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Docklander - October 2019

01 Oct 2019

Docklander - October 2019 Image

More than dodgy pylons under Central Pier

By Meg Hill

As news of Central Pier’s shutdown broke, most thought of the businesses that would be forced to close indefinitely. Some current customs employees were dining on the pier when they were told to leave within 15 minutes.

But when 91-year-old Barry Carew saw a photo of the cordoned-off pier and read that serious work would be needed to restructure it, he thought immediately of a bike and a canvas bag missing since 1948.

That was the same year when Barry, straight out of high school, started his career at Customs. He was a customs officer at Victoria Harbour’s Dock 9, now known as Central Pier.

“There were about 30 docks down on the wharves and clearance documents for ships and cargo were processed in Customs House on Flinders St,” Barry said.

“So, the documents would come down via a bike messenger who would have a very big canvas bag full of documents across his handlebars.”

Barry said that initially one messenger worked the job, but as the wharves became busier after the war, he needed a colleague.

The new messenger was unaccustomed to the hard work and after 10 days, with worsening injuries from the bike seat, decided on the spot to quit. He pushed his bike and the canvas bag off Dock 9 and into the water.

“He got the train from Spencer St to Sydney and lived with his aunty there,” Barry said.

Barry described the consequences of an entire bag of missing clearance documents as “mayhem” – every dock was now tied up in a cascade of backlogs.

Within a couple of hours, a specialist diver was brought in. The bag, apparently, was waterproof. The diver had recently salvaged a sunken ship in Victoria Harbour, but he couldn’t find the bike or the bag.

But Barry thinks that if the pylons under Central Pier are removed, the bike might finally be found.

10 years after the incident, Barry was promoted from customs officer to customs agent and given his own office in the city. He worked in Customs until his retirement in 1990.

In 1997 he moved with his wife into the Grand Hotel on the corner of Spencer and Flinders streets. The area is where he would run off to if given an hour to grab food and drink during his first job as an officer.

And he’s well versed on the history of the Grand Hotel too, which he pointed out was originally the Railway Administration Building and later derelict until it was redeveloped as a hotel.

91 years old, Barry still marches around the huge hotel next to Southern Cross Station. He walks up the stairs and pushes heavy doors out of his way.

Although he’s a man of small stature he appears commanding within the wide, red carpeted corridors.

His unit on level four is full of self-directed designs that superimpose the old trains of Spencer Street Station over the Grand Hotel. New Metro trains glide past his windows every few minutes.

Piles of documents sit around, holding within them an untold history of the docks through Barry’s eyes. He’s eager to tell it.

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