Cockatoo Island, Sydney

‘Now make that old now’ – under armor


Last weekend, my good friend and I agreed to meet up. We had planned this trip to Cockatoo Island, the largest on Sydney harbour. This excursion has been postponed a few times before, but I felt like this was finally the day. I was already in the city when my friend told me to meet at the food court. His battery was almost dead. I ate ahead before being unable to locate him. When, at last, he saw me, telling me that he’d finished eating lunch. We then headed to the wharf.


the ferry trip through Sydney harbour

The ferry

The weather was OK, sunny with no cloud cover. The ferry stopped at Darling Harbour before proceeding to Cockatoo island, all stops from Circular quay to Parramatta. We were one of the few who alighted at the island, which was a whopping 25 minutes away. I thought I did my research, noting the views of other travellers. As I’d find out later, more research was needed. As we walked around the coast, we saw that there were many tents with some campers lurking about. ‘Is this accommodation, or are they military types?’ I retorted that they probably rented out the campsites.


‘Major major’

We would find that parts of the island were closed, as there was a major event on. From the banners and poles, channel nine appeared to generate the event. The grass of the tents was also off limits. This was the problem with such a strategic location: everyone wants a piece of history. The island, which the harbour authority runs, looks more like a business than council property. Reopened to the public just in the last decade, there’s always something happening there. We didn’t even bother with the cafe. I heard it’s really bad, as in mixed up orders and overcharging of patrons.


Underwhelming step back into history

For an island so rich in history, our trip was underwhelming. Once we started exploring, climbing stairs, and facing those barricades, I forgot the most important thing about Cockatoo island: the convict sites. The Island’s history as a penal colony, serving as a prison for thirty years, was what pushed it to UNESCO heritage status. On the other hand, we focused on the shipbuilding part, a fixture there in the last century. Closing in 1991, my friend said that ‘the 90s was when everything stopped.’ He meant that most of the industries and factories in Oz ceased production during that time. Regardless, a map would’ve been handy. The residential precinct and industrial area were just behind the convict area. We spent most of our time looking at old workshops and even a water tower, but sadly missed out on the convict history.


‘A view to a kill’

We sat on the porch of one of the houses. This featured some of the work and stories of former residents. Among the works were paintings, pictures and an eerie projector. This house would close at 3:30pm, so we went in just in time. Although some areas were restricted only to staff, we ran into no one. In fact, the whole shipyard was more like a ghost town than heritage site. I’d realise later on that most of the peeps were probably hanging around the convict area. The breeze from the river, coupled with stunning harbour views, made it an excellent respite from the heat.


‘What do you think of going here in winter?’ ‘It would be freezing,’ he said. ‘The sea would make it ice cold.’ So we went on our way back down the staircase, by the tents and to the waiting area for the ferry. My friend even managed to buy bottled water, subsequently getting a coughing fit. Before long it was time to head home, and I would realise once back that we only got half the red sports car Cockatoo experience. No wonder our trip took only a little over an hour, when others said two hours for the 18-hectare land area. As stressed earlier, we didn’t visit the convict remnants, where Jolie’s Unbroken was filmed. Bugger, we’ll catch you another week.



Sometimes things don’t turn out as you’d imagined, but at least you’ll fare better next time. While I would have loved to take in all of this island’s splendour, this will be a minor nuisance, ‘a scratch,’ as Romeo’s best friend uttered. I just hope the ending wouldn’t be as Shakespearean, meaning as tragic.


To be continued…

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1 Response to Cockatoo Island, Sydney

  1. Mel & Suan says:

    Indeed, and as you have it in your “backyard” make it a point to really come back!

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