When on 29 December 1696, Willem de Vlamingh landed on Rottnest Island. He saw giant jarrah, trees, numerous quokkas (a native marsupial), and thinking they were large rats he named the island "rats' nest" (Rattennest in Dutch) because of them.
He afterwards wrote: "I had great pleasure in admiring this island, which is very attractive, and where it seems to me that nature has denied nothing to make it pleasurable beyond all islands I have ever seen, being very well provided for man's well-being, with timber, stone, and lime for building him houses, only lacking ploughmen to fill these fine plains. There is plentiful salt, and the coast is full of fish. Birds make themselves heard with pleasant song in these scented groves. So I believe that of the many people who seek to make themselves happy, there are many who would scorn the fortunes of our country for the choice of this one here, which would seem a paradise on earth".
Hard to believe that it was the negative comments said to have been made by some explorers that did not inspire the interest of the VOC (Dutch East India trading company) in exploring the possibility of settling the area after reading the above note Willem made in his journal.5
Willem De Vlamingh on 5 January 1697 named the river “Swartte Swaane Drift” which translates to the “Black Swan River”
His party of 42 heavily armed men landed at Cottesloe and walked to Fremantle (It could have been Vlamingh’s second in command, Gerritt Collaert who led the party in Willem’s place, history is not really clear on this point but as it has been said “Who would go to Disneyland to sit in the car park”.
Their intention of this group was to capture a Great South Man, whose giant foot and hand prints had been seen on the shore line. They failed their quest and instead named our river, they climbed Buckland Hill and for the first time looked down on a river covered in black Swan’s
Willem was so impressed with the large number of birds he is said to have named the Waters the “Swartte Swaane Drift” after them.
In his exploration of the river it is believed his party ventured up river to the area known now as Point Fraser but decided that from there it was just an estuary and not worth exploring further. On this point Captain James Stirling was to disagree in 1827 he stated that “Limiting the use of the name Swan to the stream, which joining the Sea at the Islands below Fraser’s Point concludes its career as a river”