Dying Embers out now

Dying Embers out now

Sunday 10 February 2013

In the Penal Colony

Don't you just love a brutal landscape?
Today we caught the ferry across to Cockatoo Island, which operated as a convict penal settlement between 1839 and 1869. It is now a heritage site open to the public. Being an isolated island, it would have been easy to secure, with the convicts always 'under the eye of security'. Apparently they were often subject to harsh living and working conditions, and looking around the bleakly inhospitable place now, it's easy to imagine what might have happened.
Quarrying, general labouring and construction were carried out here by the convicts, and they built all their own living quarters on the island themselves. Which would I guess have provided some motivation!
From 1851, it was used as a shipyard, Navy ships being built here for two world wars as well as the Korean and Vietnam conflicts. There is a fascinating juxtaposition of beautiful scenery (the harbour bridge can be seen across the water as a backdrop), harsh concrete bunkers from the wars, huge empty warehouses and rusty cranes from the shipbuilding years, and stunning Federation architecture. The whole place feels post-apocalyptic, and is so big that it's easy to find yourself all alone between the towering buildings and the long-unused industrial grain silos. It was compelling to look through the isolation cells, basically caves with barred windows set into the foot of cliffs. I was not expecting such a striking landscape, and I could not resist taking some pictures. I certainly felt inspired to use this place in a story. Now, maybe I need a plot ...

Harsh landscape: graffiti on some concrete grain silos.
The island has a number of tunnels through the cliffs, once used for transporting heavy items on the rails you can just make out in my photo. Needless to say, these are atmospheric places! The kids loved running along them, though.

A heavily secured door in an empty, crumbling warehouse, leading ... nowhere. Locked from the inside, but why?
The place is a maze, and there's no one around ...
Ghosts from the old shipyard
The rusting hulks of disused warehouses are ready to swallow up the unwary!


  1. Cockatoo Island is fascinating! I went there with some friends for the Biennale. There was also that fascinating area near the kitchens where the entire wall was covered in moss and ferns and the smoke from the kitchens made it look like something out of The Lost World. I'd love to do some kind of ghostly themed photoshoot there one day!

  2. Yes, it's full of possibilities. I will definitely get back there soon with a decent camera to take some more shots.