“Islands are metaphors of the heart, no matter what poet says otherwise” –– Jeanette Winterson
The real magic of Sydney lies in its vast natural harbour. As well as being home to the world-famous Opera House and locally-loved Harbour Bridge, it is a veritable treasure trove of hidden beaches, densely-forested national parks and intriguing islands scarred by industrial machinery well past its use-by date.
One such island is Cockatoo, a UNESCO World Heritage Site located at the junction of the Parramatta and Lane Cove rivers, and the intersection of four aboriginal clans: the Wallumedegal to the west, the Wangal to the east and the Cameragal and Gadigal to the south. In these clans’ shared dharug language, Cockatoo Island’s real name is Wareahmah, which roughly translates as ‘Women’s Land’ and, according to literature on the subject, this suggests that the island was the site of women’s ceremonies for thousands of years before Australia was invaded in 1788.
Cockatoo Island’s post-invasion history began in 1839, the year in which convicts were sent to the island to begin constructing a new prison. Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries the island’s use flipped between penal colony, reformatory education establishment (Biloela Girls Reformatory and Industrial School operated there between 1871 and 1888) and military stronghold (during World War I naval ships and equipment were built and repaired). After its role as Commonwealth Naval Dockyard, the government leased the island to Cockatoo Docks and Engineering Company Ltd and it served more diverse industrial functions, including heavy machine manufacture and ship building, until 1992. The island first opened to the public in 2007 and has been home to the Biennale of Sydney since 2008.
Today, we can catch the ferry over to take part in historic guided tours (haunted or otherwise), camping trips, music festivals and other cultural events. The Ethic’s Centre‘s Festival Of Dangerous Ideas brought some of the greatest international thinkers, speakers and writers – including Rukmini Callimachi, Niall Ferguson and Germaine Greer – and mind-blowing art in Garth Knight‘s Submission and Riley Harmon‘s What It Is Without The Hand That Wields It, to the island in 2018.
Visit ☞ cockatooisland.gov.au
–– Rosie Pentreath, November 2018.