Would you rather stay in these proposed eco-tents on Rottnest Island than travel to Bali for a holiday? (Supplied: Baileys Group)
Cameron Henley spent Christmas holidays with his family on Rottnest Island for two decades.
“It was a great place to grow up,” Mr Henley said.
“I had three brothers so there was six of us.
“I can remember Mum saying it used to cost $72 a week for a small bungalow.”
For a working class family in the 1960s, the island was an affordable paradise.
“Mum would start saving her 50 cent pieces and that would be her spending money each year at Rottnest,” Mr Henley remembered.
But in the decades that followed, Mr Henley has not taken the ferry journey to the island because the price was “just too expensive”.
After spending two decades of summers on Rottnest island, Cameron Henley is happy to take his family to Bali instead. (L-R Daniel Gunning, Sharon Gunning, Cameron Henley and Cameron Gunning.) (ABC News: Eliza Laschon)
“It seems to have gotten out of reach for the average household, it’s more like the rich man’s paradise,” Mr Henley said.
Instead, the family would rather fly to Bali where Mount Agung threatens to erupt at any minute, forcing over 100,000 people to be evacuated to makeshift shelters, because the price is right.
The pull of a $2 Bintang, poolside service and surf is too strong for Western Australians who, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, made about 400,000 trips to Indonesia last year.
With all of the other cheap South-East Asia holidays on offer, there are hundreds of holidays that draw travellers, and their cash, out of WA.
Meanwhile, Rottnest Island, less than 20 kilometres off Fremantle, was described as “a jewel in the crown of Western Australia’s tourism offerings” this week by Tourism Minister Paul Papalia.
“We need to make sure that we improve, increase and change what people can experience out there to attract back West Australians,” Mr Papalia said.
“Get people to visit who may not have been for a while and who may have not considered going there as one of their alternatives for their holidays.”
Many would not have to dig deep for a family memory on the island, like Mr Henley’s.
Learning to ride a bike, a morning swim at the Basin or those uncomfortable movie deck chairs.
Clear water, no cars, and the occasional mission to get a quokka out of your accommodation. The island has been a beloved holiday destination.
Although it does hold many more memories than just those of holidaymakers.
Tentland, where families camped for years, is the largest deaths-in-custody site in Australia and the largest-known burial ground of Aboriginal people.
Today, Rottnest Island is a popular holiday spot, though few realise the island’s dark past as a prison for Indigenous men.
But over the decades, Rottnest forged a new identity and Mr Papalia said it had attracted more than 645,000 local, interstate and national visitors over the past year.
It is a significant jump in visitor numbers compared to slow growth at the start of the decade.
It was a strong Rottnest Island Authority (RIA) “quokka selfie” campaign in 2015/16 that helped boost the numbers.
If you wanted to get to the island today, it would cost a family of four $270 return on the Rottnest Express.
Accommodation varies from a basic cabin for six during peak times that will cost around $150 a night — to a luxury couples retreat for over $400 a night — or if you are willing to rough it, a $38 campsite.
Add in the cost of bike hire and groceries on the island that have to travel from the mainland — and the Henley family said their budget would not stretch.
“I thought about surprising him for his 50th with a trip to Rottnest because it was something from his past, but every time I look at it, I just think it’s so expensive, I just can’t do it.” Mr Henley’s wife, Sharon Gunning, said.
The Henley family said they spent $750 per person on flights and accommodation for 10 days in Bali.
It leaves not just them, but many WA families ready to risk Bali belly, rather than spend their cash.
The traditional eco tents can be interconnected for families and groups.
(Supplied: Baileys Group)
But the tourism minister has high hopes a new eco retreat at the popular Pinky’s beach on Rottnest will become the new drawcard that gets families back to the “jewel in the crown”.
“Pretty clearly, it’s long overdue,” Mr Papalia said.
“It signifies a real shift … towards improving what we have to offer on Rottnest.”
But will the eco retreat be enough to do that?
This week the RIA granted conditional approval for Pinky’s Eco Retreat and Beach Club.
Eighty-six “low impact” eco tents promise to “suit a range of budgets, from luxury ‘glamping’ to affordable family accommodation”.
The budget eco tents which will have one double or two single beds.
(Supplied: Baileys Group)
Prices start at $100-$120 per night for a twin share that includes a bathroom, lounge area and outdoor deck.
A family of four can stay in a traditional tent, that includes a bunk room, between $200 — $225 a night.
The new accommodation options were met with mixed responses by the ABC audience earlier this week.
“I hope this ‘glamping’ works,” wrote one man.
“Schoolies and younger folk can use those tents, freeing up the other accommodation for the older crew.”
“This is what Rotto needs,” wrote another, “Will help grow tourism to WA”.
But not all were convinced.
“$100 for [a] tent. And you wonder why everyone goes to Bali,” said one man.
It is not going to be enough to draw Mr Henley back to his childhood memories.
“No, no, no. I’d like to go back but … it’s not going to be the same for me now,” Mr Henley said.
While Mr Papalia is convinced other families will feel differently, it is going to be up to the rest of WA to decide.