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Between Balmain and Walsh Bay, Goat Island was originally used as a naval arsenal in the late 1820s.   It was then transformed into a sandstone quarry manned by gangs of convicts in 1831.  One working convict, Charles Anderson – aka ‘the tattoed seaman’ – was apparently publicly chained to a rock on the island for two years, and fed with a pole.   The island was then used as a water police station, an ammunitions artillery and a laboratory up until 1900, when all explosives were removed.  It is also speculated that it was used as a bacteriology station, for investigation of the outbreak of the bubonic plague in the nearby Rocks district.  More recently, the island was used as the set for the action tv series “Water Rats”.   


The largest island in Sydney Harbour has a colourful history, from its use as a prison and reformatory school for girls and a naval training school for boys, to its principal use as a naval shipbuilding and repairs dock.  Since 2007, when the island was declared open to the public, it has become a regular venue for cultural festivals such as the Biennale, Outpost, Underbelly Arts and the Cockatoo Island Film Festival.   You can sleep there, play tennis, barbecue or drink at the Island Bar.   Scenes from “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” were filmed there in 2008.


In Iron Cove, behind Rozelle, lies Rodd Island, also known as Rabbit, Rhode, Snake and Jack Island.  Named after Brent Clements Rodd – a local solicitor who attempted to buy the island for his family in 1842, to no avail – it became the first public recreation reserve in Sydney.  It was then used as a scientific research facility, a factory, and a training base for the US army during WWII, before settling as a recreational area.  When Sarah Bernhardt was in Australia in 1891, she visited the island frequently to see her dogs, which were quarantined there.


Between Drummoyne and Rozelle, this small harbour island was named because of its original ‘spectacular’ shape – two small islands joined by a narrow peninsula.  Sitting just behind Cockatoo Island, Spectacle was first used in 1865 as a storage site for the colonial government’s gunpowder.  The Royal Australian Navy took over in 1913, and the island was used for shell-filling and munitions storage during the First and Second World Wars, and then later as a Naval Repository.   The island is now a fully functional naval base and not open to the public.  But you can see the historical items from the island at the Naval Heritage Centre on Garden Island.


This small 0.9 hectare island just off Darling Point is now a popular picnic spot and wedding destination, but it was once a simple veggie patch.  Lieutenant Ralph Clark, who came over with the First Fleet, had tried to set up a little vegetable garden on the island in the 18th century, but other settlers kept stealing the fruits – and veg – or his labour.


Just off  Bennelong Point, this tiny island with the distinctive Martello tower was once a rocky fishing spot known by the Eora people as ‘Mat-te-wan-ye’.  Governor Phillip later named it ‘Rock Island’, but the name that stuck with the convicts was ‘Pinchgut’, because the isle became something of an isolation cell where prisoners were marooned with little or no food and water.  In 1959, it was the focal point of a film made by Ealing Studios, which won the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival.   These days Fort Denison is a popular location for private parties and weddings.


Supposedly named because the breaking surf looks like icing, this rock platform is about a kilometer offshore from Coogee Beach and acts as a breaker for the mighty waves that might otherwise swamp the coastline.  It’s arguably best known as the inspiration for Midnight Oil’s surf instrumental of the same name, as both Peter Garrett and Martin Rotsey were Coogee boys at one time.  There’s nothing out there aside from rocks, water, and the odd beer can left from the annual Anzac Day paddle to the island by local surfers.     It’s also a great spot for diving.


The government of the day built an elaborate fort on this island 30 metres off the coast of La Perouse in the early 1880s, seeing the land Cook had described a century earlier as ‘a small bare island’, as a good place to ward off  invaders.  But from the moment it opened in 1885 there were problems.  An 1890 Royal Commission found that inferior concrete had been used and the crumbling fort was decommissioned by 1902.  It was next used as a retirement home for war veterans before coming under the jurisdiction of the NSW Parks and Wildlife Service.   Parts of the film “Mission Impossible II” starring Tom Cruise were filmed on the island.  


Thirty five kilometers north of Sydney lies this small, eucalypt-filled community in the middle of Pittwater, one of only two residential islands in the Sydney area.  The island was a weekend family escape for much of the 20th century, before more permanent residents – and electricity – arrived in the 1960s.  The name comes courtesy of Andrew Thompson, a European settler who established a salt works here in the 18th century and renamed the then Pitt Islandin hour of his homeland.  Today Scotland Island is a thriving community of folks embracing offshore living.  It’s a great island to kayak around, or visit via the Church Point ferry.


This forested Hawkesbury River island is named after Henry Carey Dangar, who bought the island in 1864.   These days it is heavily populated, although there are no private cars permitted on Dangar’s 29 hectares.    It takes less than 5 minutes to walk from one side to the other.  Today it’s a popular tourist destination and easy to get to via the Brooklyn Ferry, whose wharf is right next to the Hawkesbury River train station.   There are one or two guest houses on the island.   

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