The Australian Government: Sydney Harbour Federation Trust. The Sites.

Harbour Trust: The Sites

Snapper Island: About the Site


Facts in Brief
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Location Map


Snapper Island is located at the entrance to Iron Cove and is visible from the foreshore areas of Canada Bay and Leichhardt.


Natural features

Snapper Island today

Snapper Island, like Cockatoo Island, is part of the series of drowned knolls along the ridges between the flooded river valleys of the Parramatta and Lane Cove Rivers.

It is the smallest island in the harbour and probably more than mst of the others it has been reshaped significantly by human intervention.

The island has been flattened and formed roughly into the shape of a ship with longer sides oriented to the northwest and southeast.

There is little evidence of its natural form and are no remains of the original vegetation.

Two Cabbage Tree palms planted in the 1930s are a local landmark.

There are no nknown threatened flora or fauna species on the island.





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History of the site


1879-1910s: A Public Recereation Reserve

In late 1878, the NSW Legislative Assembly resolved that some harbour land should be set aside for public use, because wealthy private individuals were acquiring more and more of the foreshores.

So in 1879, Snapper Island (along with Rodd Island and Clark Island) were declared public recreation reserves, however Snapper Island remained a rarely visited rocky outcrop.

Snapper Island EntrySnapper Island is off-bounds to the public at present
1913-1930: Storage for Cockatoo Island

When nearby Cockatoo Island was passed to the Royal Australian Navy in 1913, Snapper Island was included in its 'naval waters', and as such subject to naval control.

During World War I the island was leased to the Cockatoo Island Dockyard for storing ships' parts and old corrugated iron.

1931-1942: A Training Facility under Leonard E. Forsythe

In 1930, Leonard E. Forsythe was able to persuade the Commonwealth Government to lease him the island at a peppercorn rental of £15 per year. His vision for the island was to create a training depot for boys in nautical skills. The name given to the new facility was the Sydney Training Depot - named as a memorial to the famous Australian cruiser which had sunk the German raider Emden during World War I.

Around 50 cadets (known as the Navy Sea League Cadets) were recruited and began work on the island. After clearance of the lantana-dominated vegetation that covered the island in 1931, the island was flattened by blasting an estimated 1,000 tonnes of rock from the top of the island over an eight month period. Associated land reclamation activities increased the size of the island by around 1,000 square metres.

The stone sea walls of the island were sculptured to create the shape of a ship with a bow (pointing towards Drummoyne) and a stern (pointing towards Cockatoo Island).

In 1932 building work commenced on a signal station, wharf and the other main buildings that can be seen today. The layout of these buildings models the layout of a naval ship. The cadets also planted the two cabbage-tree palms, which are still the only vegetation left on the island.

Training provided on the island was broad and varied, including rowing, sailing, seamanship, boat maintenance, signalling and rope work, rigging, radio operations, first aid, cooking and marksmanship.

1942-1950s: War Reclaims the Island

Naval memorabilia on Snapper IslandNaval memorabilia on Snapper Island

As part of the original lease, Snapper Island was to revert to the armed services if necessary, and with the onset of World War II, Len Forsythe offered the island and the use of his cadets to the Navy.

This was accepted and the cadets spent many hours ferrying Navy personnel to and from their posts.

At the end of 1942 United States troops moved onto the island to use it for training purposes. The British also used some of the facilities on Snapper Island as a social club for troops on leave.

1952-1960: A Museum

In 1952, Forsythe decided to set up a museum on Snapper Island, the income from which would go towards the ongoing maintenance of the island. The museum held thousands of pieces of memorabilia from Australia's naval history.

The museum was ready to open by 1960.

Forsythe set up the Snapper Island Company, made up of ex-cadets and cadets, to keep the island and its facilities going.

1960s-Today: Snapper Island Today

Len Forsythe died in 1983 at the age of 91. His funeral, at Garden Island Chapel, overflowed with many family, friends and ex-cadets.

New regulations came into effect in 1985 governing the storage of explosives on nearby Spectacle Island, which brought the future of Snapper Island into doubt.

After several years of uncertainty, the Snapper Island Company managed to persuade the Commonwealth Government that they could stay on the island, due to safety concerns about explosives on Spectacle Island no longer being a problem.

There are no cadets following training programs on the island today, and the Harbour Trust has been charged with developing a management plan for the future of the island.


NB: Much of the historical information on Snapper Island is taken from the book: "The Islands of Sydney Harbour" by Mary Shelley Clark and Jack Clark (2000).

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The distinctively coloured buildings on
Snapper Island

Access Information


While stabilisation, decontamination and restoration work is undertaken, Snapper Island is closed to the public.

Once the island is safe for public access, the Harbour Trust will put in place a range of public events and tours.

Click here to find out what projects and activities are being and have been carried out on the site.








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