A fascination with ruins

Or should that be “a fascination of ruins”? A much better collective noun than the usual “mass of ruins”.

Cockatoo Island, in Sydney Harbour, is a remarkable place. It is the largest of several islands in Sydney Harbour and according to this website:

In 2010 Cockatoo Island, together with 10 other historic convict sites in Australia, was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The sites were recognised as the best surviving examples of large-scale convict transportation and the colonial expansion of European powers through the presence and labour of convicts.

The island was originally a penal settlement, and the convicts themselves built barracks, a guardhouse and residences for their overseers. Later, convicts were moved off the island and it was used for a school and a reformatory, then shipbuilding, then back to being a prison. Shipbuilding expanded from the 1900s and it became an important facility until 1992, when the shipyards were abandoned.

It was opened to the public as a historical site in 2007, after I had left Sydney, so I’d never been there before. Volunteers are actively renovating buildings and machinery, and it’s a place with real atmosphere. You can read its detailed history here and here.

The island just hosted part of the 18th Biennale festival of contemporary art. The big industrial spaces were perfect for the large installations (which I will post about later).

Not everyone likes industrial archaeology, but I do. The trip starts with a 30 minute ferry ride across one of the most beautiful harbours in the world (I do love that harbour. We lived in the inner city for 12 years and often went after work to the docks to watch the ships come and go. Many of those docks have now been gentrified into multi-million dollar apartments and restaurants.) I loved the old rusting machinery, the old industrial buildings and the sandstone ruins, and the sense of history that goes with them. Here are some examples.

The mist on the left is an art installation; note the silver gull and chick on the right

Looking towards the Sydney Harbour Bridge (“The Coathanger”)

Forgive me being obsessed with this one room, but the soundscape installation, textures, colours and shapes were wonderful …

And on the side of the “blue box” on the right of the above photo …

Wholigans are everywhere!

So much for metal … I’ll post about stone next.

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3 Responses to A fascination with ruins

  1. kathy says:

    Hi Joy. I agree – it’s such an intriguing place. In 2010, one of the installations was of the sounds of convicts chipping the sandstone (not original sound, of course), and that was quite eery and you could well imagine that toil taking place in the space provided. There are so many nooks and crannies on the Island that make you wonder “what the hell did they use this for?” did you get a chance to walk through the tunnel cut into sheer rock? Unbelievable, but when you see so much sandstone around the foreshores, it had to come from somewhere and was hand cut by some convict, no doubt. Have been reading some of Kate Grenville’s stories and she really takes you back to the days of hard slog! Great photos, as usual.

    • Joy Window says:

      Yes, I walked through that tunnel. It’s quite long, and had an installation of short poles with lights on the end of each one. The lights were off until someone walked past, then they shone in groups with the movement of the person – a nice effect, like encountering a bristling bioluminescent creature in a tunnel: a giant shiny caterpillar.

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