My first visit to Cockatoo Island was with a bunch of the worlds toughest critics; 16 year olds. We planned our day to include a ferry trip from Circular Quay to Cockatoo Island, a picnic by the water, some creative activities mixed in with some sight seeing of the island and return by ferry. All of this was on a budget of about $10 each.
The island is located at the junction of the Parramatta and Lane Cove rivers and is situated in the middle of Sydney Harbor, which boasts beautiful views across the iconic city skyline. Ferries run regularly from various locations and can be found on the Sydney ferries website.
Cockatoo Island is a former imperial prison, industrial school, reformatory and gaol. It was also the site of one of Australia's biggest shipyards during the twentieth century.
Engaging younger people in the details of history can be a challenging prospect, I was not sure how enthusiastic the young people would be, however I was pleasantly surprised that the right mixture of sunshine, good food and creative inspiration provided the opportunity for a relaxing, fun and stimulating day out for all.
The island is the perfect backdrop for the expression of creative forms such as drama, art, music, photography and film. There is such rich historical texture, interesting and often quirky architecture, a sense of mystery and intrigue, a palette of raw colours and materials contrasted with luscious gardens and the dazzling harbor.
Walking through abandoned workshops and shipyards feels a little like walking through a film set, it is dramatic and intriguing. It's no wonder that part of the blockbuster X-Men Origins: Wolverine was filmed at the island in 2008. The islands cinematic profile was a selling point for the young people, and became a fantastic introduction to some of the creative activities I had planned for the day.
Here are some of the activities that I found worked well with young people, but would translate well to almost any age group. With a sketchpad under their arm and a camera in their hands young people were armed with a purpose for creatively exploring the rather ghostly island.
They were given a list of 30 objects or themes that they were invited to photograph, draw or write about in 1.5 hours and once this mission had been completed the cameras were handed in. Later on in the week the young people had fun putting together their own art/photography/writing exhibitions, which showcased their work.
Younger children may enjoy an Indiana Jones style treasure hunt with a map and clues to where the "treasure" is. Friday nights on the island include spooky "ghost tours." The island is spooky enough in broad daylight, let alone in the dark, so you can imagine why this is a hit with young people.
For people visiting Sydney there is also the option of renting out one of the beautiful residential properties overlooking the Harbor or camping by the water, that is, if you are game.
Thanks for this idea. I took my niece and nephews (aged: 4, 7 and 9) here are we did the "convict clues" hunt together. ("Convict clues" is provided free to visitors during the school holidays) We all had a really fabulous time.
By Bernadette - senior reviewer Friday, 28th of January @ 02:30 am
One of my favourite things about Sydney was the Harbour; jumping on-board a ferry at random, and setting off to an unknown destination. Next time I'm up there I'll be sure to plan a trip to Cockatoo Island. It sounds like an adventure, and I'm a huge film junkie. Thanks for the idea!
By Lisa Williams - senior reviewer Monday, 18th of July @ 07:14 am