Rottnest Island is known to local Aboriginal people as Wadjemup or “Place across the water” and was first known as an island of spirits by the Noongar people who viewed it from the mainland.
Artifacts dated at over 20,000 years old have been exposed on the island indicating Aboriginal occupation prior to the island’s separation from the mainland. The most recent sea level rises between 10,000-6,500 years ago led to the island being separated from the mainland and during this time the local Aboriginal people whom were not sea faring did not traditionally inhabit the island.
The island took on a new and tragic meaning for Aboriginal Australians from the mid 19th century to the 1930s when the island was used as a prison for around 4000 aboriginal men from all over Western Australia. It is estimated that around 10% of these prisoners remain buried on the island and of those that survived, most never made it home. Researchers estimate that every West Australian Aboriginal person alive today has an ancestor that was imprisoned on Rottnest Island.