West Sydney Harbour Cruise with Big Hart and Sydney Festival

Updated: Feb 1

West Sydney Harbour is not usually on the tourist map. This is where the industry of maritime pursuits exists. Boat building and restoration, marinas housing huge luxury yachts. The western view boasts outstanding views of Barangaroo, Balmain, White Bay and Glebe.

The Western View featuring Sydney Harbour Bridge and Barangaroo

The waterways west of the Bridge provided the backdrop for a unique maritime experience as part of the Sydney Festival developed by the Tasmanian company Big hART, The Acoustic Life of Boatsheds.

On Saturday 22 January 2022, we boarded one of Sydney’s historic Rosman ferries, The Regal, along with a company of musicians, sound artists, shipwrights and deckhands. Off we chugged embarking on a sonic expedition to the unsung places of our iconic working harbour.

Rosman Ferry, The Regal, docked in Lavender Bay on our Big hArt tour.

Iconic to Sydney Harbour, the Rosman Cruises fleet of vintage ferries are meticulously maintained under the skilled care of the Noakes Group team, ensuring that these important pieces of Sydney’s working harbour history endure. Dating back to 1939, the classic ferries including Royale and Regal are masterpieces of traditional boatbuilding techniques. Rosman vessels first carried passengers from Circular Quay to all parts of the harbour in the early 1900s.

First stop was Goat Island for two immersive performances. Claire Edwardes, internationally renowned percussionist, has appeared in concerto performances with numerous European and Australian orchestras. We studied together at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music in the early 1990s. Claire was recently awarded an OAM for her work as the Artistic Director of Ensemble Offspring, as a passionate advocate for gender equity in music and a leading light in developing new audiences for art music.

In the pictures of Claire are an Aluphone, Waterphone and drumskins. Click on the little arrow to see the instruments. She is performing in the the Scow Shed (c.1925-1928), which was a work area for shipwrights, building and maintaining scows and the scavenger dog boats which towed them.

We moved next door to the Queen’s Magazine (c.1839) designed for storage for 3,000 barrels of gunpowder. Built by convicts using sandstone quarried from the western side of the island. It was a requirement for merchant ships to unload their gunpowder at Goat Island while docked in Sydney Harbour, this was to ensure that there were no ships exploded in the harbour.

Here, Paul Cutlan (you can spot him in the bottom left-hand corner) improvised on a number of woodwinds including bass clarinet and alto flute to new media designer and animator Jordan East's immersive images.

Hanna onboard The Regal with an iconic backdrop

A crowd favourite was waiting at Lavender Bay. “Beneath the railway viaduct, the archways have hosted many mavericks," writes Rob Gordon in the program notes, and we were transported into the evocative world of wooden boat building. Jim Atkins, sound designer, guided this collaboration with leading continuo and harpsichord player Nathan Cox, emerging Tasmanian vocalist and improvisor Sabine Bester, and wooden boat shipwright Locky Rankin.

Off we sailed with Michael Simic in the guise of his acclaimed stage persona Mikelangelo and Trent Arkley-Smith with their musical charm in a mix of folk, pop and nautical acoustic flavours. Under the Anzac Bridge we chugged happily towards the Sydney Heritage Fleet drinking our BYO Rose Wine and nibbling on lovely cheeses and chips!

Click the dark arrow on the right to view the pictures of us going under the Anzac Bridge.

Spanning from 1874 to the 1960s with five vessels more than 100 years old, here are the historic museum vessels of Sydney Heritage Fleet. Many are fully operational, others are still in restoration. Nowhere in the world can you see – and sail on – a collection of historic vessels of this age; saved, restored and kept operational by the Fleet’s 450 dedicated volunteers.

We watched Jess Green, guitarist and vocalist and Bree van Reyk, percussionist perform in this working shed surrounded by the flotsam of boat restorations in progress. Click the dark arrow on the right to view all the pictures.

Finally, homeward bound we travelled. The sun setting on The Finger was wonderful!

Big hART

Acoustic Life of Boatsheds is created and produced by Big hART - Australia’s leading arts and social change company - supporting communities to overcome disadvantage. Many notes are taken from their program. Download it here.

Images (c) 2022 Shayne Leslie and Leslie Photography.

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