I’ve been keen to visit some of the small islands in Sydney Harbour for many years. While we were there in March I was lucky enough to be able to visit Cockatoo Island.
Cockatoo Island is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It has been many things ; a penal colony, a dockyard, World War II naval base, submarine repair facility and more recently, movie set and tourist attraction.
Getting to the island was pretty easy as it has a regular ferry service. As it turned out, the day I was there some areas were closed to public access because they were preparing for an upcoming event but as my ankle was sore from previous walking expeditions during the holiday and the weather was hot I decided to just see the things I was mostly interested in.
The first thing I could see from the ferry as we approached was rows of tents. You can stay on Cockatoo Island either camping in your own tent or one of theirs “glamping”which is a more fancy version of camping or staying in an apartment or heritage house. I would love to stay there myself but not in summer. I really don’t care for summer in Sydney.
When you arrive at the island there are several options for walks, you can book a tour or follow a set route with a map or an audio tour. I preferred to wander about with the map. I’ll describe the different features of the island chronologically even though geographically they are a bit more mixed up than that.
This is what the website has to say about the convict era remnants.
For those interested in World Heritage and convict history and stories
A convict prison between 1839 and 1869, home at its peak to 550 men who built their barracks, forged their own prison bars and constructed Fitzroy Dock. Cockatoo Island, together with 10 other historic convict sites, is inscribed on the World Heritage List. This trail offers incredible evidence of human endeavour. Some attractions include:
Military Guardhouse – A garrison for British army ‘redcoat’ guards from which they could observe the prison block and if necessary fire their muskets through holes in the walls.
Mess Hall – Where convicts devoured their generous daily ration of one pound of fresh beef or mutton, twenty ounces of bread, and half a pound of vegetables.
Fitzroy Dock – Built for the Royal Navy from 1847-1857 mostly by convicts with their bare hands, often waist deep in water and in leg irons.
Convict Silos – Chiselled down by hand out of the island’s bedrock this series of silos are evidence of a remarkable colonial enterprise
Although I am interested in our convict past I have to admit that on Cockatoo Island I was more interested in seeing the maritime relics. The first time that David and I visited Sydney soon after we were married I remember that we saw an Oberon Class submarine in the harbour. These vessels were maintained at Cockatoo Island which was still a working dockyard at that time.We were both quite excited about that.
One of the things I was rather intrigued by was the tunnels that crisscrossed the island. These would have been used for air raid shelters during the war years I think. This one, The Dog Leg Tunnel was not totally accessible but I did stop in to see the little theatrette showing historical films although I judged I would not have enough time to see them all.
Just look at that rock wall and imagine how hard it must have been for the convicts to cut into it to build the barracks and the docks with just hand tools.I thought the old rusting gantries and cranes made great subjects for photography. Although the stairs that lead down to the dockyard were rather scary to descend I enjoyed that part of the site the most.
My time on Cockatoo Island was too short. I hope on a future visit to go back and see more and who knows maybe even camp overnight. Oh, and the movie set I mentioned. I didn’t see that particular area but part of the film “Wolverine” was made on Cockatoo Island.