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Rottnest Island

Old treasures make up new displays at the Rottnest Island Museum

A ship in a bottle made by an Italian doctor on Rottnest Island during wartime will feature in one of the new displays at the Island’s museum.

Several hundred prisoners of war and internees were held on Rottnest Island during both World War I and World War II, says Interpretation/Heritage Officer Jane McKenzie.

“The Ship in the Bottle was made by one of the Italian internees, a doctor, and given to Nathan ‘Tiny’ Love, one of Rottnest Island's local identities who lived on the Island between the 1930s and 1970s,” said Ms McKenzie.

The Museum exhibits that have been upgraded are grouped together in the themes of: Buildings, Ferries, Recreation and Defence. In addition, a new Overview has been introduced in the area opposite the reception desk and there will be a new display on Internment, which will feature the Ship in the Bottle donated to the RIA last year.

“The WA Museum has recently undertaken conservation work to a significant hat and framed photographs, which are now features of the new exhibits,” said Ms McKenzie.

Hallie's Hat was made by Hallie Margaret Stow (1876-1972) from seaweed collected on Rottnest Island. Hallie was a regular visitor to the Island between the 1920s and 1970s. “She began making seaweed hats on the Island, including this one, in the 1940s,” said Ms McKenzie. “She delighted in creating beautiful things from natural or inexpensive materials.”

“The two framed photographs were taken by Axel Poignant and are of iconic images of Rottnest Island. They are hand-coloured bromide prints of the type produced by photographic studios in the early 20th century.

“Not long after World War II, colour photography became commercially viable and hand-colouring was no longer common.

“Axel Poignant was born in Sweden and moved to Western Australia in 1926. He became a leading society photographer in Perth and is also well known for his films - he was cameraman for the classic Australian film The Overlanders made in 1946 and starring Chips Rafferty.”

In addition to these items, a collection of old travel brochures and books on Rottnest Island are also being exhibited for the first time. The new exhibits become part of the so-called "permanent" displays that will be refreshed over time.

Built in 1857, the Rottnest Museum building was originally a hayshed and granary. Today the museum displays provide a comprehensive coverage of the main features of the Island, including natural history, marine wrecks, European settlement, Aboriginal prisoners, communications and recreation.

The recently opened pilot boathouse on Thomson Bay complements the museum displays. The Rottnest Museum also houses a wealth of historical photographs for people to view.

Ms McKenzie said improvements to the Museum had been limited since it was first opened in 1979. Some of the exhibits had deteriorated to the point that they could no longer be read.

Her predeccessor, Peggy Webb, commenced improvements to the Museum a few years ago with new banners and material in the entrance area.

“The current improvements are the next step,” said Ms McKenzie. “But this is just the beginning of further upgrades that are required in the Museum, which were recognised in the Taskforce Report and will hopefully continue to be addressed in the future, in close connection with the proposed Rottnest Island Interpretation Centre.”

The Rottnest Island Museum is located behind the Thomson Bay Settlement shopping mall and is open daily from 11am to 1pm and 1.30pm to 4pm. The Library is open daily between 2.00pm and 3.45pm.

Contact the Visitor and Information Centre on +61 8 9372 9752 for further information.