Since 2008 I’ve lived in Melbourne Docklands, moving in July 2017 to an apartment looking over Victoria Harbour, formerly Victoria Dock. Just my sort of place.
It wasn’t always like this. Where I now live was once a marshy area to the north of a meandering Yarra river, then passable only by the smallest ships. The native Aboriginal occupants viewed this as a rich hunting ground, the blue lake, whilst to settlers it was the West Melbourne swamp.
After the 1850s Gold Rush it was obvious to all that something must be done to facilitate maritime traffic. As often now, good intentions didn’t translate into early action. Finally in 1877 the Melbourne Harbor [sic] Trust was formed. One of its first actions was to appoint Sir John Coode, the leading harbour engineer of his day, to advise them. He came up with a twofold plan: widening and straightening the river, then constructing docks to the immediate west of the city centre and next to the railway.
Work on the Coode Canal, as it was named, began in 1880 and it finally opened in 1886. Work on the dock (redesigned as one large basin) began in 1889 and in 1892 the massive excavation (three million cubic yards) was filled with water.
Then on 20th February 1893 – 125 years ago – the West Melbourne Dock, as it was initially known, received its first visitor, the SS Hubbuck, newly arrived from London.
By 1908, Victoria Dock, as it was now named, was handling ninety per cent of Victoria’s imports. To increase the dock’s capacity, Central Pier was added in 1916-17. By the 1950s Melbourne was able to boast that its port was the most mechanised in the Commonwealth. But containerisation was on its way and the new down-river Swanson Dock with its massive container cranes opened in the late 1960s.
By the 1990s Victoria Dock was all but disused and the whole area in decay. The building of Etihad Stadium (opened 2000) kickstarted the redevelopment of the area and Docklands is now home to thousands of people and the workplace of thousands more.
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Original uncut pictures (State Library of Victoria): Coode plan, dock under construction, SS Hubbuck