An $80 million submission to transform Cockatoo Island into a world-class arts and culture destination to rival MONA in Hobart, the High Line in New York and Japan’s art island Naoshima has been proposed by two Sydney-based philanthropists.
Gresham director Tony Berg and Dakota Group executive chairman Danny Goldberg proposed the private-public partnership to transform the island during an independent review of Sydney Harbour Federation Trust.
There was also a submission from current managers of the island, Harbour Trust for greater flexibility in entering into long term leases with the private sector, operational and capital funding allocation from the government and changing legislation so they could continue to be custodians of the site.
Opposition leader Anthony Albanese, whose electorate Grayndler includes the harbour area, took to Twitter to post a photo of the view of Cockatoo Island from Elkington Park.
“Sydney Harbour and its islands are a precious national asset and must be kept in public ownership and control,” Albanese said.
Cockatoo Island Foundation Limited was registered as an Australian charity in May 2019 in the lead up to the review which started in October 2019.
“At present there is no clear vision for the future of the island and no clear sense of what its owners and stakeholders want it to be,” Berg said.
“Remediation costs are estimated to be $194 million and the island has significant maintenance costs with limited programming in its present state.
“Investment is needed to make the island more attractive and accessible to tourists and the local community.
“We believe a model that maintains public ownership and access while investing in a range of arts and cultural experiences for visitors and the local community will make sure the island lives up to its potential.”
Under the proposal Cockatoo Island would feature large scale artworks which are bigger than those typically exhibited in Australian museums and galleries, provide a bridge between Sydney’s CBD and western Sydney as well as showcasing the heritage buildings and the island’s indigenous history.
Cockatoo Island has already hosted a number of art exhibitions, historic tours and camping accommodation with the current managers of the site.
Harbour Trust manages Cockatoo Island as well as Chowder Bay in Mosman, the former marine biological station at Watson’s Bay, Georges Heights, Macquarie Lightstation, Middle Head, North Head Sanctuary, Sub Base Platypus, Woolwich Dock and Parklands and yet to be formally transferred Snapper Island.
Harbour Trust chair Joseph Carrozzi said they want to develop deeper ties with the NSW Government and relationships more broadly with the tourism and education sectors.
“The Harbour Trust is focused on protecting these unique places,” Carrozzi said.
“By ensuring the longevity of the Harbour Trust, we are ensuring the stories and significance of these sites are preserved for all.”
Harbour Trust developed a plan for Cockatoo Island which was approved by the government in 2003 including the adaptive re-use of current buildings, introducing small scale maritime industry on the island while allowing for accommodation and tourism activities.
The island originally called Wareamah before European settlement when it became a prison and labour camp.
In 1870 it was renamed Biloela an indigenous word for cockatoo in an effort to give the island a new image and it became an industrial school for girls and reformatory until 1888 as well as place to accommodate wayward and orphaned teenage boys.
The island also has a strong maritime history for training ships, dry docks, naval dockyard in 1913, leased to a private engineering company in 1933 and finally the location for refitting and maintaining o-class submarines from 1968 to 1991.
Minister for the Environment Sussan Ley appointed Carolyn McNally and Erin Flaherty to lead the independent review of the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust with a final public forum scheduled for 18 February.
A final report, including recommendations for Cockatoo Island, is expected to be completed at the end of March.