The image above, showing a busy Cockatoo Island, is evocative of a time when this island in Sydney Harbour was not only the focus but indeed the heart of naval life in Sydney. Cockatoo Island has a long and fascinating history, but the image above, from circa 1920 harks back to a time when the island was the Commonwealth Naval Dockyard.
Cockatoo Islands history, in the era of European Settlement, dates back to the early years of the colony when the island was home to a prison which was built in 1839 to alleviate the overcrowding on Norfolk Island. By the 1850s, although still a prison, the role of the island was slowly starting to shift towards naval service with the Fitzroy Dock and a workshop built (by the prisoners in fact) to service the Royal Navy. By the 1880s shipbuilding and repair work done on the island was expanding rapidly and a second dry dock, Sutherland Dock, was built.
During this era the shipyard serviced the Royal Navy, but in 1913, with the establishment of a new, Australian Navy, Cockatoo Island became the Commonwealth Naval Dockyard, servicing not just the Royal Navy, but the new Australian Navy. In fact by 1930 Australias first steel warship had been built at the islands shipyard. Over the 20th century ship building and repair continued to expand, even servicing submarines, but in 1992 the dockyard closed. Today, the island is controlled by the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust and you can visit to discover more of the story of this historic island.