‘dear mummy, we have made good progress across the indian ocean, towards batavia. we were gunning along at great speed when we suddenly came across this inconveniently located landmass where we are expected to look for our wayward colleagues – no sign of them yet. we tried to see if we could strike up trading relations with the locals but they only have pieces of wood full of coloured dots and singlets with football team names but this is all wrong because they carry the oddly shaped ball in their hands. we also came across this little island which is infested with the biggest rats we’ve ever seen – so we called it ‘t eylandt ‘t rottenest. it’s a nice place and we spent a few days on the beach fishing but ran out of beer so we’re off to indonesia. your son willem de vlamingh. december 1696.’
i could have happened. i admit this letter is all made-up, but willem really thought the quokkas were large rats. other than that he apparently liked the place, a sentiment we wholeheartedly agree with.
they are way too cute to be rats, don’t you think?
early explorers also mentioned that the island was covered with trees; today there are only a few left and most of the vegetation is bushes. we may have to thank mr robert thompson for that, at least in part. he was the first farmer on the island and it would not surprise me if he had straight away started to cut down the trees to make room for more useful plants.
this approach is still practiced in large parts of australia; as a result the land clearing rate on the driest continent on earth rivals that of the amazon rainforest. not the kind of record one would like to hold. yet there are still calls to remove ‘red tape’ so farmers can cut down more trees even quicker, without any oversight or reporting. smart.
one thing that has not changed – and was also reported by the first european visitors, is that the island is difficult to approach due to its many submerged rocks. there are two lighthouses on the island; they were also helping to guide ships past the island into fremantle, the main port in western australia. it must have been a nightmare getting there through the maze of rocks and reefs just on its doorstep before the advent of gps and electronic nautical maps.
today the island is mostly invaded by tourists. quokkas are now known as the happiest marsupials (because they appear to smile) and they are said to enjoy a selfie as well. let’s not disappoint them then.
it is possible to explore the island by bicycle (even e-bike) but we chose the hop-on-hop-off bus. the island is not too big but quite hilly and we saw a few tourists struggling up the inclines. we spent five hours on rottnest but didn’t really have time to hang around much.
the western tip was the most spectacular place, with massive surf bashing against the rocks. a day is the bare minimum to explore this beautiful place. we highly recommend a visit, it’s less than an hour from perth, or better still hillarys.
these still got to be the cutest rats ever.
(they are marsupials!)