During the July school holidays my mum and I took the kids to Cockatoo Island for the day. Cockatoo Island, a former convict prison and shipyard, is the largest island in Sydney Harbour and when we went to visit it was being used as one of the venues for the 17th Biennale of Sydney to host 120 works by 56 artists. So we got history and art in the one go.
A free ferry service was provided for the Biennale and we did the stand outside and freeze while looking over the side at the water thing that one must always do when traveling on a Sydney Ferry (I’m sure there’s a rule somewhere).
From the Cockatoo Island website:
The History of Cockatoo Island
The history of Cockatoo Island is emblematic of Australia’s history. Before the arrival of Europeans, it was undoubtedly used by the first Australians, the Aboriginal tribes of Sydney’s coastal region. In 1839 it was chosen as the site of a new penal establishment by the Governor of the colony of New South Wales, Sir George Gipps.
Convicts were put to work building prison barracks, a military guardhouse and official residences. Not long after, the maritime history of Cockatoo Island began with the construction of the Fitzroy Dock by convicts.
For the next 50 years the island was both a place of incarceration and the site of the colony’s ship repair and shipbuilding activities. During the twentieth century maritime activity grew, notably during World War I and World War II. For a time, Cockatoo Island was the largest shipbuilding yard in Australia.
When the shipyard closed in 1992, Cockatoo Island lay dormant for a decade until the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust was established and given the responsibility of revitalising this significant site. The Trust is rehabilitating the island and creating one of the most unusual places to visit in the city.
You can stay on Cockatoo Island, either in tents or in the old Federation era duplex which you can see up on the top of the cliff.
The Guardhouse was built to double as a fort. If the prisoners decided to revolt, the guards could lock themselves in here and fire out through the embrasures.
Serge Spitzer’s art installation in the old Guardhouse – little steel balls apparently randomly scattered over the floor. I really liked this one but I couldn’t tell you why.
Ready to repel rebellious convicts?
Tom sitting in front of the Mess Hall and Barracks.
Looking down at Sutherland Dock.
Cai Guo-Qiang’s exploding cars
Free Overseers’ Quarters which were converted to an air raid shelter in World War 2
Another view of the Federation era duplex
“Caution: Aggressive Birds”
Example thereof. I’m not convinced.
Grain Silo walkway
Grain silos were carved out of the sandstone by hand by convicts in the early 1800’s
Map of the island (click to embiggen)
Don’t forget to stop by Unknown Mami’s place to see what everyone else is sharing!
ETA: I just realised there was an historical tidbit I forgot to put in, and it’s my favourite fact about the island!
The only prisoner known to have escaped from Cockatoo Island was Frederick Ward. In 1863 he swam to the mainland where his Aboriginal mistress was waiting for him with clothes and a horse. He headed for the north-west of NSW and became the bushranger Thunderbolt, until he was shot and killed by the police in 1870.
Thunderbolt was based in the area around Uralla near Armidale which is where we went at Easter for the Dark Ages camp. There’s a museum at Uralla with lots of Thunderbolt memorabilia and artifacts.