Looking at Docklands through a “maritime heritage lens”

Looking at Docklands through a “maritime heritage lens”
Jackie Watts

Melbourne Maritime Heritage Network (MMHN) notes that despite the publicity “hype” currently surrounding the state government’s “BIG BUILD” it is worth remembering one thing about Docklands …

When development of the Docklands precinct began, the project was, and arguably still is, the most significant example of urban infrastructure investment ever created, and not just in Victoria, but Australia, and the Southern Hemisphere – it’s up there on the global stage.

Looking at the current deliverables, it is sometimes easy to forget that the state government remains firmly in the mix of an ongoing collaboration between Development Victoria, the State’s development delivery authority, and a select group of private sector developers.

However, the fact remains that after almost two decades, the Docklands precinct remains, in development terms, still very much “unfinished business” and anecdotally only two thirds complete.   

From a strictly maritime perspective, extensive crumbling wharves remain a feature along NewQuay, North Wharf, Harbour Esplanade and the Bolte West Precinct. The iconic Shipping Control Tower remains a boarded-off neglected eyesore when it could so easily be a fascinating destination for locals and tourists alike.

Why the interminable delay to repair these public assets? Who knows? The heritage-listed iconic Central Pier is to be demolished without firm plans for replacing this community asset.

There is a ferry terminal on Harbour Esplanade, but there are no plans for more commuter or tourist ferries services. The Marine Services Depot to support local boating has failed to materialise. The Heritage Fleet (Alma Doepel, Steam Tug Wattle and the Enterprize) despite the valiant efforts of an army of volunteers, is without a permanent home in Docklands.

All in all – what a painful litany of squandered maritime heritage assets in Docklands!

Multiple responsible authorities continue to stymie the economic development of Docklands waterways, and despite 25 years of “planning” work there is still no genuine connectivity between the CBD and Victoria Harbour.

MMHN draws your attention to Development Victoria’s own website which actually states – “Docklands is one of Australia’s largest urban renewal projects, reconnecting central Melbourne with its historic waterfront” – slippage certainly between Development Victoria rhetoric and the reality!


The crucial role Docklands plays in enabling Victoria’s prosperity is persistently ignored. Why?


And why is MMHN listing these worrisome matters now? This is actually a catalogue of unfulfilled opportunities in relation to maritime heritage in Docklands that will, we hope, draw your attention to an opportunity which now exists for all concerned stakeholders in Docklands about the sorry state of its maritime infrastructure.

Infrastructure Victoria is asking the questions – MMHN encourages the Docklands community to respond.

MMHN argues that Infrastructure Victoria must seriously consider maritime infrastructure assets as well as roads, overpasses and bridges. Building on this, MMHN encourages Docklands residents to make sure Infrastructure Victoria and the state government acknowledge their obligations towards the Docklands community and maritime stakeholders in relation to the as yet unfinished “BIG BUILD” that exists still in Docklands. A “BIG BUILD” that needs to be completed before Infrastructure Victoria determines a new “30-year Infrastructure Strategy”.

MMHN urges you to take this new opportunity now, to tell Infrastructure Victoria what Docklands still needs. Complete the Infrastructure Victoria survey! Who knows what influence you may have? None unless you try.

MMHN has completed the survey and submitted 500 words on what is needed from the maritime perspective. It is critical to remember that the waterways, that is, maritime matters, are actually what makes Docklands unique.


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