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Tracing the history of the docks

31 Mar 2016

Tracing the history of the docks Image

Have you ever thought about where the timber used to build the docks came from?

That’s the question artist Annee Miron has spent months researching as part of a wider multi-artist project exploring Docklands’ heritage.

She has produced a woven, sculptural piece which explores the origins of the piles used to build Docklands’ wharves.

According to Ms Miron, when plans for Victoria Harbour were being drawn up in the late 1880s, engineer John Coode had pushed for it to be made out of concrete.

“But it was horrendously expensive,” she said. “Even back then it was something like a million pounds.”

Coode and Melbourne Harbour Trust resident engineer Joseph Brady disagreed over plans for the harbour, with Brady arguing that timber would be a better material.

According to Ms Miron, the Irish engineer had been doing work with native timbers and found they had longevity when submerged in water.

“In the 1880s they did a trial with some of the timbers over at Williamstown and put them in the water to see how they lasted.”

“By the time they were building they decided initially to use karri from Western Australia and turpentine from New South Wales,” Ms Miron said.

“As the project evolved for the next round of timber they needed in 1891 they called for tenders of timber from East Gippsland.”

According to Ms Miron, the five East Gippsland species ultimately used for the piles were yellow stringy bark, yellow box, grey box, Gippsland blue gum and iron bark.

“You can see the remnants of the piles capped in white along Harbour Esplanade,” Ms Miron said. “You can still see the bark peeling.”

She said all of the timber, from Gippsland, Western Australia and New South Wales, would have to journeyed to Docklands by sea.

However, much of the timber is now deteriorating, evidenced by wharf collapse and wharf rectification work in recent years.

According to Ms Miron, some of the species will last about 80 years in the water and while many are still in place they aren’t necessarily structurally sound. She said you could see this at the blocked off section at the end of Central Pier.  

Ms Miron’s project, for last month’s Confluence: Art on site in Docklands art walk focuses on the East Gippsland trees used in Docklands.

She spent hours weaving painted strips of cardboard to recreate the foliage of the trees used to build the wharves.  

During the art walk she lined people up with the pier posts and asked them to lift the piece, as a symbolic re-lifting of the tree canopy.

Ms Miron said the work aimed to reconnect the pier posts to the forest they came from, a reminder that what we’re standing on didn’t come from nowhere and has a history of its own.

“Part of my work is also to serve as a reminder that we did destroy a whole area of country in East Gippsland to create this (Docklands),” Ms Miron said.

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