Rottnest Island; A Prison turned Haven

BY: Shirley Asiedu-Addo
The Indian ocean on Rottnest Island
The Indian ocean on Rottnest Island

It's a place of peace and fun—a place where nature displays its utmost glamour.

Rocks and woods, splashes and fresh breeze, birds and boats, quokkas and good food plus whales on a lucky day; this is Rottnest Island, Perth, Australia.

Any traveler who experiences the Indian Ocean on Rottnest Island is very likely to want to return to see its beauty again.

The Indian ocean on Rottnest Island

Well, the Island has not always been the paradise it is today.

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The Prison

Its dark history of pain, anger and hate cannot be lost totally on the people of Australia.

More than a century and a half ago, between 1838 and 1931, Rottnest Island served as a horrific prison for aboriginal men.

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For almost 40 of those years, that is, from 1864-1903, prisoners were held in the building known as the Quod on Rottnest.

The Quod is an old English slang word for prison. It was believed to have been chosen to depict the grim and deplorable conditions in which the prisoners, mostly aborigines who lived on the land lived.

The reporter, Shirley Asiedu-Addo

In those days, about five prisoners shared a 2x3 meter cell with no windows or fireplace and slept on the floor with thin blankets.

Diseases spread easily and killed many under very regrettable circumstances.

After the prison was closed in 1903, the place was transformed gradually into the haven it is now for tourists.

In 1911, 20 of the prison cells were converted into the first 10 guest rooms on what was to be one of Perth's most adorable tourist sites.

Rottnest Island is the largest Island in a chain of limestone islands and reefs near Perth, Australia.

Why Rottnest

In 1696, an European visitor named it Rottnest Island after mistaking the many quokkas on the Island for rats.

The Quokkas

Quokkas are like darker small kangaroos.

Australia is noted for kangaroos and quokkas.

Many know about kangaroos but not so much about quokkas. In Rottnest Island quokkas court friendships with human. They are impudently friendly to humans. They would likely not run from a human being and cone really close to tourists as if to say "hello".

The Quokkas are friendly and will not run from humans

They really add to the Island’s natural appeal.

Rottnest Island is located 18kilometres of the coast of Fremantle.

We (International Media Visitors covering the Australia-Africa week, 2018) had joined a ferry at Fremantle together with several other tourists to Rottnest.

About 15 minutes later, we were welcomed to a picturesque sight; ocean blues, beaches and bay strictly clean.


The Rottnest Island is known to the local aboriginals as ‘Wadjemup’ meaning "place of spirits" in the Whadjuk Language and is of immense significance to the original people who lived there.

Mr Walter McGuire, a descendant of the original owners of the land and his wife, Meg and daughter, Ilona, welcomed us the traditional way with prayers and a song.

He wore white clay on his forward and almost looked like an African traditional priest except he wore jeans and t-shirt.

The reporter in a photograph with Mr Walter McGuire descendant of the original owners of the land

For Walter, the culture and spirit of his people are more than alive.

He stated that no nation can do well if it ignored it past truths, culture and tradition.

"Whatever development, buildings, businesses and new cities, without culture, not much can be achieved,” he said.

Walter’s wife and daughter were of the view that there has to be a right blend of traditions and development.

Ilona said she was excited to be able to learn from the past to help her prepare for the future.

The Size

Rottnest measures 11 kilometres by 4.5 kilometre at its widest point and about 19kilometres square in area. It's highest point is 45 metres above sea level.

The Island has trails and most tourists use bicycles to explore its beauty.

The Economics

The economic gains from the Island is huge. During peak seasons, dozens of hundreds of holiday makers ferry from Fremantle to Rottnest Island.

This has really good business implications for the Australian government which earns about 20 million Australian dollars from the Islands activities yearly.

There are averagely 100 events a year on the Island, attracting over 700,000 visitors a year, including about 200,000 boating visitors and 400,000 ferry visitors.

Chief Executive Officer of the Rottnest Island, Ms Michelle Reynolds interacting with the team of International Media Visitors on the island said the authority was committed to keeping the island safe from any abuse for posterity.

Chief Executive Officer of the Rottnest Island, Ms Michelle Reynolds

"It's a restricted area to fishing or hunting," she stated, adding that all effort is being made to keep the island closest to its natural state.

The Rottnest Island Community

Currently, only about a 100 people live and work on the Island.

The community has a health facility, a police station and a school.

A hot launch at the Thomsons restaurant, Frankies- on Rotto or Kingston Kafe would make you feel more at home.

It also has a 9-hole golf course, tennis courts, basketball courts and skydiving.

Undoubtedly, the Island is kept firmly clean with lots of dustbins at strategic points.

The 1,100 tonnes of recyclable waste generated on the Island a year is sent to mainland, Perth, to be recycled.

Community Engagement

Community volunteers play significant roles in ensuring the island maintains its grace devoting about 40, 000 hours a year to conservation, maintenance works and tours, events and education on the island.

Environment, Conservation and Sustainability

The Island has one wind turbine and a 600 kilowatts solar set-up with 8000 photovoltaic modules mounted on a fixed array.

Indeed, up to 45 percent of the Island's electricity is from renewable sources.

Wastewater from the toilets, showers and other domestic drains is treated at an on-island waste water treatment plant for reuse.


Rottnest Island tourist, environmental and conservation practices does not only provide earnings for the Australian government but also presents an example for institutions and governments to learn the good for our benefit.

The beautiful beach of Rottnest Island

Tourism facilities must present the people who visit with strong positive indelible memories that make them want to come back and bring others.

As Ghana seeks to move to a nation beyond aid, every opportunity to earn revenue must be optimised.

Nature Deal

Nature has dealt fairly with us. It has given us beaches and places that can be developed into amazing tourist sites.

The Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 11 urges all to make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.

Similarly, SDG 14 requires us to conserve and sustainably use oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.

SDG 15 further requires us to protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss.

There are important lessons for us on Rottnest Island.