Search

Scratching Sydney’s Surface

Exploring hidden Sydney

Tag

Finger Wharves

23 May 2014: Sydney’s finger wharves

Following on from last week’s exploration of literary Sydney, this week we take a look at the venue of the Sydney’s Writers Festival at Walsh Bay.

The finger wharves at Walsh Bay and Woolloomooloo are tangible reminders of Sydney now lost working harbour. Although the wharves are today home to residential apartments, they were built in the early 20th century as part of Sydney’s extensive wharfage network.

Aerial view west towards the city showing the finger wharf at Woolloomooloo Bay, 1930s (City of Sydney Archives, SRC24678)
Aerial view west towards the city showing the finger wharf at Woolloomooloo Bay, 1930s (City of Sydney Archives, SRC24678)

From the 1860s, a number of shipping wharves were built at Woolloomooloo Bay to enable trade and commerce to Sydney. In the early 20th century, this early wharfage was demolished, and work began a new 400 metre long ‘finger wharf’ in 1910.

Known as the Woolloomooloo Bay Finger Wharf, it took six years to complete. Although it was officially opened in 1916, the wharf been used for loading and unloading cargo since 1913 and in late 1914, soldiers of the first infantry unit of the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) departed from the wharf for active service in Egypt and Gallipoli.

Woolloomooloo Finger Wharf redevelopment in 1998 (City of Sydney Archives, Brian McInerney Industrial Images Collection: 76614)
Woolloomooloo Finger Wharf redevelopment in 1998 (City of Sydney Archives, Brian McInerney Industrial Images Collection: 76614)

Woolloomooloo Bay Finger Wharf was designed by Irish-born engineer Henry Deane Walsh, who became the namesake for Walsh Bay.

Work began on the construction of five timber piled finger wharves in the small bay between Dawes Point and Millers Point in 1912.

Similarly to the 400 metre long finger wharf at Woolloomooloo, the wharves (along with the associated shore sheds, warehouses and stores) were designed by Sydney Harbour Trust’s Engineer-in-Chief Henry Walsh. Likewise, the wharves were also intended and used for deep sea shipping. The bay was named in honour of Walsh in 1919.

With the introduction of container shipping in the late 1960s, the handling of the cargo from ship to shore became increasingly mechanised. New ‘roll on, roll off’ wharves to meet the demand were built at nearby Darling Harbour and at Botany. This new type of shipping meant that cargo coming off the ships didn’t need to be manually handled by wharf labourers any longer.

Walsh Bay in the 1960s (City of Sydney Archives, Graeme Andrews 'Working Harbour' Collection: 86715)
Walsh Bay in the 1960s (City of Sydney Archives, Graeme Andrews ‘Working Harbour’ Collection: 86715)

The finger wharves at Walsh Bay and Woolloomooloo became obsolete. They lay neglected for many years and were earmarked for demolition but after much community agitation, they were saved.

Both places were state heritage listed and are regarded as the only examples of their type in the world.

The distinctive timber piled finger wharves at both places were converted into apartments in the late 1990s – although Walsh Bay had been home to Sydney Theatre Company from the mid-1980s and continues to seek a reputation as a cultural quarter for the city.

20 September 2013: A timber harbour

Recent works along the foreshore of Darling Harbour in the remake that will be Barangaroo have uncovered the remains of Sydney’s nineteenth century maritime industry.  Stone cut slipways, timber piles, boat launching ramps, anchor shackles and chains have all appeared out from under decades of mud and silt in archaeological digs along the length of the future development.

These remnants reveal not only the diversity of industrial development in this area, but show us the extent of the harbour reclaimed to create our familiar foreshores.

Barangaroo is just the latest name for this part of Sydney.  The long bay to the west of the city has many names attributed along its length.  Darling Harbour takes it all in, but prior to 1826 it was Cockle Bay, and before that its Aboriginal names were Gomora, Tumbalong in the south, Koodgi in the north.

Throughout the nineteenth century wharves, jetties, slipways and ship yards filled the entire eastern shore.  As early as 1815 a dam was built across the southern portion, trapping a fresh water stream that was used in Sydney’s first steam engine close by the site of the Entertainment Centre.  The harbour then ran back to Hay Street where Paddys Markets are, and lapped at the edge of George Street.

In 1901 the Sydney Harbour Trust was formed in response to the outbreak of the plague in Sydney with a mandate to clean up and rebuild Sydney’s harbour wharfage.  From 1912 they began to build finger wharfs to accommodate increasingly large ships coming to Sydney.  As their name suggests, the wharves stuck into the harbour like giant, timber fingers.  They stretched from Woolloomooloo, around Walsh Bay, all down Darling Harbour’s eastern shore and into Jones Bay.

These wharves went from smallish to huge structures such as those at Walsh Bay, Jones Bay and Woolloomooloo Wharf which remain (mostly).  All the wharves were built using timber, mostly Australian hardwood turpentine trees.  Impervious to marine borers, they were perfect.  Long and straight, the trees grew to between 12 and 35 metres long.

Building the wharves in Darling Harbour c1920. The bark is still on the trees.
Building the wharves in Darling Harbour c1920. The bark is still on the trees.

Cut into piles and spaced 3m apart, beneath the wharves resembled a giant, drowned forest.  As most wharves extended on average 35m from the shore, they needed upwards of 240 timber piles, or 240 trees each.  At the peak of the timber wharves in Sydney in the 1950’s, it was estimated that there were 40,000 timber piles in Sydney Harbour.

In Circular Quay, commercial wharves have long given way to ferries and cruise ships, but they once dominated here too.

Like Darling Harbour, large portion of the head of Sydney Cove were reclaimed to make the waterway more usable for shipping.  For thousands of years and in the first forty of European occupation, the headwaters of the cove ran back to where Bridge Street is, with Pitt Street marking its western shoreline (Pitt Street itself came no further then Hunter Street).  Wharves, jetties and warehouses fronted the Tank Stream that, when the tide was in, allowed boats to get to them.  When the tide was out however, the stinking, polluted mud flats covered the whole area that is now Circular Quay.

In 1837 the Government acted to build a quay.  Using convicts in the last and one of the largest convict engineering projects in Sydney a quay was created.  First stone was quarried along the east side of the Cove, through the Rocks (to create the Argyle Cut) and from Cockatoo Island and Pinchgut (Fort Denison).  The seawall extended from one side of the cove to the other over the next 7 years.

A plan of Circular Quay improvements in 1840. THe old harbour line can be seen below the dotted line of the soon to be extended streets.
A plan of Circular Quay improvements in 1840. The old harbour line can be seen below the dotted line of the soon to be extended streets.

Behind the wall the land had to be built up from the mud.  Preceding the Darling Harbour wharves by 70 years, hardwood piles were driven into the mud in a huge grid pattern.  Hundreds of trees sunk into the silt to take the back fill rubble that would form the land.

With land came the streets: Pitt, Castlereagh, Macquarie, Phillip and Alfred Streets all extended or created.

A lost forest right under our feet.

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑