History & Culture

Visitors can experience Aboriginal, European, colonial, maritime, military, recreational and social heritage on Rottnest Island, which to a certain extent is reflective of the development of the State of Western Australia.

The history of Rottnest Island has created a rich and significant cultural heritage. First records of human occupation of Rottnest Island are from more than 6,500 years ago when the Island was still attached to the mainland, and Aboriginal people inhabited the area. Since its initial European exploration from the 17th Century and its settlement in 1829, Rottnest Island has been through a number of stages of development and has been used for a variety of purposes.

A brief summary of the colonial history of Rottnest Island is as follows:

Pre 6500 years ago
Aboriginal occupation.

1658 - 1829
European exploration.

1829 - 1838
European settlement, pastoral, fishing and salt gathering.

1838 - 1844
Aboriginal prison, farming, pastoral and salt gathering.

1844 - 1849
Aboriginal prison and pilot service, farming, pastoral and salt gathering.

1849 - 1855
Pilot service and lease, farming, pastoral and salt gathering.

1855 - 1903
Aboriginal prison, Governors' Residence and Boys' Reformatory, pilot service and
lease, farming, pastoral and salt gathering.

1903 - 1936
Recreational use, internment.

1917
Rottnest Island was declared an A-Class Reserve under the Permanent Reserve Act 1899 and the Rottnest Board of Control was formed.

1936 - 1985
Recreational use and military training.

1985 onward
Recreational use.