Whatever Floats Your Boat
14 March 2010
Whatever Floats Your Boat:
Escape from Cockatoo Island
Whatever Floats Your Boat is a project channelling the spirit of the legendary Australian bushranger Captain Thunderbolt and his wife Mary Ann Bugg. Frederick Ward was serving his second sentence at Cockatoo Island Gaol for stealing horses, folklore says Bugg frequently swam to the island with food for Ward and a file so he could cut through his chains. On 11th September 1863 Fred Ward and another prisoner escaped by swimming to Balmain and it is believed Mary Ann assisted them. The police were slow to admit of their breakout as no one had ever escaped from Cockatoo Island before. They headed north towards the Uralla area, where Ward became known as the bushranger Captain Thunderbolt. In the case of Mary Ann, it is said she is responsible for Fred Ward being at large for so long and her Aboriginal heritage the reason for Thunderbolt’s dislike of firearms. At a time when most women were subjugated to a life of raising kids and crops Mary Ann had the opportunity to show her spirit and determination alongside Captain Thunderbolt.
Working on the island that housed the old dockyards in the Sydney Harbour and plenty of dark histories including a penitentiary that was closed down in the 60s due to its poor conditions there is no shortage of eeriness here, from the ghosts of prisoners and dock workers past to the racist graffiti still donning the heritage walls. During my studio residency on the island I will build a small boat, the Black Mary- in honour of Mary Ann Bugg, and attempt to row it back to Balmain for my own escape from Cockatoo Island.