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Island harbours chequered past

NOW touted as one of WA’s greatest tourist attractions, Rottnest Island has a chequered past.

The 1,900 hectare limestone island, about 18 kilometres west of Fremantle, has served as a defence forces base, a holiday home for the WA Governor and a prison for Aborigines.

Today, it is primarily a holiday island also used for education camps and as a convention centre.

Rottnest is about 11 kilometres long, 4.5 kilometres wide and has 40 kilometres of coastline dotted with sandy bays offering superb swimming, surfing and water sports.

Snorkelling off Rottnest has been compared with Queensland’s Great Barrier Reef.

The island is predominantly car free. Bicycles provide the main form of transport and can be hired on the island.

Rottnest is an A-class reserve, similar to many of WA’s national parks and is managed by the Rottnest Island Authority.

The island hosted its first European visitors in 1696 when Dutch mariner William Vlamingh arrived.

Mr Vlamingh named the island Rottnest, which is Dutch for rat’s nest. He mistook the island’s quokkas for large rats.

Quokkas are a form of wallaby. Their biggest population is on Rottnest but some have been found near Wellington Dam in the South West.

The marsupials played a huge role in creating a world-renowned muscular dystrophy research institute in Perth.

Quokkas develop symptoms very similar to humans with muscular dystrophy.

Muscular dystrophy researcher Professor Byron Kakulas found this was due to a lack of vitamins. When given the vitamins, the quokkas recovered.

This discovery enabled the Neuro Muscular Institute to be formed at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital.

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