Sydney’s biggest harbour island is a history and arts oasis

I’ve had Cockatoo Island on my hit list for quite some time. I knew it was Sydney’s Harbour’s biggest island and I knew it was between Balmain and Hunters Hill and that’s pretty much all I knew.

So on a bleak and freezing Sydney day (just look at those grey photos) I took a ferry to the island. What an excellent day! Here’s what I learned:

  • Cockatoo Island is huge – it took around 3 hours to walk around and look at things and we weren’t hurrying
  • It’s an interesting mix of convict and industrial heritage.
  • Fancy a spot of tennis? There’s a tennis court for hire.
  • You can stay the night in luxury heritage accommodation or camp
  • Plus there’s good coffee.

It doesn’t even need to be a nice day to visit Cockatoo Island, making it a good rainy day in Sydney option. It’s fun to roam the convict quarters. Captain Thunderbolt, Australia’s so-called gentleman bushranger because of his impeccable manners, launched a daring escape from Cockatoo Island, with the help of his part-Aboriginal girlfriend and literally disappeared into the sunset to embark on a life as a bushranger in NSW’s central west.

Later Cockatoo Island became a shipbuilding facility, employing many Balmain boys, back in the day when Balmain was working class.  At its height Cockatoo Island was the largest shipbuilding facility in the southern hemisphere and played a huge role for Australia in WWII.

The shipbuilding facility has now been closed for decades but today provides an airy, industrial area, often used for movies, including Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine. It hosts film festivals, yoga workshops and provides one of the key locations for Biennale, an art exhibition with a modernist edge, outdoor performances and pop-up eateries. The next one is slated for 2016.

Meantime Cockatoo Island is good to visit anytime for a slightly different slice of Sydney, a splodge of history and knock-out harbour views.

So, go, do. Best of all, entry it’s free.

2 thoughts on “Sydney’s biggest harbour island is a history and arts oasis

Add yours

  1. That’s a timely post for me Julie, as I’m visiting Cockatoo Island next Saturday. I’m looking forward to learning about the history too. (You certainly brightened up a grey day with your pink jacket!)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at

Up ↑