My Big Australian Adventure – Part 3

2014-03-30 13.51.06With system go-live Monday it is safe to say the past week has been extremely busy; long working days to get everything ready. The reality is that nobody will be in the office on the 31st to actually do anything, press any buttons or even switch on a computer; but the day has been designated and therefore everything needs to be ready.

On Friday we picked up our vehicles so I now have use of a Ute, pickup truck to the rest of us, which means that I can get further a field later in the trip. The Blue Mountains and a general visit in land is on the cards for when Lauren joins me here next week.

Another land mark was achieved Friday evening when those of us who have travelled from the UK had a barby! Trevor kindly arranged all the food and did the cooking. Just as the steaks and sausages were being served it started to drizzle which quickly turned in to a down pour. That was the end of our outside dinning so we finished our food sitting in the gym! A great evening and even better food.

So Monday to Friday was pretty much all work. Saturday saw me back in the office for a few hours to discuss the Labour timesheet process and the recording of costs for both operatives and staff. After that I took my first trip to an Australian supermarket; Woolworths! Seemed odd seeing the signs again after they have been gone from British high streets for so long. Difference over her is that they are all about food shopping, well at least the one I visited was.

The remainder of Saturday was used up resting and doing chores. I found myself asleep on the sofa at one point, 2 hours lost, and so decided that a day doing nothing would be a very good idea. So I put a great deal of effort into doing exactly that.

Sunday 30th March

Today has been all about Cockatoo Island. Situated in Sydney Harbour it was a short hop on the ferry from Circular Quay.

The ferries here are very efficient and run a comprehensive service all round the harbour. Not only are they great for tourists, like I am today, they are also used as part of the greater public transport system getting people to and from work, the shops and schools.

Cockatoo Island, which took its name from the sulphur-crested cockatoos that lived there, has had an interesting and varied history:

1839 – 1850  :  In 1839 Governor George Gipps chose the island as the site of a new convict jail. All the necessary buildings such as barracks, guardhouse, isolation cells and official residences were constructed using convict labour.

It was one of the most extreme penal establishments of the colony housing the “worst of the worst”. Convicts who had committed a second offence or those who had their ticket-of-leave cancelled and had to be accommodated. In 1842 there were 323 convicts living on the island. Later the limited accommodation was stretched to extreme with nearly 500 being housed.

1850 – 1870  :  The Fitzroy Dock and a workshop were built by prisoners to service Royal Naval and other ships. Although noted for the quality of their workmanship, the convicts weren’t in any hurry which resulted in the dock taking considerably longer to complete than expected.

1870 – 1880  :  All the prisoners were moved to Darlinghurst Jail with the island being used as an Industrial School for girls as well as an informatory. The training ship Vernon, housing wayward and orphaned boys, was anchored nearby.

1880 – 1900  :  Sutherland Dock is completed as the shipbuilding and repair activities continue to expand. Between 1888 and 1908 the top part of the island reverts to a jail due to overcrowding elsewhere. Cockatoo Island becomes the NSW Government Shipyard during this period.

1900 – 1930  :  In 1913 the island becomes the Commonwealth Naval Dockyard with Australia building it’s first steel warship.

1930 – 1945  :  With the fall of Singapore, the island becomes the major shipbuilding facility for the South West Pacific during World War II.

1945 – 1991  :  Following an expansion of facilities T-Class submarines are refitted and the Navy destroyers Voyager and Vampire are built along with the cruse ship Empress of Australia. Submarine works switched to the Oberon-Class and 1984 saw the completion of HMAS Success.

1992  :  The dockyard closed.

The island today represents an extremely unusual mixed of buildings and machinery from each part of its history. The convict barracks and yard are still fully intact and the guard house, although no longer having a roof, still evokes a sense of purpose and of the conditions in which everyone who found themselves on the island at that time would of endured. The numbers are still visible above the gun slots which would have been used if the solders found themselves under siege from mutinous convicts. In parts of the rock face the now exposed grain silos are visible which were dug into the sandstone rock by hand. A large number of these were built to ensure that there would be no shortage of food.

Around the base of the island are the various sheds and workshops which housed all of the different industrial functions from boiler repairs, to pattern making, drawing offices and shipbuilding yards. Most are now empty with the exception of some heavy machinery and equipment which it can only be assumed wasn’t worth moving. The slip ways and docks are in amazing condition.

It is clear that work is in hand in many parts of the island to ensure that it is preserved for future generations. Work which is unlikely to ever end, but seeing the amazing condition of the docks and slipways themselves it’s hard to see why boat building and repair hasn’t already returned. The whole place would make an incredible “living museum” with boat maintenance being an obvious first step. Perhaps this is already in hand but from my point of view it would be incredible to see the island come fully to life again.


One thought on “My Big Australian Adventure – Part 3

  1. Pingback: My Big Australian Adventure – Part 9 | "It's Only Nuts & Bolts"

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