Cockatoo Island has a long and illustrious history dating back to the time of first settlement, playing a significant role in the development of Sydney and the nation. The following is a brief timeline covering key events.
Pre 1788: Frequented by sulphur-crested cockatoos, the island's first visitors were most likely the Eora people, the Aboriginal people of Sydney's coastal region. They called the island Waremah. It would have been a great base to fish from for them, in their bark canoes made from the red gum forests that once covered the island hill.
1839-1850: In 1839 the Governor of the colony of New South Wales, Sir George Gipps, chose Cockatoo Island as the site of a new penal establishment to alleviate overcrowding on Norfolk Island. Convicts were put to work building prison barracks, a military guardhouse and official residences.
1850-1870: The Fitzroy Dock and a workshop are built by prisoners to service Royal Navy and other ships.
1870-1880: Prisoners relocate to Darlinghurst Gaol and the island is used for an Industrial School for Girls and a reformatory. The ship, Vernon, is anchored nearby to train wayward and orphaned boys.
1880-1900: Shipbuilding and repair activities expand steadily and Sutherland Dock is completed. The island reverts back to a gaol from 1888-1908 due to overcrowding elsewhere.
1900-1930: Cockatoo Island becomes the Commonwealth Naval Dockyard in 1913 and Australia builds its first steel warship on the island.
1930-1945: The island becomes the major shipbuilding and dockyard facility for the South West Pacific in WWII following the fall of Singapore.
1945-1965: Additional buildings are constructed for shipbuilding and repair. The refit of T-Class submarines occurs and the Navy destroyers, HMAS Voyager and HMAS Vampire, are built.
1965-1992: The island's work includes service and refit of Oberon Class submarines and construction ofHMAS Success. The dockyard closes in 1992, machinery is sold off, and about 40 buildings and several wharves are demolished.
2001-present: Cockatoo Island lays dormant for a decade until the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust assumes control of the island and embarks on major restoration works. After extensive remediation works, Cockatoo Island was opened to the public in 2007. The Harbour Trust continues to actively rehabilitate the island.
To learn more about the history of Cockatoo Island, do the audio tour next time you are on the island.