Rottnest Island Lighthouse shines bright on World AtoN Day

Sunrise at Rottnest Island Lighthouse

Rottnest Island’s iconic and much-loved lighthouse is in the spotlight today to celebrate World Aids to Navigation Day. 

As one of the nation’s most popular heritage lighthouses, Rottnest Island Lighthouse – also known by its Indigenous name Wadjemup – has a rich history and remains a shining example of a 19th Century limestone tower with its original lens still in operation. 

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) has chosen to celebrate the 38-metre-tall lighthouse tower on World AtoN Day.  The property has recently undergone major restoration works to ensure its longevity as a vital Aid to Navigation in Western Australia. 

Located about 22 kilometres off the coast of Perth, Rottnest Island is renowned for its historic significance as a former penal colony as well as its population of Quokkas. 

Standing at the highest point of the Island and first lit in March 1896, the light tower is built from about 760 cubic metres of hard limestone and was once operated by lighthouse keepers who lived in cottages on site. However the light now runs on AMSA’s automatic operation system and is remotely monitored. 

In February last year, AMSA undertook major conservation works to improve the condition of the white lighthouse and increase the lifespan of the heritage building. 

This major facelift was completed in March 2022.  Some of the important works completed included: 

  • repainting of all internal and external surfaces within the tower  

  • refurbishment of the internal staircase, lantern room and intermediate floors  

  • reglazing of the lantern-house 

  • upgrading AMSA’s electrical system  

  • cleaning and servicing of the mercury pedestal 

  • repairing and repointing of stonework. 

As part of the restoration, 110 tonnes of scaffolding was used to complete the works.  About 7500 person hours were needed and about 1240 litres of various coatings were used to protect the lighthouse for years to come. A temporary light was also illuminated while the lighthouse was encapsulated to ensure Rottnest continued to shine each night. 

AMSA Heritage Coordinator Sarah-Jane Lakshman said World AtoN Day provides an opportunity to recognise our network of 62 heritage-listed lighthouses as part of our AtoN network. 

“These lighthouses remain an important part of the network of aids to navigation along the Australian coastline with many being heritage listed.  Lighthouses are also a historical symbol of safety and have been a part of ensuring safe passage for ships along our coastline for more than 100 years,” Ms Lakshman said. 

AMSA Chief Executive Mick Kinley said AMSA was proud to support World AtoN Day to acknowledge the important contribution global AtoN networks play in keeping the maritime community safe. 

Rottnest Island Lighthouse before and after restoration

History of Rottnest Island Lighthouse  

While many shipwrecks occurred near the lighthouse over the past century, the City of York incident is the most well-known. On the 12 July 1899, the British-owned barque was en route from San Francisco to Fremantle when it was wrecked off the coast of the island.  

On 17 March 1896, the 1st Order Chance Brothers & Co. lens was illuminated for the first time over the Indian Ocean. 

Sitting atop of the limestone tower, this light had been ordered to replace the original 1849 Rottnest Island Lighthouse which sat adjacent to the new tower and was demolished shortly thereafter. 


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