Cockatoo Island Offers Exciting Locations and Sky-High Fees

I am taking this straight from the Commercial filming and photography page for Sydney’s Cockatoo Island, a piece of public land that lies in Sydney Harbour “upstream” from the Sydney Harbour Bridge and at the junction of the Lane Cove and Parramatta Rivers.

“Cockatoo Island offers some exciting locations for film and photographic projects. As well as a striking harbour location, Cockatoo provides backdrops ranging from striking heritage buildings to gritty industrial remnants.

The island contains remains of a convict prison, houses dating from the 1840s, immense workshop spaces, cranes and dry docks and many more unusual locations – all within a 10-minute ferry ride from Circular Quay.”

So it sounds like this island, the largest in Sydney Harbour, might be worthwhile for a photo-shoot. I then checked the rates and just about fell backwards out of my chair. For a full day (10 hours, daylight only) the published rate is $1,250 including GST. That’s for a “low intensity” shoot which limits photography to publicly accessible areas only, with minimal set up allowed. If you want to do “medium intensity” commercial photography – which allows you one ‘back-of-house’ location per day, that’s $1,500 for the daylight hours.

And how does the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust – the gatekeepers of Cockatoo Island – define “commercial photography”? Is it just high-level advertising photography? No … many other image-taking activities are considered to be commercial as well.

This is the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust’s definition of a commercial activity: “Use of Trust lands as a backdrop for other filming or photography purposes is classed as commercial activity requiring prior consent and the payment of a licence fee. Examples of this use include teaching photography, taking photos for publications, public display or sale, creation of filming/photography portfolios, photoshoots and the making of short films.”

So on that basis editorial photography for magazines is a commercial activity and thus liable to pay the $1,250 a day fee. As is taking pictures for postcards or public exhibition and the creation of filming or photography portfolios. To class all of them and especially the latter as commercial activities leaves me more than a little gobsmacked.

My 18-year-old son is a budding film-maker – well he has just completed his major work for the Higher School Certificate which was a short film – but the very idea that you would class him as a “commercial” film-maker because he is making a short film which he may put into a portfolio is absolutely absurd. OK, the Trust … “permits photography or short-film making without a fee by enrolled students for the sole purpose of completing an education assignment set by an accredited secondary or tertiary education provider.” But anything beyond that is considered a commercial activity. (“Low intensity” filming will set you back $2,000 a day on Cockatoo Island.)

Now the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust has probably done a very good job on preserving and restoring Cockatoo Island’s maritime heritage. Indeed, since August 2nd of this year Cockatoo Island  has been part of Australia’s latest World Heritage site addition as a component of the Australian Convict Sites that were first nominated back in January 2008.

However when it comes to understanding the extreme financial pressures that can bear down on small-scale film-makers and photographers – or even attempting to understand the concept of “freedom of expression” – it would appear that the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust are complete galahs.

For further details see –

About rossbmedia

Journalist ... interested in the truth not public service spin.
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13 Responses to Cockatoo Island Offers Exciting Locations and Sky-High Fees

  1. Pingback: Cockatoo Island Offers Exciting Locations and Sky-High Fees | Australia featured blogs

  2. Rob Walls says:

    “it would appear that the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust are complete galahs.” Ross, why be so polite?

  3. rossbmedia says:

    Hi Rob … probably because the other words that could be used to describe them would all need to be “bleeped” out.

  4. Harry Phillips says:

    They “own” the island and have ever right to make a profit from it don’t they? Sure your taxes have already paid for the restoration and upkeep but so what, they are entitled to milk as much money from as many people as they possibly can!!

  5. freoview says:

    They are out of their minds! Rottnest Island in W.A. tried to do this years ago, but after severe protest they decided not to go ahead with it, or not enforce it.

    National Parks in W.A. told me years ago they would charge me by the photos published in a brochure. I never told them, they never asked, so I never paid whatever the stupid fees might have been.

    I heard photographers in Kings Park being harassed because they shoot from a tripod, which supposedly shows they are professionals and should get permits.

    The world is bonkers and public disobedience for photographers is a must. They treat us like terrorists anyway, so we might as well behave like it.

    Roel Loopers

  6. chris tangey says:

    Wow, obviously written by someone who has not even the slightest knowledge of the likely requirements of a Photographer or Filmmaker, let alone the ability or likelihood of any normal business person to pay such extravagant fees!

  7. rossbmedia says:

    Harry – I think “we, the people” own Cockatoo Island. The Sydney Harbour Federation Trust only hold it in “trust”.

    Roel – I have heard that there was a victory at Rottnest Island? See

    Chris – yes, what kind of “thought processes” go through the minds of people who make up policies like these?

  8. Pete Lam says:

    G’day Ross,
    The thought processes of the people who make these rules is:
    “I am an all powerful administrator and you will have no choice other than to do what I decree. Photographers swan around all day with millionaire super models so $1250 is just loose pocket change to them.” These people need to get out in the real world. They think taking a good photo is just recording an image, not an art form.

    I wonder what would happen to me as a total non-commercial amateur if I rolled up with my tripod, D300 and a couple of lenses. I suspect they would try to hit me with the fee too!

  9. peter martin says:

    I was there with big tripod and big white lens during the Biennale, and didn’t find any harrassment. But I guess that’s because there were crowds everywhere doing the same thing. Single photographers that stand out are easy pickings, but 100’s all with tripods all taking shots – logistical nightmare – easier to just ignore us, which is Good!

    I can understand trepidation about a “crew” with loads of suitcases on rollers, reflectors, light stands, and an artistic director shouting at them from the side lines. That makes people uncomfortable, and to keep that sort of thing under control, permits that say what you can and can’t do is probably a good thing, or the film crews would push out the ordinary users of the area and just take over, and suddenly it isn’t a public space any more.

    But single photographers, tripod, small bag or backpack, VERY LOW IMPACT – totally different thing.

  10. Harry Phillips says:

    Yes Ross, I realise that they just hold it in trust, I was being sarcastic.

    Peter, exactly the point, the permit system SHOULD be based on extra access or impact, it’s not. If you even LOOK professional these idiots will hassle you.

  11. Rob Walls says:

    Peter M…I’d disagree. A photographer with a couple of cameras and a backpack is not “very low impact”, they are in fact “no impact”. Drawing a long bow philosophically, charging a fee for a photographer to make use of the light reflecting from a subject, is, to my mind, criminal. Barely short of metering and charging fees for the use of fresh air. (Public servant: “Now there’s an idea!”)

    This is just an escalation of the economic rationalist mind-set to the level of banditry. Here in Tasmania we’ve just had a ACCC investigation into Hydro Tasmania (the government owned electricity generator), charging Aurora (the electricity supplier), $2,000,000 a week for services that were costing them $55,000. They used to hang bushrangers down here for practicing that kind of business plan.

  12. Pingback: Filming and Photographic Fees and Charges are Extortion | Ross Barnett's Blog

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