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Travel back in time when convicts return to Cockatoo Island

For the first time in over 140 years, the convicts are returning to Sydney Harbour’s UNESCO World Heritage-listed Cockatoo Island this September 2016.

The Sydney Harbour Federation Trust and the award-winning Convict Footprints Productions have joined forces to present Convict Footprints on Cockatoo Island – a rollicking 90-minute “living history” adventure through one of Australia’s most extreme and brutal 19th-century penal establishments.

Written by Stephen Hopley and directed by Jerry Retford, Convict Footprints on Cockatoo Island offers a candid, funny, engaging and sometimes confronting insight into another era.

For two weekends only, you can travel back in time to 1852 and join Charles Cowper, parliamentarian and leading advocate for the abolition of transportation to NSW, on his fact-finding investigation of Cockatoo Island’s prison.

Watch Cowper engage in heated debates with the island’s volatile prison superintendant Charles Ormsby and discuss the ongoing struggle to build Sydney’s much-needed dry dock with the urbane Engineer Gother Kerr Mann.

Hear about the highs and lows of island life from soldiers and convicts alike. Come face-to-face with the harsh reality of Cockatoo Island’s convict prison.

See prisoners hauled out of the infamous solitary confinement cells, be appalled by the living conditions in the stifling and overcrowded barracks and watch a bone-crunching, bare-knuckle fight in the prison courtyard between the famous convict prize-fighters John Perry and Patrick Sinclair.

“This new Convict Footprints production is about as close as you’re going to get to what life might have been like in Cockatoo Island’s notorious convict prison”, said Eliza Beashel, the Harbour Trust’s Director of Marketing, Communications and Visitor Experience.

“When I saw the Convict Footprints production on the Old Great North Road, I was impressed by how they had created such convincing characters. I could see people were genuinely engaged by the actors and l loved the way they interacted with the audience and drew them directly into the show.

“The Convict Footprints team are great storytellers. They showed us how tough it was for the convicts but there were also plenty of laughs along the way. It was exciting to see Australia’s convict history come to life in the exact place where the actual events had happened. It made me want to collaborate with them in creating a Cockatoo Island version because I could see how well this type of show could work in the island’s Convict Precinct.

“World Heritage-listed Cockatoo Island is one of Australia’s most important convict sites. By shining a new light on its remarkable history, Convict Footprints on Cockatoo Island will let people discover the island’s convict past in an innovative and engaging way,” Beashel said.

“We like to tell the real stories about Australia’s convict heritage through live theatre,” said Jerry Retford, the director of Convict Footprints on Cockatoo Island. “We want people to experience our new ‘living history’ theatre production and discover some of the amazing true stories of the convicts and characters who were living and working on Cockatoo Island in 1852.

“In a sense, everyone was a prisoner at Cockatoo Island, regardless of whether they were gentlemen, officers, guards or convicts. They were so close to Sydney yet they were virtually marooned on this isolated rocky outcrop in the middle of the harbour.

“What Convict Footprints on Cockatoo Island is about is feeling the truth and finding out the reality of life for the people in the island’s prison. It’s about the stories of the ordinary men and women who lived ‘under the eye of authority’ at Cockatoo Island. It’s about making our audiences laugh, then making them cry, then wiping away their tears with more laughter,” Retford said.

Convict Footprints on Cockatoo Island runs from Friday 16-Sunday 18 September and Friday 23-Sunday 25 September 2016 at 11.30am and 2.30pm.

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