“Active” on two Docklands “fronts” this past month


By Jackie Watts - Chair

Firstly – the saga of the western tip of Central Pier …

Given the prominent location of Central Pier in Victoria Harbour, most Docklands residents and the Melbourne Maritime Heritage Network (MMHN) watch, wait and worry about the heritage pier which embodies much significant Docklands maritime heritage.

Regrettably, as though natural damage from tides, contamination, pests wasn’t enough, debris from storm-damaged boats moored in the harbour has become entangled beneath the piles of the western tip. Nasty for the boat owners and regrettably nasty too for the forlorn, sad and increasingly degraded heritage-listed Central Pier.

Docklands residents reported activity around the western tip and wondered if the storm damage had finally triggered the anticipated demolition by Development Victoria (DV). This was not the case. The reported activity was simply a maintenance team trying to recover a boat roof that had been blown off in the storm.

However, the fate of the western tip is sealed. In June 2021 Heritage Victoria granted Development Victoria a permit, provided nine conditions were met, to demolish the western tip of Central Pier which had long been separated from the main pier. Even though demolition will now regrettably proceed, tenders are out. The nine quite complex permit conditions imposed by Heritage Victoria will to an extent “protect” the heritage value of the pier. A key permit condition is that a Heritage Interpretation Strategy document be created on the historical significance of the western tip of Central Pier in the context of Victoria Harbour.

An “interpretative element” required is that a physical representation of the full length of Central Pier, as constructed in 1916-17, will be devised. However, MMHN takes the view that post-demolition, tangible evidence of the western tip must be remediated and retained for future use. MMHN is seeking reassurance from DV that any material salvaged from the soon-to-be demolished section of Central Pier will not simply be discarded. The timber piles, metal, and other elements should rightly be salvaged for future use in Docklands.

MMHN recognises that public safety, contamination and pest infestation are considerations but strongly argues that there are other equally critical considerations. MMHN has requested that DV commission qualified heritage practitioners to assess all salvaged material and make it safe for re-use. Historic images of Victoria Harbour in its heyday reveal much impressive maritime port infrastructure.

Regrettably, since Docklands’ urban re-development began, such examples of Melbourne’s marvellous industrial heritage was simply dismantled and discarded over the decades. In early times, discarding such valuable heritage assets can be attributed to ignorance or pressure to save money. However, since then, the informed view is that the “return on investment” in salvaging such material is justified. There is heritage value, as well as the economic value, in salvaged material – especially when it comes from heritage-listed infrastructure. We are hopeful that DV will recognise this.

Secondly – bring back our ferries

Many Docklanders will recall that in the early days of the Docklands Precinct a well-patronised ferry service operated from Harbour Esplanade to Federation Square. Then it stopped. Crazy. Increased resident and worker population, crowded public transport, traffic congestion all clearly point to the good sense of reinstating ferry services for commuters and tourists. It’s obvious. Who wouldn’t prefer a ferry ride on the water to a stop-start tram ride between towering buildings?   

MMHN recently met with senior officers from the Minister for Public Transport to advocate for a public a ferry route from Harbour Esplanade to Birrarung Marr which would zigzag across to connect with Southbank residents. It’s a no-brainer really.

MMHN argues that such a ferry route is in fact as legitimate a public transport option as any bus or tram route and that such a ferry should rightly attract the same level of government subsidy as all other public transport options. Without this subsidy no commercial operation is viable.

It’s time for relevant State Ministers responsible for transport ‒ Jacinta Allen and Ben Carroll ‒ to recognise that Melbourne’s waterways are relatively empty and cost-free compared to our roads and tunnels, which are congested and costly.

As Christmas approaches at the end of this most challenging year, Melbourne Maritime Heritage Network wishes all in the Docklands Precinct a safe, sunny and prosperous New Year •

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