Docklands’ maintenance man calls time

Docklands’ maintenance man calls time
Sean Car

Many Docklanders won’t be aware that tucked away right at the end of North Wharf’s last boat shed beside the Bolte Bridge, handyman Paul Vella has been plying his many trades in Docklands for more than 20 years.

Mr Vella has been a mainstay of Docklands since he was first contracted by what was then VicUrban (now Development Victoria) in 2002 to carry out some repairs on a small job, which ultimately “turned out to be a big job”. He’s been here ever since.   

With so many different skills required to help restore, maintain, and preserve much of Docklands’ heritage maritime infrastructure and public facilities, Paul’s varied experience has proven to be the answer to DV’s prayers.

With skills in engineering, blacksmithing, metallurgy, welding and fabricating, motor mechanics, carpentry, plumbing and electrical, it’s fair to say Paul truly qualifies as a jack of all trades.

But after more than 20 years serving the many maintenance needs of the Docklands precinct and watching it evolve from a “ghost town” into what it is today, the 73-year-old has decided the time is right to retire.

While Paul said he would miss working in Docklands, the question of who replaces him is sure to prove a considerable challenge given his diverse skillset and the fact that, as he pointed out, many of his trades had become “a lost art”.

“We do welding, fabricating, woodwork, and general repairs on the wharves,” Paul told Docklands News. “Some of it’s plumbing and electrical. We get involved in all areas.”

“I’ve just picked things up. From a young age I’ve always had a knack for just watching and understanding. From my apprenticeship through to my first job at Massey Ferguson, we made everything – we made the nuts and bolts, we made the steel, we made the timber – it was self-sufficient.”


There used to be fabricating shops on every corner in Melbourne just about. They’re all gone. It’s all moved overseas now, but you can’t get fabrication overseas for small everyday jobs. Where do you go?


After leaving his previous job at a subsidiary of ExxonMobil, Paul decided to start his own business to avoid “the rat pack”, and it was shortly after this when VicUrban reached out for assistance with a job on some shade sails on Harbour Esplanade.

“Back in those days, they used to have to call a plumber, they used to have to call a welder, a concreter, and they [VicUrban] were rapt … one guy could do it all for them,” Paul said.

Since then, Paul’s business has leased the shed it currently operates in from DV, for which he conducts weekly precinct inspections and, when necessary, submits maintenance jobs for consideration.

Ranging from the smaller jobs right through to the bigger jobs, there is no task too challenging for Paul who attends to everything from graffiti removal and fencing maintenance, to wharf repairs and pier inspections.

Another important function his business provides Docklands that many people won’t be aware of, is the storage and preservation of heritage assets taken from Central Pier and old sheds which have been dismantled over the years.



In his shed one can find an abundance of old timbers and steel frames being looked after on behalf of DV and Heritage Victoria, who he said were preserving them in the hope of potentially reusing them again in Docklands.

“I’ve still got one of the old sheds from Central Pier being stored away for Heritage Victoria. Whether they’ll ever put it up one day I don’t know,” Paul said.

“A lot of this stuff you can’t use, but you can copy it if they’ve got samples. That’s one of the main reasons they keep it so that they can build it back the way it was.”

“At one stage there the plan was to put them [sheds] back on Harbour Esplanade. I don’t know whether that’s the current plan, but it certainly was one of the earlier plans.”

And, as for Docklands, he said, “it should be celebrated.”

“When I first came down here, there were a lot of old, derelict buildings; sheds falling down. I’ve watched the area develop with all the buildings going up,” he said.

“People a very quick to criticise, but people who criticise have got no vision of the future anyway. Jeff Kennett was criticised for starting Docklands in the first place, but it was a wasteland, and now it’s not a waste land. At least now it’s got an opportunity, but it had to start somewhere.” •

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Meet Peta Brehaut

May 29th, 2024 - Docklands News
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