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Blog: Whale tales

Paul Chai journeyed up the NSW coastline during the 2012 whale migrating season. Recount his trip.

Island life

Posted by: Paul Chai | 29 October 2012 | 0 comments
Sydney Harbour Bridge view from Goat Island

A Discovery tour of Sydney Harbour’s Goat Island highlights the ghosts, garrisons and gunpowder that form the history of our harbour islands.

The kids warmed to Goat Island after the initial shock (“Dad, where are all the goats?”), though the two-year-old held out hope of seeing the titular farm animal for most of our hour-long tour. But there were plenty of distractions as they were locked inside replica penal colony cells, told gruesome ghost stories and used a former artillery storage shed as an echo chamber.

Telling Goat stories

Goat Island feels like one of our more overlooked harbour islands. I have visited the other animal-themed harbour destinations, Shark and Cockatoo, several times (as well as a quick, self-navigated trip to Clark that almost ended in a sunken tinnie) but I have never set foot on Goat before. After a short ferry ride from Circular Quay, we arrive and soon discover it has a rich Colonial history as a penal quarry and army barracks, all of which comes to life when you go with a National Parks Discovery guide. But our guide starts with the island’s more recent history as the base for TV series Water Rats and we get to hang out in the rats’ nautically themed bar, sadly however the beer taps, located behind the boat-shaped bar have long since run dry.

Back out in the sun we hear about a ghost that once frightened a sentry half to death, visit some graffiti (not recent additions but the sandstone scribblings of bored Colonial soldiers) and stand in awe of the huge skeleton of an industrial-strength crane that was shipped from Glasgow to its current resting place in 1924. There are also replicas of the inhumane prisoner transports that were used on the island where up to twenty inmates would be cramped into a tiny box, though a couple of kids find it roomy and are reluctant to leave.

Location, location, location

That is until we find the Queens Magazine, Her Majesty’s gunpowder storage building which is a cavernous affair where the kids are reluctant to stop making noise such is the entertaining echo that the sandstone chamber makes.

Further along the tour we discover the island was special to Bennelong and his partner Barrangaroo and we are looking upon the development that is soon to take her name.

One of the last stops has to be a candidate for the best address in Sydney, a house perched on the Western tip of the island with a perfect side on view of the Harbour Bridge, though these days real estate agents would best describe it as a fixer upper. Still with a commanding view like this, you might just take the punt.

Goat Island



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