Cockatoo Island is a UNESCO World Heritage site, located in Sydney Harbour, at the junction of the Parramatta and Lane Cove Rivers. Originally called Wareahmah by the indigenous Australians, the island was used as a hunting and fishing spot prior to 1839. In its original state, the island was a heavily timbered sandstone knoll which rose 18 metres above sea level.
From 1839 convicts who had arrived in Australia and re-offended were housed on the island. Convict labourers cut into the sandstone cliffs and the unused sandstone rock was thrown into the sea, resulting in the fact that the original 12.9 hectare island became larger – expanding to 17.9 hectares. Most of the original vegetation has been removed. A fossil was found on the island in the 1880’s while blasting work was being carried out – it was a Labyrinthodont, one of the earliest land vertebrates.
The convict labourers cut into the rock to hollow out sandstone silos, and then there followed extensive quarrying. Much of the Cockatoo Island sandstone was used for building projects throughout the colony, one example being the construction of a sandstone wall for Circular Quay.
The Fitzroy Dock was constructed on the island in 1848. The first vessel arrived on the dock in December 1857 and it was used exclusively for the British Navy until the 1860’s. Following two extensions, the Fitzroy Dock was 145 metres long.
Another dock was cut into the island in 1890, which was capable of accommodating the largest ships of the Navy. Named the Sutherland Dock, at the time it was built this was the largest dock of its kind in the world.
Cockatoo Island became an important industrial site in the twentieth century and many important projects were carried out on the island, which employed thousands of people. There were many specialist buildings and workshops on the site which remain today, with projects such as ship building, repairing and modifying, and the manufacture of innovative machinery, taking place.
The industrial site shut down in 1992, and the site fell into disuse for ten years. However rehabilitation of the site commenced in 2001 when the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust was formed. The Trust has been involved in the rehabilitation of the site and is now the custodian, responsible for balancing the re-use of the site for commercial enterprises and conserving the heritage value of the site. Cockatoo Island has accommodation ranging from camp sites to apartments and four bedroom residences, which is heritage-based and clean and comfortable.