Wadjemup, Rottnest Island, Australia

Among Quokkas and other Aboriginal Spirits

Costly Climb
The Great Tower
The Lighthouse on a Rainy Day
Henrietta Rocks
salt lake
Boat Anchorage
coral cove
Parker Point
Parker Point Staircase
Stylist Bather
bathing duo
Pristine Coastline
Australia of all dreams
Duo Quokka
In the XNUMXth century, a Dutch captain nicknamed this island surrounded by a turquoise Indian Ocean, “Rottnest, a rat's nest”. The quokkas that eluded him were, however, marsupials, considered sacred by the Whadjuk Noongar aborigines of Western Australia. Like the Edenic island on which the British colonists martyred them.

With the austral summer at its end and the loneliest of Australian cities, more than 2000km from another large city, the passengers on board were a few, fans of a silent peace that favored contemplation.

At least, as much as possible, in the 25 minutes of the journey. In less than that time, Rottnest's lines are defined. The cyan that decorates the sea closest to the island is accentuated, inside the barrier reef that protects it.

The ferry shallows the Philip Rock geological landmark. Soon, it docks on the east coast, protected by the pontoon that mitigates the strength of the waves, almost always oriented from the south.

The urbanized area of ​​the island is right there, in a narrow eastern strip, installed between Thomson Bay that had welcomed us and the nine or ten lakes that dot the eastern section of Rottnest. From this rowdy fringe, full of tourist businesses, a natural and intriguing vastness extended.

With almost a month of living Perth city life, we were anxious to get lost.

We confirmed that the island measured a mere 10km, from one end to the other. We rent bicycles.

As happens all too often to travellers, functional on the level and downhill, real punishments, poorly mechanized, even on the smoothest slopes.

We bet on the south. Ride after ride, Parker Point Rd. brings us closer to one called Porpoise Bay. We did not see the porpoises, which the English-speaking name suggests are regular visitors.

The small cove and beach of Paterson, which precedes the bay, reveals the bathing splendor that, historical interest aside, attracts outsiders to Rottnest.

A coral beach of an immaculate whiteness enters the translucent sea.

It thickens the emerald tone of a few meters. Then, with increasing depth, it turns to turquoise or a dense teal.

The road goes down a peninsula to an observation point, already elevated over the sand, which gives it its name.

A wooden staircase gives access to a beach next to that of Paterson.

Down below, a few cyclists had already become bathers.

At 32º latitude, more than 1100 km below Coral Bay where the Tropic of Capricorn intersects the west coast of australia and probable imminence of the undefined Antarctic ocean, only the tones of the sea that bathes Rottnest Island are tropical.

Between cold and fresh, that irreproachable Indian coastline fails to deter true nature lovers.

We see them enjoying vacant and quasi-private coves. The offshore reef barrier protects them from Nature and makes them feel warm. It does nothing for adventurers who venture into the open Indian Ocean.

There is a lot to Australia's lethal wildlife contributes to its imagery of dazzling exoticism. At the head of the dangerous species are, of course, sharks. Rottnest Island is no exception.

This has not prevented several activities agencies from organizing snorkeling and diving trips there, nor thousands of clients from participating in them.

The last of the inevitable fatalities occurred in October 2011. An American who was diving, alone, 500 meters off the north coast, was attacked by a shark that caused him fatal injuries.

In the past decade, there were other tragic or almost tragic contacts, at intervals, with great white sharks.

In 2021, the authorities were forced to close all the beaches on the island. A whale carcass that washed ashore spawned a feast of hungry sharks.

The mere sightings, these, occur every month. The island is home to colonies of Australian sea lions and fur seals. Sharks have been patrolling it for a long time in search of food.

In the mythology of the aborigines of the Australian coast – those who managed to see the animal – the biggest sharks were seen as spirits of creation and destruction, at the same time, symbols of bravery and fearlessness, from tribe to tribe, sometimes deified and sometimes demonized, and even the two things on par.

The aborigines of southwestern Australia did not develop the use of canoes as did the Maori people of New Zealand. The natives of these parts of the big island used to swim in the rivers and estuaries, including the Swan River.

They never ventured out to sea, not even in search of Islands closest to the mainland, those they called Wadjemup (Rottnest) and Meeandip (Garden Island to the south).

Now, an aboriginal oral tradition survives in the areas now occupied by the Swan River estuary and other parts of Perth that bear witness to this. A more fearless Aboriginal is said to have ventured to swim to Wadjemup.

He returned safe and sound, intimidated to have found the place surrounded by sharks.

Since then, no other Aboriginal has dared to imitate the feat.

In prehistoric times, indigenous Noongar people came to inhabit Rottnest. The artifacts found there, dating from between 7000 and 30.000 to 50.000 years ago, prove it.

It is estimated that, around 7000 years ago, as the temperature and sea level rose caused the separation of the island from the mainland, the indigenous people were forced to abandon it.

They would return, in a context that their elaborate mythology never foresaw, alas.invasion and colonization of australia by European peoples.

We continue our Tour of Rottnest by bicycle, meanwhile, already along the vast bay of Salmon. Same Parker Point Rd. takes us close to a local surf school.

And the Rottnest lighthouse tower.

We admire it, detached, like a rocket, from the top of the Wadjemup hill, above bushes and tiny trees, all in resplendent shades of green that contrast with the sky laden with humidity and a matching ethereal blue.

Accompanying the lighthouse is a battery of cannons and an observation post, and a barracks erected to house women from the Australian army, which has mainly hosted groups in charge of scientific studies.

The island has another lighthouse. They form a duo of the tallest buildings built by settlers arriving from the Old World.

Since the beginning of the XNUMXth century, several Dutch, French and British expeditions have sighted the island.

It would be the story of a Dutch captain who, in 1696, would inspire the western name of the place, Rottnest.

More than once, we came across animals we had never seen before, not at all elusive, in one case or another, apparently smiling. His smile led, moreover, to the quokkas (setonyx brachyurus) are dubbed “the happiest animal on the face of the Earth”.

This does not prevent the island's infirmary from often receiving visits from outsiders who abused its approaches, injured by the bites of its sharp teeth.

Quokkas are marsupials.

Like sharks, they are part of mythology Dreamtime of the aborigines who describe it as capable of metamorphosis into other creatures, sacred guardians of lakes and water sources of the natives, in such a way that they use their skins in rain ceremonies.

All this sacredness and adulation is at odds with the disdain with which the first Europeans found and described the animal. The first recorded report was made by Willem de Vlamingh, the Dutch captain.

Faced with the abundance of quokka, de Vlamingh dubbed the island Eyland's Rottenest, “Island of the Rats’ Nest.”

As is known, the British supplanted the Dutch in the colonization of Australia, largely thanks to the policy of there to banish thousands of the condemned that filled their prisons.

In 1831, following the British settlement of the Swan River, at least one large family was granted land at Rottnest.

There he moved, where he prospered from the cattle breeding and the sale of the salt that still abounds in the lakes on the east of the island.

At the time, the British maintained a belligerent relationship with the aborigines, who sought, by all means, to expel and even decimate them, in order to take over their lands.

For, just seven years after the arrival of this British family, until 1931, the authorities of the Swan colony used the island as a prison for aborigines, who were enslaved there for, among other things, quarrying, agricultural work and salt collection.

During this period, they were treated cruelly and inhumanely, and buried accordingly in what is now the Wadjemup Aboriginal Burial Ground, close to the prison where they were held.

Another of the ironies lies in the fact that the buildings of the reformatory for indigenous boys, functional between 1881 and 1901, are now used as one of the most popular holiday accommodations on the island, still sacred to the aborigines, still as out of their world, as popular among the Australian settlers.

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