Remnants of Rottnest’s military past are scattered across the Island. With heavy involvement in both World War I and II, Rottnest Island’s history includes a lengthy chapter on prisoners of war, artillery guns and secret plotting rooms. For a historic moment, Rottnest was not a holiday paradise but a critical base for the Australian army to defend its naval port across the water at Fremantle.

Rottnest’s military history

During the First World War, prisoners of war were housed on Rottnest, and in the build-up of global tensions before the Second World War, the Island was once again identified as a critical point for Australian military interests. This was due to its position in relation to the port at Fremantle. The attack on Pearl Harbour had incited insecurities and Fremantle housed a covert submarine base, utilised by allied forces during WWII.

A defence program was established on the Island, with the aim of guarding Fremantle from bombardment by warships coming across the sea. Development ensued with the construction of batteries and tunnel systems at Bickley, Oliver Hill and the army barracks at Kingstown. Powerful nine-inch guns were positioned at strategic locations and a plotting room was buried deep in the network of passageways beneath the ground. From 1940 until 1945, all recreational activity on the Island came to a halt.


The guns at Rottnest were never fired in action. At the end of the war, military activity slowed as units were disbanded, with only the barracks at Kingstown serving use as training grounds for the army. It was not until 1984 that the Army finally renounced all claims over the Island. Amidst the influx of holiday-makers that journey to the Island every year, it can be easy to overlook this monumental chapter of Rottnest’s history.

Guided military tours

For those interested in discovering more, the Rottnest Island Authority offers a guided tour exploring the guns and tunnels at Oliver Hill year-round. The tour takes you through the tunnel system beneath the battery at Oliver Hill, giving you a sense of what it was like to travel stealthily between vantage points undergro­und. The gun at Oliver Hill is one of the only guns across Australia left remaining in its position following ceasefire, and provides a rare example of war-era weaponry in its original encampment.


ANZAC Day on Rottnest Island

Strategically situated just off the coast of Perth, Rottnest Island became entangled in Australia’s military operations during both World War I and II. Taking place on the foreshore of Thomson Bay, Rottnest’s dawn service is timed to coincide with the landing of ANZAC troops on the Gallipoli Peninsula in the early hours of April 25, 1915. Beginning at 6am the service is followed by a range of ANZAC-themed activities that everyone can get involved in, kids included.

Image credit: Rottnest Express, Rottnest Island Authority.

Explore our Guide to Rottnest

Join Our Community
You May Also Like

Related Posts

Osprey nest on Rottnest

Not just Quokkas: six amazing animal encounters on Rottnest

It’s hard to resist the pulling power of the quokka on Rottnest, but there are many other worthy contenders, both on land and underwater. The island is listed as an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area and many of its bays are protected marine zones.  Some of Rottnest’s wildlife is deadly but most are friendly and […]

fast ferries crossing to Rottnest

All you need to know about ferries to Rottnest

Planning a trip Rottnest? Whether it’s a daytrip or an extended bliss-out stay, getting your ferry booking right can make a big difference to your holiday, including making the most of your time on the island, access to bikes and snorkelling gear. We’ve compiled a quick guide to Rottnest’s ferries, from choosing the right ferry […]

Beautiful bay to hike at Rottnest

Rottnest Island on foot: exploring the best walking trails on Rottnest

From the rugged West End to the military heritage of Oliver Hill, explore Rottnest at a more leisurely pace with these walking trails that criss-cross the island’s unique landscape. There are five trails that make up the 45-km stretch of the Wadjemup Bidi network, which extends from one end of the island to the other. […]