Industrial Cathedral

Industrial Cathedral
"Industrial Cathedral" charcoal on paper 131 x 131 cm Jane Bennett. Finalist in 1998 Dobell Drawing Prize Art Gallery of NSW Finalist 1998 Blake Prize Winner 1998 Hunter's Hill Open Art Prize

About Me

My photo
Sydney, NSW, Australia
I'm an Industrial Heritage Artist who paints "en plein air".If it's damaged, derelict, doomed and about to disappear, I'll be there to paint it.


Cockatoo Island - A lost World
Cockatoo Island has had a strange history- a former 19th century prison, then a Naval dockyard and then after being abandoned and desolate for over a decade it has been reinvented as a performance, art and music venue.
The Island is filled with evocative relics of Sydney's history, from the convict-built sandstone ruins to the gritty grandeur of industrial architecture.
Plein air oil painting on canvas of convict ruins on Cockatoo Island  by artist Jane Bennett
"Cockatoo Island convict ruins" 
2007 oil painting on canvas 15 x 21cm 
I first started to paint there in the 1980s when ships and submarines were still being built and repaired there, and the giant crane,Titan was lurking beside the north-west slipway.
Now half the sheds and cranes (unfortunately including Titan) have gone, and Cockatoo Island has been reincarnated as a festival venue for comedy, art and music.
When it was likely that the island would cease shipbuilding when the lease finally ran out in 1992, the workforce on the island staged a wildcat strike during 1989.
After a great deal of tension the island closed for ship-building forever in 1991 and many cranes and buildings were demolished. It became a "Ghost town" for over a decade.
In 2005 I was asked by The Sydney Harbour Federation Trust to record the island before they refurbished it for the tourists.

Fitzroy Dock
oil painting of Turbine Hall cranes and Fitzroy Dock Cockatoo Island  by artist Jane Bennett
'Fitzroy Dock, early morning' 
2007 oil on canvas 75 x 100cm
Fitzroy was a dry dock for Royal Naval vessels in the South Pacific. 
Thousands of tons of sandstone were quarried by convicts working in leg irons. Admiralty designed the original plan, but Captain Gother Mann expanded its size, used electronically detonated explosives to remove the cliff face, assembled the pumping machinery and designed the floating caisson (gate).
In 1857 the dock was 284 feet long, and was extended in 1870 and then in 1880 to 475 feet. 
Fitzroy dock wasn't big enough for the new steel battleships, so ₤150,000 was allocated for construction of a graving dock intended to be the largest in the southern hemisphere – Sutherland Dock.
Recently I sold a painting of Fitzroy Dock to the man who had opened the caissons for the final time and let the water into Fitzroy and Sutherland Docks, the act that signalled the island's demise as a part of Sydney's Working Harbour!

oil painting of Turbine Hall cranes and Fitzroy Dock Cockatoo Island  by artist Jane Bennett
Dawn Fitzroy Dock 
2010 oil on canvas 122 x 183cm
This is painted looking east to catch the first rays of light just beginning to reveal the form of the cranes.
The object in the middle of the dock is a floating caisson. The present floating caisson was made in 1927 but is a replica of the 1857 original. This gate is pulled into and out of place with a tugboat and its position is predetermined by the “fit”. The “fit” consisted of 2 grooves, one of which has been cut into each side of the dock, running vertically down to the floor of the dry dock where they join a gutter cut across the dock entrance. When the caisson was in position the workmen would open a flood valve to let water in to sink it into position, sealing the dock.
The two cranes in the background, standing guard on either side of Fitzroy Dock are Utility cranes built in 1918, but the other cranes are even older, On the right hand side is the rounded shape of a Priestman Crane, built in 1893. On the other side, hidden in shadow, is a green crane built in 1857, and known affectionately as the 'African Queen'.
oil painting of Turbine Hall cranes and Sutherland Dock Cockatoo Island  by artist Jane Bennett


Built from 1882-1890, Sutherland Dock was designed by Louis Samuel, a brilliant 23 year old engineer, whose company also obtained the contract to build the piers for the Hawkesbury River Bridge.
The Turbine hall is on the right, in the centre stands an old (1893) Priestman steam crane and on the left is the chimney of the power station.
oil painting of Turbine Hall  Cockatoo Island  by artist Jane Bennett
"Cockatoo Island Turbine Hall" 
 2007 oil painting on canvas 183 x 122 cm 
There is a gantry crane in one of the buildings near the Turbine Hall that must be even older than the 1857 crane next to Fitzroy Dock - because most of it is made of wood not metal!

oil painting of crane on Cockatoo Island  by artist Jane Bennett
'Utility Crane, north-west slipway'  
2010 oil on canvas 178 x 122cm

A rusting relic of the island's ship-building past.
This 1918 utility crane once had a pale green companion crane, seen in the 1989 painting below.
This painting shows the handsome Military Officers' Headquarters, a relic of the Island's convict heritage, in the background.
Plein air oil painting of heritage cranes on Cockatoo Island by industrial heritage artist Jane Bennett
CK8B'2 Cranes on the North-West Slipway' 
1989 oil on canvas 61 x 46cm

Compare this 1989 painting with the 2007 one that I deliberately painted at the same location, at the same time of day, at the same time of year and on the same format canvas 18 years apart.
Plein air oil painting of heritage cranes on Cockatoo Island by industrial heritage artist Jane Bennett
CK52'Crane  from the Officers headquarters' 
2007 oil on canvas 61 x 46cm

The green crane is the most obvious omission- a casualty of a storm not long after this was painted.
Other changes are subtler: a touch of rust here and there, the "Paint shop" building replaced by toilet blocks for the tourists, missing structures from the slipway and new developments in Hunters Hill on the horizon.
oil painting of crane on Cockatoo Island  by artist Jane Bennett

This Utility Crane adjacent to Sutherland Dock was built c. 1918.
During the last decade of Cockatoo Island's operations as a working dockyard it was given the nickname of the 'Star Wars' crane.
plein air oil painting of crane on Cockatoo Island by industrial heritage artist jane Bennett
 'Utility  Crane study 1'
2007  oil on canvas 18 x 13cm

oil painting of the Titan crane on Cockatoo Island  by artist Jane Bennett
'Titan in profile' 
1989 oil on canvas 41 x 31 cm 
"Titan" was the immense 2,000 ton floating crane-barge that was usually moored off the north-west slipway of Cockatoo Island.
Amongst its heroic exploits was its role in the building of the Sydney Harbour Bridge during 1931-2.
One of her last projects was unloading the historic train 'The Flying Scotsman' at the (now demolished) Pyrmont Wharves and Goods Yard. I witnessed this and did some paintings from my vantage point on the roof of the Pyrmont Power Station (also now demolished).
It was sold at the 1992 auction of many heritage items, and sank on its way to Singapore in mysterious and suspicious circumstances. She was finally scuttled off Camden Head (near Port Macquarie).
Read more about the tragic end of this iconic piece of Australian maritime heritage :
'Death of a Titan'  'Afloat' magazine February 2011 by Alan Lucas

The Tunnels
Cockatoo Island's peculiar history and geography has led to it being honey-combed with tunnels.
There are 6 tunnels cut through the sandstone escarpment on the lower level of the Island.
The narrow 'Dog Leg' tunnel, so-called because of its crookedness, is on the eastern side of the Island. It has a passageway to the west of it which travels parallel to its path halfway along its length. 
There is a small disused tunnel near the entrance to the giant Turbine Hall.
The largest tunnel is a straight road, neatly bisecting the island from east to west, and large and high enough for vehicular access.
Next to it is a smaller ante- chamber which doesn't travel the full length through to the other side.
Finally there is a small passageway cut through the western end which leads to the former power station.
oil painting of the tunnel on Cockatoo Island  by artist Jane Bennett

'Cockatoo Island Tunnel' 

2007 oil painting on tondo (circular canvas)
31cm diameter  

This circular painting or 'tondo' shows the largest central tunnel from the southern side of the Island, looking north towards Hunter's Hill.
I started painting on Cockatoo Island in the mid 1980s when it was still operational. I would catch one of the old "K" ferries such as the 1912 'Kanangra'  which is now being restored by the Sydney Heritage Fleet at their shipyard in Rozelle, from Circular Quay or the Valentia Street (Woolwich) wharf.
I used to leave my easel, paints and table in the office of the Ship Painters and Dockers building between Fitzroy and Sutherland docks.
There was a sign "Pro Painter Foreman" on the door, which always made me laugh. I was so naive that I didn't know anything about the reputation of this notorious union!

View article about my solo exhibition "Lost Worlds" by Steve Meacham in Sydney Morning Herald

No comments: