The penal colony turned luxury resort

A former Aboriginal prison will house a $40 million luxury hotel redevelopment marketed as the ultimate holiday destination.

Some 3700 Aboriginal men were incarcerated on Rott­­­­nest Island, located 19 km off Fremantle on the WA coast, between 1838 to 1904. Around one-tenth of them died on the island, most from influenza.

Now one of the Thompson Bay settlement’s buildings, the former Quokka Hotel, is set for a major expansion which will almost double the footprint of the 1858 Victorian Tudor-style limestone-rendered building to include luxury accommodation, four pools, conference and gym facilities for the island.

WA tourism minister Paul Papalia announced the development this week, saying it would “transform the island” and allow the state “to sell Rottnest as a world-class destination,”. 

The plan also includes an expansion of part of the Rottnest Lodge complex, which is adjacent to the former Quod prison accommodation, to include a day spa. 

Mr Papalia said the Quod could possibly become a museum but it will be the decision of the Wadjemup Working Group as to what will happen when The Quod is handed back to the Rottnest Island Authority on May 31.

“It would have been a terrible thing in itself to take them off-country and then they ended up dying here, having worked in a prison,” he said of the island’s Aboriginal inmates.

“Further work will be done on recognition and potentially the start of a long- term commemoration of what happened on the island.”

A heritage impact statement prepared by Stephen Corrick Architects concluded that the development would not adversely affect the cultural significance of the site.

The plan addresses the cultural significance of the Thompson Bay Settlement, delivering an ‘appropriately-scaled’ building with height and setback in line with the surrounding development.

“Inspired by the existing cottages, the arrival along Bedford Venue and Parker Point Road presents as a series of single storey pavilions set back off the road, amongst the existing trees,” the development application states.

 “The design expresses a contemporary architectural style not to detract from the unique architecture of the former Governor’s Residence.

“The beach front villas respond to the articulation and rhythm of the North Thompson Bay cottages as well as the clusters of units towards South Thompson.”

Mr Papalia said the luxury hotel expansion would increase the diversity of accommodation options on the island.

“This space is going to transform the island and allow us to sell Rottnest as a world-class destination,” he said.

“This doesn’t take any accommodation away from the affordable end of the spectrum. It will add to the other end.

 “It will boost competition, create jobs, and make Rottnest a stronger competitor with international holiday destinations.”

In addition to heritage considerations, the built form of the new extension will cater to Rottnest’s Quokka population.

 “The site uses the built form to create a secure development and deter interference from local wildlife, namely the quokkas,” architects the Christou Design Group stated.

The approval of plans to expand the main resort comes amid the start of construction of a glamping site on the island.

The eco tent resort at Pinky’s Beach will include 80 tents and is scheduled to open at the end of 2018, with tents ranging in cost from $100 to $350 a night.

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