Harbour Trust: The
Snapper Island: About the Site
Snapper Island is located
at the entrance to Iron Cove and is visible from the foreshore areas
of Canada Bay and Leichhardt.
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
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.
Storage for Cockatoo Island
Snapper Island is off-bounds to the public at present
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 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
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
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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distinctively coloured buildings on
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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