Goat Island

Location: Sydney Harbour
Goat Island is the largest island in Sydney Harbour, located just north of Darling Harbour, between Balmain and Millers Point, opposite the new Barangaroo Reserve. Over the years, Goat Island has served as a home for Aboriginal people, a quarry, convict stockade, explosives store, police station, fire station, boatyard and film set. Today the island forms part of the Sydney Harbour National Park. The island has limited facilities.

Visiting Goat Island: Access to the island is only by ferry on tours organised by National Parks & Wildlife Service. Tours depart from Circular Quay.
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  • Located in the middle of Port Jackson to the east of the Harbour Bridge, Goat Island has a long history of human habitation. The Aborigines referred to it as Mel-Mel, the First Fleet settlers chose to call it by its present name as it was here that Gov. Phillip allowed three goats purchased in Capetown on the journey out from England to forage. Me-mel is a Gadigal word for eye. Over the years the island has been used as a quarry (by convicts), a home for convicts awaiting transportation to Norfolk Island, for explosives storage, as a research centre during the Bubonic Plague (1901) and as the headquarters for the management of Sydney Harbour.

    Pre Colonial habitation

    Hand prints are placed at Goat Island by local Aboriginal children who would like to see the island returned to its original owners. Photo: Christopher Pearce

    The island was the birthplace of Bennelong, the Eora elder who served as intermediary between English settlers from the First Fleet and Aboriginal populations. In a 1798 account of Sydney, Colonial Sydney's judge-advocate David Collins wrote describing the island as Bennelong's inheritance and a place where he and his wife 'Ba-rang-a-roo often feasted and relaxed. To this little spot he appeared much attached'. Goat Island had been used by Aboriginal people long before that time, as two Aboriginal sites on the island demonstrate. The Goat Island midden is a small, thin shell layer that has been very disturbed by the surrounding landscaped gardens. The fragmented shells in the midden consist mainly of Sydney cockles, with some Sydney rock oysters and hairy mussels as well.

    The second site recorded on Goat Island is a sandstone overhang, known as a rock shelter. Aboriginal people used these overhangs to gain shelter from the elements and they often produced art on the walls and ceilings. The rock shelter was located in 1990 by an amateur archaeologist, and is big enough to have been lived in. The shelter does not contain art, but has a midden in it that consists mainly of Sydney rock oyster shells. But the shells at both sites show us that Aboriginal people were gathering foods that were available around the rocky shores of the island.

    Moves are afoot to have Goat Island, known traditionally as Me-Mel, returned to its original owners, the Wangal people. The NSW Aboriginal Land Council has pledged that if the island was returned to the Aboriginal community, they would encourage more people to visit the island to learn about the culture of native tribes.

    Anderson's Cave

    Convict era relics

    Anderson's Cave: A hollowed out section of sandstone in an overhang on Goat Island, = carved to hold Charles 'Bony' Anderson, a wild convict who was chained here for two years around 1838 during the island's days as a convict prison. Anderson had suffered a mental impairment which made him violent as a result of a head injury received during his service in the Royal Navy. During 1835 he received over 1,200 lashes for his numerous attempts to escape the island.

    Anderson was one of 200 convicts who worked on the construction of the Gunpowder Magazine Complex on the island between 1833 and 1839. During those years, gangs of convicts quarried stone and levelling ground on a site at the south-western side of the island. The powder magazine they built is a substantial, stone-built, bomb-proof construction. In 1854 a new Colonial Magazine was constructed to the north of the existing magazine, which became known as the Queen's Magazine. Between 1925 and 1931 the magazine area to the south-west of the island was converted into a shipyard for the repair of the trusts vessels and floating plant.

    Gunpowder Magazine Complex: A convict built complex, erected 1833-39, to house the colony s gunpowder supplies. The complex, a series of well designed and built structures erected by Commanding Royal Engineer, George Barney, comprises of the classically designed Queens Magazine, cooperage, a sentry post and wall, barracks building and kitchen. Constructed of sandstone quarried on the island, it is one of the few major public utilities in Sydney that was built by Gov. Richard Bourke.

    Sydney Harbour Trust: In 1901 the island was vested in the newly formed Sydney Harbour Trust which used Goat Island as a depot, constructing wharves, berthing facilities, coal-store, four cottages, Harbour Masters Residence and workshop as well as making major alterations and additions to the former barrack and cook house. Between 1925 and 1931 the Trust developed a shipyard which consisted of spillways, installation of cranesand rail system.

    Shipyard: Between 1925 and 1931 the magazine area to the south-west of the island was converted into a shipyard for the repair of the trusts vessels and floating plant. Over the following years this has grown to include four slipways, plus a 230-metre wharf. The Colonial Magazine was recycled as a shipwright's workshop, whilst the Queens Magazine became a general store.

    Water Rats

    Water Rats

    During the mid to late 1990s, Goat Island was used as a film-set for the Australian television series Water Rats. The series was based on work of the men and women of the Sydney Water Police who fight crime around Sydney Harbour and surrounding locales. Water Rats premiered on 12 February 1996 and ran for six seasons and 177 episodes. Its cast included Colin Friels, Catherine McClements, Steve Bisley, Aaron Pedersen and Dee Smart. The real Sydney Water Police headquarters was located at Pyrmont. The TV version of the Sydney Water Police headquarters was located on Goat Island, though the fictional address was 48/50 Harbour Drive, Sydney.

    Harbourmaster's residence

    Harbourmaster's residence

    If you are looking for the house in Sydney with the best view of the Harbour Bridge and the city, you can't go past this one - but it's not for sale! It is located on a rise at the eastern end of Goat Island, which sits in the middle of the Parramatta River facing the Harbour Bridge. The charming, unoccupied Federation-era sandstone house has a magnificent panoramic view of the Harbour Bridge and upper reaches of Port Jackson before it becomes the Parramatta River. This view encompasses McMahons Point, Walsh Bay, Millers Point and the City skyline.

    The house was built in the early 1900s following the creation of the Sydney Harbour Trust which had been given the responsibility to control and reconstruct the Port of Sydney. The Trust's operations were based on Goat Island which gave the Trust's head employee a magnificent view of the port over which he presided from his front verandah. Not a bad perk that comes with the job if you get it.

Public transport: Tours of the island are conducted from time to time by NSW National Parks & Wildlife Service from Circular Quay. Limited facilities.

Access only by ferry on special tours to Goat Island organised by National Parks & Wildlife Service.
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