Yesterday’s excursion to the fabled Rottnest Island, the favourite Westralian weekend retreat 19 km off Fremantle, saw us fall into line with The System, for there seems no alternative unless you cast off in your own vessel. Exorbitant ferry fares and over-priced lunches were forgotten, however, as we disembarked from the hourly shuttle bus onto the first of several snow-white beaches, threw off our shoes and dipped our toes into translucent, turquoise waters. Later, we watched whales cavort offshore, discovered a pair of ospreys feeding their fledglings and made the acquaintance of Rottnest’s ubiquitous marsupial quokkas – without leaving the one sandy cove.
Rottnest means ‘rat’s nest’ in 17th century Dutch, but Willem de Vlamingh, the island’s first tourist, who landed here in 1696, was a little wide of the mark. The intrepid explorer captured and transported three of WA’s uniquely black swans to Batavia, capital of the Dutch East Indies, but like all his peers, found nothing else of note on this seeming barren coast. Later visitors collected rock salt from the island’s saline lakes then set up a penal camp for ‘enemy aliens’ during the war years.