Sydney’s harbour is constantly in flux with new developments, whether that be new openings in Barangaroo or buzzy new dining spots in Circular Quay. The latest plan for the harbour was revealed on Wednesday, and spotlights an ambitious makeover of Cockatoo Island in a bid to attract more visitors to the area. Handily for hot days, that’s also set to include a new harbour swimming spot, improved recreation options, and bags more cultural attractions. Let’s get into the details.
What’s the plan for Cockatoo Island?
Cockatoo Island – or Wareamah, to give it its Dharug name – is the largest island in the harbour, and is most popular at the moment as a camping and glamping spot, as well as the occasional site for Opera Australia performances. The draft master plan aims to invite more regular visitors, starting with the creation of a new public pool by revitalising two former slipways on the western edge of the island, as well as a space for kayaking, and canoe building that would support and preserve First Nations cultural practices.
Other new developments would see the preservation of the former penal colony by turning buildings into a visitor centre dubbed ‘The Convict’s Workshop‘, utilising the industrial halls as a space for art, culture, and events (with an emphasis on First Nations culture), and a new café & restaurant to feed all these new visitors. Campers will be happy to know that camping facilities will be retained, although they’ll be moved to a new location to make way for a new island park featuring native flora and overlooking artificial reefs that aim to rehabilitate marine biodiversity in the island’s waters. The trade off for any disgruntled campers, meanwhile, is an array of new cabins and camping facilities that’ll make for a comfier stay.
Finally, the plan also aims to drain Fitzroy Dock, built by convict labour and once the largest engineering project in Australia. In its new life above the waterline, it will be home to evening light shows that transform it into ‘a premium island experience’ by telling the history of the island. Getting to Cockatoo Island would also become easier with the addition of a new ferry wharf in the south east of the island, adjacent to the preserved heritage structures, as well as increased services to the existing Parramatta Wharf.
Overall, it amounts to a massive transformation of Cockatoo Island, one that could even include a future hotel if the demand arises. According to Sydney Harbour Federation Trust executive director Janet Carding, the aim is for events to continue, but to be the “icing on the cake” rather than the main draw. The plan also calls for preserving the four distinct layers of Cockatoo Island’s history – the natural history, First Nations history, convict history, and maritime history – so you can expect the unique blend of influences that have changed the face of the island to be safeguarded for the future.
When will Cockatoo Island be redeveloped?
The draft master plan is open for public consultation until December 13, but it’s important to stress that this is an early step in a long-term strategy that started back in 2017. Future steps include finalising the master plan in 2024 after public feedback, commissioning more detailed design work, and further consultation with the island stakeholders. So, work on that new swimming spot and other developments won’t begin in the immediate future, but we’ll be sure to keep you updated with the latest news on Cockatoo Island.
You can view the draft master plan and submit your feedback here.