Time for action in Docklands

Jackie Watts

More wind and rain in Docklands – but hopefully less “hot air and more action” from Development Victoria (DV) and City of Melbourne (CoM) in their consultations with the community about how to revitalise the Docklands precinct. 

Melbourne Maritime Heritage Network (MMHN) obviously applauds such community engagement while remaining sceptical. Many will feel dismay to discover that amid DV’s community consultations – and amid the unresolved controversy over the ATET noise nuisance, The Age (November 21, 2022) reported that the state government would spend $5 million, in collaboration with the CoM to install a “pop-up” 3500-seat concert venue somewhere in Docklands. No site was specified and there certainly was no community consultation. Note this $5 million is on top of the $3 million DV was granted for community consultation some time ago to determine what will be, in effect, compensation for the Docklands community for the destruction and loss of the significant key heritage-listed asset, Central Pier. Meanwhile the community continues to play its part in good faith – hard pressed not to succumb to “consultation fatigue”.

This week the CoM released its Docklands Forum Report on community consultations held at Marvel Stadium. Several points are of particular significance to MMHN and the Docklands Community:

  • 5.2. Celebrate the water as a unique element of Docklands
  • 5.3. Strengthen the identity of Docklands
  • 5.8 There is a need for an “anchor institution” or draw-card destination to change public perception
  • 5.9 Harbour Esplanade and Central Pier remain the focus for the longer-term vision.

The Docklands community appears to have been heard. Consultation findings are incorporated into the Neighbourhood Planning Framework (NPF). Yes, but what of specific actions? As is the case with such community consultations, credibility would be enhanced if community input could be clearly identified in the NPF and other reports. CoM could clearly state what had actually changed in response to community input. See https://www.melbourne.vic.gov.au/about-council/committees-meetings/meeting-archive/MeetingAgendaItemAttachments/995/17683/SEP22%20FMC2%20AGENDA%20ITEM%206.4.pdf 

Turning now to the DV community consultations. There is still time to respond ‒ put aside your scepticism and have your say. MMHN encourages ALL Docklands stakeholders to respond to the DV questions. Some are “tick-box”, others call for more comment if you wish.

MMHN is filled with dismay at one question – “What experiences and uses would help make Central Pier and adjacent waterfront a unique, vibrant destination”? DV asks us all to “consider what you have seen or experienced in other waterfront precincts in Australia or overseas and that you may wish to see in a future Central Pier. Tell us what made them great!” 


MMHN will respond by stating the obvious: Internationally, other waterfront precincts have retained maritime infrastructure and site identity.


Regrettably the unique maritime infrastructure and “site identity” of Docklands has been eroded over recent decades. Central Pier is a painful example, however, MMHN perceives that all is not lost. DV can indeed retrieve serious damage inflicted on Docklands. MMHN advocates that it can be rekindled, to an extent, by reinstating Docklands’ maritime legitimacy on the “unique” and “vibrant” site of Central Pier and adjacent waterfront in the form of a large floating pontoon connected to Harbour Esplanade. A new permanent cultural institution – the Maritime Experience Centre (MEC) situated on this pontoon at the very centre of heritage-listed Victoria Harbour. The MEC concept references successful models including:


Looking first at the site of the MEC. Docklands’ heritage-listed aquatic amphitheatre of Victoria Harbour deserves, and must have, its visual focal point re-instated – ideally in a form which adds to its aesthetic appeal. A large floating pontoon can, in a cost-effective way, replicate Central Pier. Successful floating piers exist, e.g., Brooke Street Pier in Hobart which offers useful comparisons with the 150-year maritime trade heritage of Brooke Street Pier and Central Pier. Private developers identified the economic value in “rekindling” the spirit of the old Hobart pier using maritime heritage and architecture to deliver a new maritime asset for Hobart. Sound familiar? See brookestreetpier.com


Looking now at the design of the MEC, a new Cultural Centre at Cowes, Phillip Island is under construction, designed by Australian architects Jason Clement Burrows (JCB). It is a useful model for the MEC – 5000 sqm; three to four levels of flexible spaces to be shared with the community; 250-seat theatre; flexible tiered lecture and exhibition spaces; various types of workshop spaces; experiential; research on view; various office, studio and storage spaces; cutting-edge technical capabilities, including external and internal projection; library; toilets; retail space; café and restaurant with out-of-hours external access from adjacent landscaped maritime garden, encircling promenade deck – proximate to the Heritage Fleet mooring. See engage.basscoast.vic.gov.au/cowesccc 

Noting that the community is calling for more open space in Docklands, the MEC floating pontoon site will feature a maritime garden and/or promenade deck around the perimeter. The maritime garden features citizen science installations relating to navigation, astronomy, observation and measurement (wind, weather, tide, pollution, litter, wildlife, etc.).


Looking at the immensely successful ACMI (Federation Square) “model” of a cultural centre using creative technology to “showcase” an industry, the MEC will showcase all aspects of the maritime industry and trade, which remains the basis of Victoria’s prosperity - past, present and future.

We live in hope, with the support of the Docklands community, that NOW is the time for DV, CoM and the newly elected state government to take action on the MMHN’s bold yet appropriate MEC project for activating Docklands. •

Join Our Facebook Group