Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Cockatoo Island, Sydney

Robin was keen for us to visit an art exhibit at Cockatoo Island in Sydney Harbour so despite the possibility of showers, we met at Circular Quay to take the free ferry to the island. Little did we realize when we waited to get on the ferry with over 100 other passengers how interesting this visit would be.
Sydney is currently in the midst of its Biennale Celebration and to encourage people to visit the exhibition, various sponsers donated $$ to make the ferry trip free. The ferries are in fact old public ferries that were replaced by newer and faster models, but are ideal for short trips.

Since this is a blog about an artistic event, you have to put up with my artistic photos.
So we chugged past the Opera House on this somewhat hazy day. Usually in winter, the atmosphere is quite clear and the strong sun makes the water and the Opera House sparkle. Not this day.

Since Cockatoo Island is a few miles west in the Harbour, we travelled under the Harbour Bridge.

Off in the distance, Cockatoo Island.

Approaching the dock.

The first thing you notice when you get off the ferry are the rows of tents. You can rent them for about $90 per night, which seems a bit expensive, but the location is terrific.

The old shipyards were closed down in 1992 and the island remained virtually unused until 2005 and these tents are an attempt to bring the island back into use.

The shower and toilet block.

No, this is not Easter Island. Very quickly, you realize that the real art on the island is not the collection of exhibits, but the huge pieces of machinery left over from the ship building days.

An old circular air-raid shelter from WW2. The exhibits were housed in the various buildings across the island. In this case, the shelter housed a short film.

An image from the film where a tap dancing man spun pieces of meat at the end of strings and dogs tried and succeeded in grabbing the meat, as well as the man's sleeve at one point. It was both intriguing and revolting at the same time, which I suppose was the point.

It really is quite odd walking around an industrial area. Mysterious pipes abound.

Cranes litter the landscape.

The big slipway where the larger ships were launched.

The sun came out and mother and daughter immediately became sunflowers.

An old house on top of the hill that housed a number of exhibits.

The house has obviously not been restored but the views from the windows of the harbour are gorgeous.

Anybody who has ever done a photography course will realize that the unrestored buildings make wonderful abstract photo material.

In it's early history, the island was used to house convicts and some of the jail buildings remain.

I don't know how the hooks were used, perhaps for clothing?

One of the exhibits.

An old building made from sandstone probably mined from the island itself. All throughout the island, these million dollar views of the harbour shoreline are visible through these old derelict buildings.

Part of an exhibit.

Even the mundane and disgustingly dirty become interesting visually.
Many of the exhibits were videos.
Some really used their spaces effectively like this one that integrated the columns. The video was about Cockatoo Island history.
Even though there were boatloads of people arrivng every half hour, the island is so big that it didn't seem to be very crowded.

It is just so much fun to take photos on this island. The industrial look of the place is intriguing.

A curious exhibit had Lenin, Mao, Ho Chi Minh in death and Castro lingering on a hospital bed. They were supposed to be discussing the Global Financial Crisis.

A repair dock.

The island itself is basically sandstone, a lot of which was mined for the buildings.

Seagulls hanging around the lunch area. They are no where near as big as the monsters we saw in England.

I was intrigued by the colouring around the eyes and how it matched the beak which you must admit is pretty threatening.

A storm moved in quickly over Sydney.
Soon, it was raining but fortunately, we were indoors.

Marianne and Robin had seen this same exhibit in Massachussetts a number of years ago and reckoned that it was not so effective in this space because the building itself distracted your attention from the exhibit.
And they were right. You really didn't need exhibits in this huge workshop.
I built something like this a few years ago out of plywood as an experiment. As an actual loudspeaker, it sounded half decent.

The roof line through an exhibit of silk thread.
Interesting shapes. I have no idea what they were used for.

These were particularly dark and menacing and reminded me of Darth Vader.
This thing was huge.

An interesting exhibit made out of galvanized iron roofing that was supposed to give you the feeling of being in a slum as you walked on it. Kids, of course, couldn't help but run on it.
A part of the complex where they do restorations.
Again, a view of expensive suburbia through an industrial lense.
Throughout the various buildings were these large posters. Click on the image to be able to read it.
Slightly out of focus, but read this about the creation of the above images. This was absolutely mesmerizing to watch. Here is a Youtube link to the video.

Supposedly, a plywood version of the Hubble Telescope.

There was a cathedral like quality to some of these spaces.
A soaring steeple.
The rose window.
The baptismal font.
The sandstone cliff.

Inside one of the tunnels that lead from one side of the island to the other.
The sandstone in the tunnel.
Thick wires.
The telecommunication closet. Internet anyone?

Robin saved the best for last and we entered the former Power Station. It was quite dark in there so the photos are blurry, but in some ways, the blurring helps some of the photos. The large tube object is a rectifier valve which contained mercury vapour. They are about four feet long and would have glowed purple when they were in use changing AC to DC at very high voltages. One sign mentioned 6,600 volts. In the photo just above, note that they have a fan mounted below the bulb to help cool it. There were about a dozen of them lined up.
And so one last photo of this wonderful place. I've never enjoyed taking photos more than at this island and I hope you have enjoyed wading through them all. In some ways, I think a lot of the character of the shipyard will be gone when they really renovate the place, but then again, I think there is just too much stuff there for them really to make much progress. If you are ever in Sydney, make sure you go to Cockatoo Island.


  1. Great photos, you really have an eye for photography. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Very interesting! Thank you so much for sharing your trip. I love the wall photos they would make amazing background for scrap booking pages.