It’s the largest island in Sydney Harbour – one with a complex history – and today the Harbour Trust unveiled plans to turn Cockatoo Island/Wareamah into a “world-class public destination”. Honouring the island’s First Nations history, the Harbour Trust’s plans include placing renewed emphasis on its Dharug name, Wareamah, which means “women’s land”.

This will involve updating signage on the island to include “Wareamah” and using dual language wherever possible across the site. There’ll also be an audio welcome and storytelling by First Nations women.

In place of the current concrete strip and grassy lawn on the eastern side of the island will be the new Wareamah Tidal Terrace. The terrace will use seawater and sandstone to recreate the island’s original foreshore, and new trees and paths will provide shade and access.

A new creative precinct has been proposed, including an upgrade of the existing industrial buildings as well as new outdoor events and performance spaces. Cockatoo Island/Wareamah frequently hosts arts and cultural events, such as the Biennale of Sydney, but in future it could become a hub for permanent, contemporary artworks, murals and installations – particularly by First Nations artists.

The proposed changes to Cockatoo Island/Wareamah have come about after two years of consultation with the broader community. “The community told us it wants more from Cockatoo Island, with more diverse experiences for more diverse audiences, and we heard that more needed to be done to respectfully acknowledge the island’s First Nations’ past,” Harbour Trust chair Joseph Carrozzi said in a statement.

The 18-hectare island is mostly known for its colonial and industrial history. It was once a school for girls, then a naval academy for boys, before operating as a shipbuilding dock. Cockatoo Island opened to the public in 2007, and in recent years the island has become a popular glamping destination. The island’s campground is set to stay, but with options for high-end tents and increased planting to make it feel more like you’re sleeping in the bush than at an industrial site.

There’s a common theme of rejuvenation and re-greening in the proposal. Currently half of the island is paved or roofed, contributing to a harsh, industrial atmosphere. The plans include a new Eora garden of native plants, including food for use in the island’s restaurants.

New dining, retail and bar facilities are expected to be built at the island’s Fitzroy Dock, facing Balmain. The extensive proposal also includes a new playground area, new accommodation options and a campus for on-site learning.

You can have your say on the plans at harbourtrust.gov.au. Consultation closes on June 11, 2021.