (6).


April – Redevelopment of the Quokka Arms begins.


May 31 – Overhauling the island’s diesel generators is expected to cost $650,000 over the next two years. Alternatively, installing a wind turbine and load-level diesel generators would give a greater return, at an initial cost of $2.4 million, with the help of funding from the Federal Australian Greenhouse Office (5).



With Tentland located on the old aboriginal burial ground, it is permanently closed, as acknowledgement of the past takes a big step forward.



RIA releases the first Reconciliation Action Plan.



June 26 – An engineering report on the Army Jetty states that “the precast deck slabs are showing extensive corrosion of the reinforcement and spalling of the concrete”.



The RIA partners up with Conservation Volunteers, fostering an Indigenous Green Corps Trainee Program. This enables Aboriginal trainees to gain conservation and management experience, which forms part of the Wadjemup Bidi Project.



A report made public by the RIA sheds light on the Army, Main and Stark jetties requiring maintenance, due to a number of issues that were highlighted in a recent inspection. Replacing the Army Jetty is estimated at $3 million.



August – Expressions of interest are advertised for the construction of a marina.



The Wadjemup Aboriginal Reference Group is established as a Cabinet-appointed advisory group to the RIA.

            The RIA enters into a Noongar Standard Heritage Agreement with the Whadjuk Working Party (2017).

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