• Rottnest Island is being marketed as Western Australia's tourist destination. It once was an island prison for Aboriginal men and boys. (WA State Library)Source: WA State Library
Western Australia promotes Rottnest Island as one of their major tourist’s destinations, however many people don’t know the island has the record of being the location of the largest deaths in custody gravesite in the nation.
Rangi Hirini

20 Apr 2018 - 12:46 PM  UPDATED 20 Apr 2018 - 1:54 PM

For years former jail cells which held Aboriginal prisoners have been used as Rottnest Island's main tourist accommodation.

Next month Rottnest Island’s ‘Quod’ will be handed back to the Rottnest Island Authority.

Located 18 kilometres west of Fremantle, the island is known by Noongar people as Wadjemup.

Yesterday the state government announced a multi-million dollar re-development for the holiday island of the Hotel Rottnest.

It’s just one of the many moves the government has made this year in an effort to push more tourists to the island. Earlier this year they also gave away free trips to the island to aeroplane passengers on a non-stop flight to London from Perth.

Tourism WA is currently running a campaign to get West Australians travelling as tourists WA, while also trying to attract interstate visitors, with Rottnest Island as on of the main attractions.

Rottnest's dark history to be recognised in museum
Rottnest Island's dark past will finally be acknowledged by the West Australian government, with plans to transform the old Aboriginal prison site into a cultural centre.

From 1838 to 1931 (excluding 1849 to 1855) Rottnest Island was used as a jail for Aboriginal men, with more than 3700 men across the state being sent there before the prison officially closed in 1904

One-tenth of those prisoners, 373 men, died on the island, it’s believed 95 per cent of the deaths were from influenza.

The Quod, which is now used as tourist accommodation, was once used to house Aboriginal prisoners. Each 1.7m x 3m cell held seven men.

In 1971 the first skeletal remains were found on the island in the ‘Tentland’ area. For years campers did not know they were sleeping on top of 373 unmarked Aboriginal graves .

It is the largest deaths in custody site in Australia, and the largest known burial grounds of Aboriginal people.

There was evidence found last month that a second burial ground is located on the island. Rottnest Island Authority executive director Michelle Reynolds said they will be looking into the new information on a second burial ground.

Western Australian’s Tourism Minister, Paul Papalia said the site the Quod could possibly become a museum but it will be the decision of the Wadjemup Working Group as to what will happen.

"It would have been a terrible thing in itself to take them off-country and then they ended up dying here, having worked in a prison," Mr Papalia said on Thursday.

Minister Papalia said the upgrade to Hotel Rottnest will also see more acknowledgement of the dark history on Rottnest.

"Further work will be done on recognition and potentially the start of a long- term commemoration of what happened on the island," Mr Papalia said.

The Quod will be handed back to the Rottnest Island Authority on May 31.

Additional reporting AAP.

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