1st Edition

The Lives and Legacies of a Carceral Island A Biographical History of Wadjemup/Rottnest Island

    212 Pages 22 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    212 Pages 22 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    This book is a biographical history of Rottnest Island, a small carceral island offshore from Western Australia. Rottnest is also known as Wadjemup, or "the place across the water where the spirits are", by Noongar, the Indigenous people of south-western Australia.

    Through a series of biographical case studies of the diverse individuals connected to the island, the book argues that their particular histories lend Rottnest Island a unique heritage in which ​Indigenous, maritime, imperial, colonial, penal, and military histories intersect with histories of leisure and recreation. Tracing the way in which Wadjemup/Rottnest Island has been continually re-imagined and re-purposed throughout its history, the text explores the island’s carceral history, which has left behind it a painful community memory.

    Today it is best known as a beach holiday destination, a reputation bolstered by the "quokka selfie" trend, the online posting of photographs taken with the island’s cute native marsupial. This book will appeal to academic readers with an interest in Australian history, Aboriginal history, and the history of the British Empire, especially those interested in the burgeoning scholarship on the concept of "carceral archipelagos" and island prisons.


    1. Willem de Vlamingh: Explorer, 1696–1697

    2. Henry Vincent and Louisa Vincent: Prison Superintendent and Prison Matron, 1839–1845

    3. Jane Elizabeth Green: Female Prisoner, 1840–1842

    4. Henry Vincent and Louisa Vincent: The Later Years, 1846–1866

    5. Lady Mary Anne Barker: The Governor’s Wife, 1883–1884

    6. Benjamin, Bob Thomas, Brandy, Yadthee, Harry, Jumbo, and Weeti Weeti: The Commission of Inquiry Attestants, 1881–1887

    7. Karl Lehmann and Martin Trojan: Civilian Internees, 1914–1915

    8. Herman August Kuring: Commandant, 1940–1941

    9. Fay Sullivan: Nurse and Host to Holidaymakers, 1960–1984



    Ann Curthoys is an honorary professor at the University of Western Australia and the University of Sydney and is Professor Emerita at the Australian National University where she was the Manning Clark Chair of Australian History from 1995 to 2008. She has written on many aspects of Australian history and specialises in women’s history and Aboriginal history including key works on Aboriginal labour history and genocide studies. Her books include Freedom Ride: A Freedomrider Remembers (2002), winner of the AIATSIS Stanner Prize in 2003, and, with Jessie Mitchell, Taking Liberty: Indigenous Rights and Settler Self-Government in Colonial Australia, 1830 - 1890 (2018).

    Shino Konishi is an Aboriginal historian and descends from the Yawuru people of Broome, Western Australia. She is an associate professor in the Institute for Humanities and Social Sciences at the Australian Catholic University and is author of The Aboriginal Male in the Enlightenment World (2012). Konishi is the recipient of an Australian Research Council Discovery Indigenous Fellowship, funded by the Australian Government, and is leading a collaborative research project on Indigenous biography.

    Alexandra Ludewig is Professor of German Studies and the Head of the School of Humanities at the University of Western Australia. She is the author of a German-language book about the Internment Camp on Rottnest Island during World War One: Zwischen Korallenriff und Stacheldraht. Interniert auf Rottnest 1914-1915 (2015) and Wartime on Wadjemup: A Social History of the Rottnest Island Internment Camp (2019). Moreover, as a Rottnest Volunteer Guide, she has a long association with the island both as a visitor and guide.

    "Curthoys, Konishi and Ludewig have succeeded in shedding light onto a little know period of Australia’s aboriginal past through this manuscript on Rottnest’s dark history. The Lives is a reading of the silences of Australia’s island histories. It brings accountability, dignity and visibility to the repressed stories of Rottnest Island’s penitentiary past. The authors have successfully created a gallery of buried lives. They read like snapshots of people one might even imagine having met: the brave little 14 year old English girl, Jane Green; the jovial Aboriginal prisoner Jumbo, the indefatigable Nurse Fay. The book tenderly reconstructs fragments of history’s forgotten proleteriat through old fashioned archival work and historical research. The prose is lively, the stories are succinct. The result is a rare and poignant collection of indigenous, European and colonial island dweller portrayals of Australia’s ostracized citizens, shaping the peripheries of modern Australia."

    May Joseph, Pratt Institute, New York, USA

    "While the authors wisely eschew any totalising narrative for the set of biographies they have presented, they do note that thissmall-scale history – the story of Wadjemup – is connected to a broader phenomenon of unfree labour which proliferated withthe Indian Ocean from the nineteenth century, in part because of the remoteness of this ocean itself from European populationcentres. As Curthoys, Konishi, and Ludewig set out compellingly in their opening discussion, the island’s separateness aff ords inot only physical but also psychological distance from and for those who control it from the mainland." 

    Georgina ArnottAustralian Book Review, July 2023, no. 455

    "In this exceptional co-authored book, Ann Curthoys, Shino Konishi and Alexandra Ludewig tell a compelling new history of Wadjemup/Rottnest. They reframe the island, 19 kilometres off the Western Australian (WA) coast, as part of a connected Indian Ocean and narrate its history through the lives of those who ‘sojourned’ there (1). The book presents the island’s layered history: as a ‘place where the spirits are taken’, to Noongar people (4); as a landing site for early European expeditions; as a prison island for 3,700 Aboriginal people; as a site of internment for more than 1,100 German and Austro-Hungarian civilians in World War I; as a military base in World War II; and as a holiday resort in the twentieth century."

    Katherine RoscoeAustralian Historical Studies, Book Review, August 2023, DOI: 10.1080/1031461X.2023.2233137