THE FATE OF FATIMA ISLAND

We begin the year on an island. Which is not an unusual circumstance for a heritage advocate… But don’t let me lead you to believe this is another negative news story. No, we are starting on a positive note for a change (hopefully)!

Fatima Island, on a bend in the Cooks River at Tempe, is a small vegetated mudflat that has been disintegrating by the year. Now it has come to the attention of the Cooks River Valley Association who have duly raised awareness with Marrickville Council.

The island will be immediately recognisable to the many commuters who travel by train into the city every day along the Illawarra Line. As the city bound train crosses the bridge at Tempe the island comes into view from the east – I can clearly remember over my years of commuting to the city, looking out and seeing the little island sitting there, often populated by waterbirds oblivious to the rapid urban development encroaching all around… Fatima Island, and closer to Central, Sharpie’s Golf House sign, the first electrified advertising sign in Sydney, taken down in a blatant act of heritage vandalism several years ago – these were the two landmarks that stand out in the memory of my daily commute whilst peering out of the train window.

Although Sharpie’s Golf sign is long gone, sadly never to reappear, Fatima Island is still clinging on to the riverbed in its isolated vulnerable form. It is in fact the last remaining of a series of natural sand bars, and provides vital pest-free habitat for waterbird species including pelicans, ibises, cormorants and seagulls.

The island’s sandstone retaining walls, made of reclaimed convict hewn blocks, were built in 1901 as part of a public works program, but the naming of the island came about 50 years later. Remembering a monastery stood just across the river near Tempe House, The name ‘Fatima’ has it beginnings in a local Catholic Rosary pilgrimage in 1951 on the banks of the Cooks River to honour Our Lady of Fatima, channeling the Portuguese icon of the same name. At the time, Pope Pius XII asked Catholics across the globe to pray to the Virgin Mary ‘with greater fervour of the heart as is demanded by the increasing urgency of the need as well as the conversion of Russia back from communism.’

Recent picture of Fatima Island by John Veage, the Leader newspaper.

Recent picture of Fatima Island by John Veage, the Leader newspaper.

Fatima Island in 1984. Photo by Chrys Meader. Source Marrickville Heritage Society & Cooks River Valley Association.

Fatima Island in 1984. Photo by Chrys Meader. Source Marrickville Heritage Society & Cooks River Valley Association.

Fatima Island in 1984. reclaimed convict stone retaining bank present. Photo by Chrys Meader. Source Marrickville Heritage Society & Cooks River Valley Association.

Fatima Island in 1984. reclaimed convict stone retaining bank present. Photo by Chrys Meader. Source Marrickville Heritage Society & Cooks River Valley Association.

Fatima Island in 1984. Note convict markings in steps. Photo by Chrys Meader. Source Marrickville Heritage Society & Cooks River Valley Association.

Fatima Island in 1984. Note convict markings in steps. Photo by Chrys Meader. Source Marrickville Heritage Society & Cooks River Valley Association.

The wall has recently all but washed away due to factors such as boat wash, human visitation, de-stabilisation and natural erosion. The island is now only a fragment of what it once was, trees have fallen over and top soil been stripped away, and the next phase would be its complete loss in time.

Marrickville Council seems to be listening to concerns of local groups including Inheritance. In response to our submission and at a recent council meeting the feedback has been positive, and it now seems that Marrickville Council will be allocating $25,000 for a remediation works study on Fatima Island. This will go some way to restore what is esentially a significant bird habitat, a known piece of local heritage and a quirky piece of nostalgic landform with links not only to the Catholic Church, but the local Portuguese community and 1950s cold war!

Something as unique as this is surely worth protecting. And it is indeed heartening to see a council actually acting on behalf of a community for a change.

Main image John Veage, the Leader.

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