Cockatoo Island is a symbol of mid-nineteenth century Australian shipbuilding and is the largest island in the Sydney Harbor. The island’s industrial remains are a historic treasure. It is an UNESCO world heritage site and an Australian Convict site – it was used to house secondary offenders from the colonies. Eventually the convicts were transferred and it became an industrial girls’ school, and then finally an institution for young offenders.
If you are wondering if there were any escapes, the waters around the island are shark infested so there was only one in Cockatoo Island’s history. Frederick Ward, who was commonly known as Captain Thunderbolt, was sentenced to seven years on Cockatoo Island for stealing horses. Mary Bugg, his faithful wife, was clever enough to swim to the island and leave him a collection of tools to escape. Two nights later, Fred managed to swim to the Dawn Fraser Pool where Mary awaited him and together they fled. I do enjoy this small piece of history from the island because it shows that even though Frederick was a convict, the ones he loved they showed him great loyalty.
The island was the site where extensive shipbuilding and recording of maritime industrial processes took place.
These rusty claw-looking metal structures are called “Beam Benders”. In 1920, Hugh Smith created a hydraulically-powered plate-bending machine that would be an integral part in the shipbuilding process.
The Joiner’s Shop was where all of the woodwork installed in the ships were constructed. Items like wooden furniture, fittings outlined for the ships, and linings were crafted in this building.
The construction of the Sutherland Dock was an integral moment in Australia’s maritime history. This dock made it possible to keep up with demand and accommodate larger vessels. When it was finished being built in 1890, it was the largest single-graving dock in the world.
The heavy machine shops are where the bulk of the engineering projects took place. A variety of important projects were undertaken and big machinery, such as turbines and propellers, were built.
For some reason, even though it is named “Cockatoo Island”, I didn’t see the bird itself. I did spot, on multiple occasions, my favorite Australian bird – the kookaburra.
After a full day of exploring the island while listening to the audio tour, I was able to find a really beautiful view of the Sydney skyline. As I watched the sun go down, I reflected on the experience and came to the conclusion that visiting these convict sites may be difficult but necessary because we need to educate ourselves on what these people experienced.