Social Sustainability

The Social Sustainability Policy (the Policy) describes the Rottnest Island Authority’s (RIA) approach to maintaining a positive social environment within the Rottnest Island Reserve.

The Policy supports the RIA’s overarching Sustainability Policy and is consistent with the strategic direction of Rottnest Island.


The Island’s harmonious social environment is one of its main attractions to visitors and therefore, needs to be preserved and actively supported. The social environment contributes to the Island’s economic viability.

Social sustainability describes the Rottnest Island Authority’s (RIA) approach to maintaining a positive and inclusive social environment within the Rottnest Island Reserve.

Maintaining a harmonious social environment supports the operation of world-class tourism facilities and services that both celebrate and respect the Island’s unique mix of cultural and built heritage places.

This approach is embedded within RIA’s overarching Social Sustainability Policy and is consistent with the strategic direction of Rottnest Island.

Culturally significant sites on Wadjemup

Known as ‘Wadjemup’ in the Noongar language of the traditional Whadjuk custodians, Rottnest Island offers a landmark Aboriginal heritage and reconciliation site due to its historical use as an Aboriginal prison from 1838-1904, and subsequent forced labour camp for Aboriginal prisoners until 1931.

Click here to read more about the Island's history.

Artefacts have also been found at a number of sites on Rottnest Island predating 6,500 years ago, indicating occupation of the land by Whadjuk people prior to the Island’s separation from the mainland. There are currently 17 registered Aboriginal heritage sites on the Island which are protected under provisions of the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972, including amongst others Dreaming sites, archaeological sites and the Burial Ground. Under this Act, it is an offence to alter an Aboriginal site in any way without prior written permission from the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs.

The Wadjemup Project

A suite of projects and activities, including state-wide community consultations, have been undertaken since the 1980s. The more recent developments led by RIA are outlined below:

  • 2015: Stage 1 of the Burial Ground Memorial Plan was completed in accordance with a concept plan developed through state-wide consultations undertaken in earlier years. A Whadjuk-owned landscaping, construction and environmental management company was engaged to complete the works, which included the construction of a path around the site. 
  • 2015: A $500,000 Lotterywest grant was awarded to the Rottnest Foundation to upgrade the interpretation at the site and to further progress the landscaping outlined in the concept plan.
  • 2016: State Cabinet appointed the Wadjemup Aboriginal Reference Group to provide strategic and cultural advice on the future of the Burial Ground and Quod to RIA.  
  • 2017: The Wadjemup Aboriginal Reference Group, Rottnest Foundation and RIA engaged a consultant to work with the State’s Aboriginal community on the project.  Meetings were held in nine regional centres, from Esperance to Kununurra.
  • 2018: Under the guidance of the Wadjemup Aboriginal Reference Group, RIA excised the Quod from a commercial lease and returned the building to RIA management as a temporary measure.
  • 2020: The current members of the Reference Group are Lindsay Dean, Walter McGuire, Brendan Moore and Pam Thorley.

The Wadjemup Project is now a state-wide multi-agency project led by the Western Australian Government’s Department of the Premier and Cabinet.

This project aims to formally acknowledge the Island’s Aboriginal history through:

  • Truth Telling - to acknowledge Wadjemup's history of Aboriginal incarceration and its role in the colonisation of WA;
  • Ceremony - to facilitate healing in line with Aboriginal cultural protocol; and
  • Memorialisation - of the former prison sites on Wadjemup, including the Quod and the Wadjemup Aboriginal Burial Ground.

The Quod

Click here to read more about The Quod.

Wadjemup Aboriginal Burial Ground project

Click here to read more about the Wadjemup Aboriginal Burial Ground.