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August 09 Edition Cover

The history of Docklands

31 May 2016

The history of Docklands Image

By Katie Wong Hoy

Docklands News spoke with Historian Dr Judith Buckrich and took a trip through history to remember the humble beginnings of Docklands.

Before it was full of the high-rises, banks, businesses and shops that we see today, Docklands was once a swamp.

This swamp was not the smelly, sludge you may envision. It was filled with fish, crabs and lush vegetation. Behind the swamp, kangaroos and emus ran free. It was a place of paradise for the Wurundjeri people who lived on the land.

“Then the Europeans arrived and decided to muck it up. They started to arrive in about 1835 and they arrived at where the Docklands area is and into where Queen St is because the Yarra was a freshwater river,” Dr Buckrich said.

“Of course every city needs water. That was the main reason why Melbourne was settled.”

At the time the Europeans were bringing in livestock. Most of the sheep were brought in from Tasmania due to the lack of space. Soon Melbourne became quite busy but the Yarra River could not accommodate the expansion.

The river was shallow and narrow. Bigger ships had to anchor at Port Phillip Bay and the goods were transferred onto small lighter boats. It was a cumbersome process.

Sometimes the ships would anchor at Williamstown and the cattle would have to swim in.

“Then gold was discovered in the 1850s so suddenly there were thousands of ships arriving in Melbourne. And quite often they were abandoned. The sailors would also abandon the ships,” Dr Buckrich said.

Yet the dilemma with the narrow, shallow Yarra River still remained.

“Finally in the 1870s to 1880s they decided they had to establish a proper deep water port for Melbourne. That was when they started to build what is now called Docklands, but was the Port of Melbourne in effect.”

This process took eight to nine years and, while it was happening, the course of the Yarra River was changed.

After the Industrial Revolution the port continued to be developed. Soon Melbourne was the busiest port in Australia.

The next major advancement in technology occurred in the 1960s, with the introduction of container ships.

“Once the container ships happened, that Port of Melbourne area was no longer deep enough …  the whole way of shipping changed,” Dr Buckrich said.

“Through the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, what is now Docklands was used less and less as a port and these container ports were built further downstream.”

Basically, the Port of Melbourne was becoming redundant. Between the 1980s and 1990s, the current Docklands started to be planned.

On her website, Dr Buckrich records that the Victorian Government published  in 1989 a strategic planning framework document called Melbourne’s Docklands. The government was expecting great things from the new development.

Docklands became officially included in the City of Melbourne on July 1, 2007.

You can read more about Docklands’ history by reading Dr Judith Buckrich’s website http://www.judithbuckrich.com or her book, The Long and Perilous Journey.

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