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DigiTales Library

arrow Gother Kerr Mann: Colonial engineer
'Cockatoo Island, Parramatta River' (illustration, 1842) by John Skinner Prout, National Library of Australia, Rex Nan Kivell Collection (NK4395/11).
DigiTales are detailed articles, by knowledgeable Harbour Trust volunteers, acquainting you with historical figures synonymous with our heritage places on Sydney Harbour.

Each DigiTale has been written to inform people about someone famous, infamous or obscure. As we publish new articles, you’ll get to know a colourful line-up of true-life characters, including Lachlan Macquarie, Captain Thunderbolt, Bungaree, Charles Ormsby... and countless others!

You’ll also discover the distinctive voices of the passionate history buffs and writers within our volunteer team. Above all else, DigiTales are meant to be entertaining yarns. Some are informed by folk stories, tall tales and hearsay. Others draw on archival newspapers and reliable first-hand accounts. Whatever the case may be… we hope you enjoy them!

2 March 2021
Voices of our Volunteers

"I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have served as Harbour Trust Volunteer Manager since 2003 and have witnessed or played a part in a number of great initiatives. Many of these undertakings would not have been possible without our amazing team of volunteers. The Harbour Trust has benefitted greatly from their unique perspectives, special skillsets and length of service. This DigiTale shares the stories of some of the volunteers we’ve been privileged to work with." – Volunteer Manager

1 March 2021
Joseph William Melrose: The Sobraon Boy

Between 1871 and 1911, Cockatoo Island hosted two nautical school ships: first the ‘Vernon’ and later the ‘Sobraon’. These ships operated as industrial schools for wayward, neglected, and homeless boys. One of the boys enrolled with the Sobraon was Joseph William Melrose. In this DigiTale, written with the help of Joseph’s surviving family members, we offer insights into his time aboard the Sobraon as well as his later years.

25 February 2021
Sandra Hall: Veteran volunteer

In the 20 years since the Harbour Trust was established, our heritage sites have emerged as rich sources of intrigue and exploration, beloved by many Australians. For their contribution, we owe a debt of gratitude to the hundreds of volunteers who have generously shared their time, knowledge and passion. In this DigiTale, veteran volunteer Sandra Hall reflects on her journey with the Harbour Trust and celebrates the diversity of our volunteer team.

29 January 2021
Captain Thunderbolt: Legendary bushranger

The most famous figure from Cockatoo Island’s convict era (1839 to 1869) is arguably Fredrick Wordsworth Ward. A convicted horse thief, Ward cemented his place in Australian folklore when he escaped Cockatoo Island and embarked on a bushranging spree that culminated in his death. In this DigiTale, volunteer Michele Harper examines the life and the legend of the ‘currency lad’ turned bushranger better known as ‘Captain Thunderbolt’.

17 December 2020
Annie Egan: A life sacrificed to duty

Between 1881 and 1925, more than 240 people were interred at the Third Quarantine Cemetery at North Head Sanctuary in Manly, having succumbed to epidemic and pandemic diseases. In this DigiTale, volunteer Michele Harper celebrates a notable occupant of the historic cemetery. Annie Egan contracted Spanish Flu in 1918 while nursing at the North Head Quarantine Station and her fight for religious freedoms, during her final days, captivated the nation.

24 November 2020
Patricia Talberg: Gunner, 'somewhere in Australia'

In August 1941, the government authorised the Australian Women’s Army Service (AWAS) to fill key positions at North Fort – a military base at North Head, Manly, that was crucial to Sydney’s coastal defences. In this DigiTale, Harbour Trust volunteer Glyn sheds light on the role his late mother – Patricia Evans née Talberg – served at North Fort, including a facility shrouded in secrecy: The Plotting Room.

12 October 2020
Private Andy Young MM: The gallant Digger

One of the names inscribed on the Australian Memorial Walk at North Head Sanctuary is that of Andy Young, a veteran of World War I and II. Harbour Trust volunteer, Andrew M, commemorates – and reveals his connection to – the decorated serviceman, who experienced war first hand before he had reached adulthood.

Thursday 1 October 2020
James Barnet: The Colonial Architect

During his nearly three-decade tenure as the Colonial Architect of NSW (1862 to 1890), James Barnet dominated pre-federation architecture. Volunteer researcher Michele Harper canvasses the career of the tireless public servant including his design work on Macquarie Lighthouse and the other buildings that speak to his enduring legacy.

Tuesday 29 September 2020
Nicholas Maclay: Russian Polymath

The former Marine Biological Station at Camp Cove was built as a place for Russian expat Nicholas Maclay to study marine life. Now protected by the Harbour Trust, the sandstone cottage is a monument to the celebrated Russian polymath and humanist. Volunteer researcher Michele Harper celebrates his remarkable life, including his contributions to science and society, globally.