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‘Click’ing with Cockatoos

Cockatoo IslandToday is ‘Meetup’ #2 with Helen, Paul and the clickers and I will be checking off another place on my ‘I really do have to go there one day’ list – Cockatoo Island – situated in my favourite harbour. This is not my photo by the way.

Isn’t it strange that even when you live in a city you never get around to visiting these hidden gems? Well, hopefully that is all about to change.

After the great time with the last Meetup this promises to be another enjoyable day.  The skies are clear and the weather is supposed to be fine and warm and not one to waste time I decide to go into the Quay nice and early to enjoy the early morning sunshine.  So with batteries charged and camera and tripod securely in the bag I head off.

Sydney HarbourWe are supposed to meetup at 9.45am and true to form I get in there around 8.15am but that doesn’t matter as I like to sit and watch the water and the birds and anything else that may be happening – there is always something going on at The Quay.  Two of our famous ferries berthed and ready to start the day; seagulls and fitness junkies; early morning coffee addicts enjoying their first caffeine fix of the day – time for me to find a nice shady spot.

Over near the Museum of Contemporary Art seems like a nice shady area – sitting and watching I decide to take another photo or two – just what I need – more photos of the harbour and Opera House.

Sydney QuayTo my horror after these are taken, my workhorse wide angle zoom lens has frozen and has given up the ghost. Oh crap – just what I need but not to worry I always carry a spare so all is not lost.  Unfortunately the spare is not a w/a zoom but it will serve the purpose until I can find out what has happened to my baby.

Soon it is time to mosey on over to Wharf 5 to begin our meetup.  The crowds sure have gathered – and we board our ferry for Cockatoo Island.  The harbour is fabulous (of course) and soon we alight on Cockatoo Island.

SMALL HISTORY LESSON :  Between 1839 and 1869 the island operated as a convict penal establishment, primarily as a place of secondary punishment for convicts who had re-offended in the colonies. It was also the site of one of Australia’s biggest shipyards, operating between 1857 and 1991. The first of its two dry docks were built by convicts. During WWII the island became the major shipbuilding and dockyard facility in the South West Pacific.

Listed on the National Heritage List, the island is significant for its demonstration of the characteristics of a long-running dockyard and shipbuilding complex, including evidence of key functions, structures and operational layout. Cockatoo Island contains the nation’s most extensive and varied record of shipbuilding, and has the potential to enhance understanding of maritime and heavy industrial processes in Australia from the mid-19th century.

Cockatoo IslandCamping areaAnd away we go.  Stopping at some rather large, rusty objects hidden away amongst the banksia bushes (above left) my imagination is off and running – don’t they look like cockatoos with their mouths open hiding in the scrub?  No? Well I think they do. In reality they are beam benders.

There are guided tours and also audio tours, camping sites that you can book and tents that you can hire for your stay but we are here to take interesting photos so let’s press on.

CraneConvict buildingsJust a doorDid you know that the Island was first a convict settlement?  There are many buildings built by convicts and that area is our next stop.

The Military Guardhouse (pictured below) was a garrison for the British army ‘redcoat’ guards from which they could observe the prison block and if necessary fire their muskets through holes in the walls.  It is a small area and the sandstone walls are so beautifully textured.  The hooks on the walls may have held items of clothing or muskets in their holsters?  And what about that view – of course that dirty big crane would not have been there in those days – nor the buildings – but still a great view!

Military GuardhouseConvict workView from Military GuardhouseFrom here across the courtyard is the Mess Hall where convicts devoured their generous daily ration of one pound of fresh beef or mutton, twenty ounces of bread, and half a pound of vegetables.  One pound was around 500 grams by today’s standards – certainly a meagre ration for working men.

Mess HallAnother nice sandstone building with carvings above the windows and doors.  We wander around here for quite some time taking photos from every angle; looking for interesting aspects and in general keeping out of the blazing sun which is high in the sky.

From here we move on to Biloela House which stands high above the sandstone cliffs of the Island.  Restored to its former glory with relaxing landscaped gardens it commands wonderful views over the harbour.

View from Biloela HouseThe first wing of the house was built by convict labour for the islands superintendent in 1841 and over the years it was extended for newer residents and their family.  On the day we are here there is an exhibition of life and works on the Island.

Really interesting photographs and stories from dockyard days along with gruesome tales of war when the shipyard was at it’s busiest.  On a more pleasing note – the view is incredible and so are those magnificent blue flowers eh?

Sitting in the shade waiting for the rest of the group I try out my ‘custom settings’ that I read about in an article by Chris Bray.  Pre-set the camera to photograph birds or action on the custom settings and away we go – at this time of year there are many seagulls nesting and hatching so this is a good time to practice.

Custom seagullCustom seagullConsidering that this is with a 18-80 lens I am pretty pleased with the results although because of the custom setting it takes multiple photos and sounds like a gattling gun – enough to frighten not only me but the seagulls.  Natgeo would be proud!

So nice to just sit here in the shade, little breezes dancing around cooling everything down and now my backpack strap has snapped. Holy cow what else is going to go wrong!  But I must press on.

We journey around and hopefully down to the main naval area.  As we walk along seagulls scream in our ears because we are walking right through the nesting area but we are ever so careful where we plonk our feet.  When we arrive to the gate is is locked so back through the seagulls and around the long way.  Now that was an adventure with the seagulls and their noisy faces, but they are only protecting their young so it’s OK.

A very opportune moment for some stitching eh?  What a wonderful harbour!

Sydney HarbourOK – let’s move on.  Back on the trail we walk through a tunnel that was dug out so the workers had an easy path from one side of the island to the other.  Helen goes on ahead to order our refreshments and soon we get to enjoy a bit of a break, coffee and cake at the little cafe at the Marina. This is on the other side of the island from where we started – hence the tunnel.  The coffee and cake is good but the service is shite.  One person doing everything which includes taking marina fees has us waiting for quite some time, yet in the shade near the water it is not so bad. I just wish she would hurry up with my coffee fix!

It is now time to head to the industrial precinct – the guts of the place but first past the FitzRoy Dock.

Fitzroy DockHISTORY LESSON : In 1847 construction commenced but delays occurred due to lack of funding, however the foundation stone of its ashlar lining was laid on 5 June 1854 by Governor FitzRoy after the dock had been excavated to a depth of 52 feet below the land surface. It was initially 316 feet in length and 76 feet in breadth, with an entrance 60 feet wide.

The first sailing vessel to use the dock was HMS Herald between 1-7 December 1857, at which point the facility was not yet complete. The Austrian frigate Novara made use of it during November of 1858.   In 1859 Mann became Superintendent and Chief Engineer of the Dock, and remained in this position until his resignation in 1870. This also coincided with the disbandment of the penal settlement on the island. By 1884 preliminary excavation had begun for the larger Sutherland Dock on the south-western section of the Island, and it was subsequently completed in 1890.

Photos are taken and then we get to walk into an extremely large building which I do believe is the Turbine Shop.  Full of gritty glamour, the atmospheric Turbine Shop is the largest building on Cockatoo Island and, at the time of its finished construction in 1946, was the largest building in the Southern Hemisphere.

Turbine shopTurbine shopTurbine shopWith its raw industrial character, exposed steel structure, soaring ceilings with overhead gantry cranes and bare concrete floors, this immense industrial building is very impressive.

I will admit here and now that I have not got a clue about what machine is what and what it used to do – so just sit back and enjoy the photo collection.

Turbine shopTurbine shopTurbine shopTurbine shopEverything is very dusty from years of just standing around except for this brilliant white wheel.  If you didn’t look properly at the photo you would think it was black and white, but there is just a hint of colour in the top left corner.

Can you imagine how noisy and busy this place would have been all those years ago?  To stand here now in silence gives you a chance to wonder what has happened to all these people who made this island their life.

Submarine craneAfter wandering and wondering it is time for a breath of fresh sea air.  A short walk and we are at the docks and on this dock there is a dirty big crane.

This crane is the Submarine crane – a high precision crane from the 1970s, one of the largest on the island and was used to refit out Oberon Class Submarines.

Submarine craneOur time here is nearly finished so I sit and reflect on the lives of the original convicts through to the last workers.

It must have been an exciting place in it’s last days – what a shame I did not make the effort to see it then, even if it was just from a ferry as I don’t know if you would have been allowed ashore.

Our group gathers for the usual group photo and then we head to the nearest bar for a relaxing glass of the grape before heading back to the city and home.

Submarine craneIt has been a great day – and I WILL come back here for a more in-depth look around.

Maybe on a day that is not so sunny – I think this place would be more enhanced with grey skies which would sum up the atmosphere.

Time for the education curriculum to be adjusted to include Aussie heritage to be taught in schools methinks –

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