Stepping back in time at Cockatoo Island

I found it appropriate to write about Cockatoo Island because I’m currently in the middle of reading The Shining by Stephen King. Beautiful, historic, deserted, and a bit on the creepy side. I wasn’t joking when I posted a photo on my Instagram saying it should really be called “Shutter Island”, it just has one of those vibes.

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One of the aspects that has surprised me most about Australia is the amount of old, colonial era buildings that have clearly had quite a lot of history happen inside of them. That probably comes off as naive, but I found this surprising because whenever I used to think of Australia, it was as a very new country, as is my own home country of the USA. With that said, I’ve traveled to 22 countries and counting, yet I haven’t found as many creepy places in one country as I’ve found in Australia, and I mean that with fondness.




There have been countless times in the past year where I’ve said, “this place would be perfect for a horror movie”, my current residence in Double Bay included. Even where I work, at an extremely old building that has changed hands countless times, (it even used to be a strip club!) it has its own creaks and groans when you close by yourself late at night. I don’t know what it is about Australia, but there’s something that’s a bit edgy, a bit creepy about a lot of the places I’ve traveled to around Victoria and New South Wales.




However, this is also one of the aspects I enjoy about Australia, that you can almost taste the rich history around you. We don’t quite get the same richness back in San Diego where everything is fairly modern and beachy. I fell in love with Melbourne, in addition to the underground nature of the city, due to the stark differences of architecture to be found in the CBD. The modern skyscrapers and uni buildings standing alongside the gothic cathedrals, makes you wonder at how history can be such a beauty sometimes.




But as usual, I digress. I came here to talk about my day on Cockatoo Island, and the colorful history that part of Australia has had in the past. From a convict prison and a place for shipbuilding that first put Australia on the map, to a girl’s orphanage and reformatory, to a change back to a prison before its closure in 1908, to finally becoming the Naval Dockyard of the Royal Australian Army until 1979, the air is heavy with the history of the island as you step off the ferry.




There are a couple of cafes on the island and one bar called the Island Bar. I didn’t have a chance to grab a drink at the bar, but I’ve only heard good things. There are also a few events and a festival that goes on during the year, which isn’t surprising with the island’s picturesque surroundings. I ate at the cafe right next to the ferry dock, and it was the perfect view of the city as I ate my lunch. I went during the week so it was quite deserted besides the people camping on the island. It only added to the completely isolated feeling that the island tends to give you.




I managed to cover the whole island in a day, and as long as you have the energy and good walking shoes, it’s not hard to just take a day trip to the island from Circular Quay in the city. I walked through dark tunnels on my own, the prison yard and prison guard residences, the dockyards and shipbuilding warehouses, and other buildings that had been used both when it was a convict playground and when it was a girl’s school.



The one recommendation I would make is to stay far away from the seagulls. They were some of the most aggressive birds I’ve come across, they even have signs around the island warning you not to feed them.



I don’t know if you’ll find me spending the night on the island anytime soon, but it was a day well spent, traveling to an UNESCO World Heritage Site, and gaining a little more insight into Australia’s well known convict history in a beautiful hideaway just a stone’s throw away from the city of Sydney.

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Mimi McFadden
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One Response

  1. Next you’ll have to do the Alcatraz tour. Didn’t you also tour some subterranean eastern European salt mine?

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