island hopping in sydney: cockatoo island

from the back of the ferry…

OK, I admit it- I don’t really get art installations. At all.

It’s not that I haven’t tried over the years, but I simply can’t get my head around most of it. Yet it’s something I feel that I should try harder to appreciate more.

Such was the case yesterday at the Cockatoo Island installations of the Sydney Biennale. I failed to see the significance of the Fanta died fabric curtains (although it did make a striking photo),

or the mowed strip of lawn. I think I understood the pile of oyster shells and broken crockery,

and possibly even the piles of old newspapers.

The children’s dresses hanging from coat-hangers entitled “where are the children gone?” was self explanatory,

and I quite liked the strands of wool in the makeshift woolshed.

I think this was meant to be like a woolshed- & I’ve been in plenty of them over the years…although none with multi coloured dags…

Miss 14 just rolled her eyes and said helpful stuff like “get off the grass- you’re standing on the art work,” or “what do you reckon that is?” (pointing at a derelict hills hoist in the backyard of one of the old officers’ residences).

not an installation- just an old hills hoist

Hubby has never got installation art either, so didn’t even pretend to look, or try to work it out- he went straight for the convict trail.

Cockatoo Island has had a rich and varied history that dates back to 1839 when it was chosen to house the overflow of convicts on Norfolk Island. Convicts were put to work quarrying stone and even tunnelling out silos for the young colonies first attempt at something like a wheat and grain storage scheme.

Shortly after this its’ ship-building history commenced- something which carried through into the 1970s. During World War 2 Cockatoo Island was the major ship repair facility in the South Pacific. In the mid 1800s to early 1900s it was also a reform school for delinquent and orphaned girls.

These days the convict relics are worth a look, the clifftop walk worth taking, the tunnels are worth exploring, the industrial areas worth checking out, and the stairs to the top of the island worth climbing- the views are spectacular. Just keep an eye out for the seagulls nesting noisily in every possible nook and cranny.

Getting There:

Sydney Ferries run a regular service on the Balmain/Woolwich timetable from Circular Quay. Take advantage of the Sunday Funday fares with all train, bus and ferry travel for one low $2.50 per person. Bargain. We came back the “long” way via Woolwich, Birchgrove & Balmain- cheapest harbour cruise we’ve ever done!

view from the back of the ferry at Woolwich pier

Check out timetables etc on

Eating There:

There is plenty of lawn for picnics, and some great views across the harbour- especially from the top of the island. There is also a well equipped “campers kitchen” for those camping, the Island Bar (check the website for opening days & times) and a canteen selling food & drink. Check the website for other eating options as pop up restaurants pop up during events- like the Biennale which is on until 16 September, 2012.

Staying There:

Yep, you can. There are heritage holiday houses available (quite pricey) and “glamping” and camping down on the harbour-front.

Keep an eye out for:

Outpost 2013 for 5 weeks from 29 March 2013… Effectively this is an exhibition of street art in all its forms. I went last year & got some great pics…

Outpost 2011
Outpost 2011

Author: Jo

Author, baker, sunrise chaser

3 thoughts

  1. I’m a bit the same with art installations, though I usually know what I like and what I don’t (the latter is sometimes easier!).

    Great photos! (I lover the one of the fanta curtain and the strands of wool!

    1. I was making up explanations for Miss 14- they had to involve the word juxtaposition somewhere! yep I liked the fanta curtains too…

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