Cockatoo Island

On Sunday afternoon, D and I took the opportunity of the Biennale installations to take a trip to Cockatoo Island.

For years, this was the mysterious ferry stop where you were not allowed to get off. It was also the workplace which killed my friend Dx’s father, Gx, 40 years on, because of his youthful exposure to asbestos there.

D and I made a previous attempt to get there a few weeks ago, when the ferry scheduled to stop at Huntley’s Point simply sailed past (less as a metaphor than as usually applied to buses). When I pressed the help button at the wharf I was told that sometimes the ferries fill up at Olympic Park and then they simply don’t stop for the rest of the route, except, I presume, for disembarking passengers. So this time, for super-abundant caution, we drove all the way out to Homebush Bay, where the ferry started. As it turns out, this was unnecessary as we could easily have got on from any number of closer wharves. An alternative would have been to take the free ferries which have been running from near the Museum for Modern Art at Circular Quay, but I didn’t relish having to travel to the CBD only to leave it again.

As ever, D and I only arrived rather late in the afternoon, and straight away I became anxious at the sight of a long queue snaking away from the wharf of people waiting for the free ferry off the island. I wondered why they bothered, though later, after electing to take the non-free Sydney Ferries catamaran to Circular Quay and forking out $5.20 each for the privilege, I saw things differently.

Our viewing of the installations was pretty cursory, in part because of the lateness of the hour coupled with my anxiety about getting off the island, and also because, even though it will all still be there when the Biennale is gone, the place itself was such a distraction.

It was less a distraction for D, who, coming from China, has experience of large enterprises, but for me there was a definite mystique to the heavy-industrial archaeological remains. The first link above has many better photographs, and since it has opened for visitors the island has been extensively documented on the web, so it is with diffidence that I offer my own rather blurry pictures:

D was more interested in this:

Please overlook the naff public seating and concentrate on the graffiti, which appears at the entrance to one of two tunnels carved through the rock at the centre of he island.

One of the paradoxes about Cockatoo Island is that, as a large government industrial enterprise, it harboured a large unionised work-force (including left-wing unionists) whose work, especially throughout the cold war period, would seem inherently aligned with more right-wing purposes of state. (Notoriously, in the world of Gerard Henderson and his ilk, there was industrial resistance here in the opening years of WWII when communist attitudes to the war were governed by the Hitler-Stalin pact of 1939.) I assumed (perhaps wrongly) that this was the irony addressed by the installation which piped through this room a slow unaccompanied female rendition of The Internationale, culminating in the line, which is virtually the only line I really know from the song: “The Internationale unites the human race.”

There has been a complaint (more fully reported here) about another “art-work” which we didn’t get to, which incorporates homophobic and racist graffiti uncovered on the site. Personally, I’m content to let such things stand as historical documents, and I doubt if most people coming to Cockatoo Island would respond to them otherwise. A warning sign has apparently now been added. Like nudity warnings, I wonder if that is not a little nannyish. Apparently, some of the graffiti identifies individuals as homosexual or engaging in homosexual practices. It is a lawyer’s plight to see causes of action everywhere, so naturally I wondered if this might ground any fresh actions in defamation.

However dewy-eyed one can become about the heavy-industrial archaeology, I did not forget that this was the place where, 45 years ago, Gx was killed, even though he died less than 3 months ago. And of course there were other fatalities and injuries.

D pulled me aside, I thought, to look at this:

In fact, he wanted me to see this:

I particularly like the cigarette butt.

A moment after this picture was taken, the gull stood up in an exhibition of rage designed to drive us away, exposing a single blue-grey coloured egg. You’ll have to take my word for this, as the rage apparently deterred me from taking the picture which I thought I had taken.

The Biennale runs for another 2 weeks (to 7 September). The island will still be there for a while after.

One Response to “Cockatoo Island”

  1. wanderer Says:

    Diffidence now…please not ‘I’m not a photographer’…just keep them coming. It’s not the quality of the pic that matters, it’s what, and moreover how, you see.

    “I don’t believe that offensive statements are art” (the wounded Mr Thompson) just about says it all.

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