Over the course of 170 years, few locations in Sydney have changed as dramatically as Cockatoo Island. Its size, shape and texture today bear little resemblance to the uninhabited, rocky, treecovered island it was in 1839, when the British decided to build a prison on it.
As Sydney grew from a colonial settlement into a city, Cockatoo Island changed inexorably. Its wooded slopes were cleared, its upper parts were levelled for the construction of prison barracks, and its sandstone foreshores were blasted with gunpowder to construct a dry dock.
The island's size actually increased when cutting and filling formed extensive aprons to accommodate shipbuilding. Once 12.9 hectares, the largest island in Sydney Harbour, today Cockatoo Island is 17.9 hectares, a magnificent artefact of nineteenth-and twentieth-century penal and industrial development.