Renaissance of an island Reply

by Laura Drysdale

A giant mural bounds across the side of an old building on the northern side of the island. Photo: Clive Collins

A rare plot of land with a million dollar view is up for grabs on Sydney harbour. For once though, the silvertails won’t have a chance to snap it up.The Sydney Harbour Federation Trust is seeking expressions of interest for innovative business ventures to move into the docks precinct of historic Cockatoo Island.

“We’re throwing the doors open to everyone,” says Susan O’Brien, Property Manager at the Trust.

With the island previously the site of a convict settlement, reformatory school, reality TV set and now home to a thriving tourism and arts trade, there’s no telling what type of business plans might be offered.Since 2000, the Trust has worked steadily to restore the island and re-open the doors to business and the public.

With 15 buildings, 4500 square metres of floor space and 400 metres of wharf, the Trust hopes maritime operations will return to the island, according to Geoff Bailey, Executive Director of the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust. These could include boat building, brokerage services or dry storage, recreational of commercial boating ventures.Mr Bailey believes that a return to maritime activity will encourage public visits, while referencing the history of the Island. And what a rich history it is.

“From Aboriginal occupation through the convict period, to dockyard and defence establishment, Cockatoo Island was always a focus of activity in Sydney Harbour,” says Professor Richard Mackay, a partner at Goddard Mackay Logan Heritage Consultants, who have been involved with several restoration projects on Cockatoo Island.

William Dinnie, a former worker on the dockyards for 49 years, and a resident of the island for 25 of those, believes that the contribution of the island to the defence of Australia and support of other nation’s navies cannot be ignored.

“This aspect of Cockatoo Island must be retained for future generations,” he says. “Many overseas countries are determined to preserve their maritime heritage, and we must not lose what is left of Australia’s biggest dockyard. I always regretted that so much of Cockatoo Island was destroyed after it closed.”

Though supportive of the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust’s actions in continuing the island’s restoration, Mr Dinnie is concerned about the future of the place he once called home.

“I hope that whatever is done in the proposed area is in some way in keeping with the atmosphere of the dockyard, with some link to the past.”

Professor Mackay agrees. “Changes at Cockatoo Island should be guided by an understanding of its diverse heritage values and exemplary conservation planning,” he says.

However, what will determine the success of a bid for the docks precinct space is not what you might think – the Trust won’t be looking at dollar signs when making its decision.

Mr Bailey says the Trust is seeking tenants who will contribute to the renaissance of the island, organisations or people with relevant expertise and experience in the activities they propose to undertake.

The Trust is looking for “diversity and compatibility of uses which will enliven the island,” while keeping in tune with its status as an historical World Heritage listed site, he says.

Professor Mackay believes the Trust will “conserve the Harbour’s most important maritime icon and make it accessible to the community in a wide range of innovative and engaging ways”.

Expressions of interest closed on May 11.

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