Do you remember...Goat Island by Graeme Andrews - the village on the harbour. End and future?Last month I discussed Goat Island’s ‘village ON the harbour’ and the beginning of its demise, and of the deliberate reduction of the workings of Australia’s then premier port, Port Jackson.
Recently, the public press of Sydney has commented that the massive increase in housing costs – purchase and rental – has driven the city’s service workers well away from their jobs. This has compounded the congestion on the roads and in public transport with many people travelling, for example, for more than half an hour, just to reach Wyong and then catch a train which will take about two hours to reach Sydney. The reverse happens seven or eight hours later.
This, too, happened to some of the harbour authorities’ port workers when the then Coalition government, in its wisdom, decreed that low paid workers did not deserve homes with ‘valuable’ water views. Said workers soon moved to Wyong or to Emu Plains and so on.
The MSB soon realised that these workers were not available as they had been for emergency calls if a harbour disaster threatened.
The ‘solution’ was to subsidise a phone line (pre-mobile days) for each, now distant employee. The distance was still a problem. Recipients of the phone subsidy very soon installed answering machines which did away with the likelihood of a rush trip to Sydney.
The ferry Radar lies alongside the Goat Island Ferry wharf in 1981. GKAAnd so it went.
Conventional ‘Thatcherist’ economic rationalism of the day decreed that it was always cheaper to have contracted private enterprise do any job than to use full-time trained and experienced public servants.
Word around the waterfront was that the government was exploring using the large commercial harbour tugs to provide a 24 hour fire protection service for the Class A port. Such commercial tugs were not normally manned 24 hours but only when required to handle ship movements.
When the costs of running these much bigger tugs for 24 hours and the costs of training all their crews and maintaining that training were calculated – the project was quietly dropped, naturally with no official mention ever having been made.
The rumour around the traps was that the annual costs would have been roughly double that being needed to continue to use the MSB’s own people and purpose-built vessels.
From about 1990 on, the MSB’s floating plant began to fade away. Harbour dredging, which had been carried on for more than 100 years on a daily basis, ceased. There seems to have been little or no dredging done since then – one wonders at the current channel depths.
The mantra was that private enterprise could do it but private enterprise has to pay its way and if no contracts were regularly available there is no reason to maintain staff and plant – and so it was.
The MSB base on Goat Island gave way to the National Parks and Wildlife Services’ empire-building. When it took over the harbour’s various islands the NPWS soon found a need to hire MSB equipment and staff to maintain these islands as NPWS did not have the staff nor the equipment!
Darling Harbour when it was still part of a port, looking south from Goat Island. GKAThe MSB was divided into several new departments while other bodies, official and non-official, took control of various bits of the waters of the port. This took Port Jackson back to 1900, before the Sydney Harbour Trust was formed to concentrate all the activities of the port under one control.
In 1900 this was intended to reduce the then administrative confusion of that time. I’m not sure how many organizations there are that can now exercise control over some particular patch of the port but it would be a worthwhile study.
The commercial harbour control section of the MSB became Sydney Ports Authority and squeezed staff and equipment into the old Towns Bond on Millers Point.
On the island’s south side can still be seen at low tide, a convict-era tidal boat wharf. GKA.The non-commercial-shipping part of the MSB became Waterways and then NSW Maritime in Rozelle Bay and the NPWS took over Goat Island. It seems to have done very little with it since then other than allowing a few noisy concerts and advertising expensive tours. Early in 2011 the wharves looked very tired. The buildings looked jaded, other than the one which had been used as ‘home base’ for a TV series loosely based on fictional harbour activities.
After some years of neglect, and in 2011, still under threat of demolition to allow the area to ‘return to nature’, the shipyard was passed to commercial operators. This provided some relief for the desperate shortage of commercial slipping and yard facilities in 21st century Sydney.
The houses have been recently suggested as great sites for boutique businesses – yet more coffee shops!
I agree with the ideas expounded that the island should never be commercially developed.
The use of the extant shipyard should be excluded from that statement as so much of Sydney maritime infrastructure has gone that Manly ferries have been sent to Brisbane for hauling out; and Sydney Port’s fire tugs have had to go to Port Macquarie as facilities in Sydney were not available.
Keeping the island’s shipyard, seen here in 1981, working is important now that so much of the waterfront infrastructure has succumbed to housing construction. GKAI have long thought that the solid old houses need to be retained. Their history as remnants of examples of staff housing from an earlier and kinder age needs to be understood and retained. Perhaps they could be re-furbished and to some degree established as B&Bs or the like. Perhaps some could be used to provide respite holiday homes for needy and worthy people? Perhaps they could be used as holiday homes for winners of a state raffle? There are other options that might be discussed – in public.
A regular ferry service would be easy to arrange – on call by means of a wharf signal as was the way in the past.
It is vital that such organization not be in the hands of the NPWS.
When I consider the places I could go in my youth from which I am now barred, I feel that the NPWS management has an elitist attitude that does not really like ‘people’, finding them to be something of a physical bother. Goat Island’s record over the last 20 years might tend to support that personal comment.
When the awful mess that the last Labor state government has made of Darling Harbour – so-called Barangaroo – is considered, any public use of Goat Island must be well-controlled, perhaps by a trust whose members could display a long history of non-commercial public service and interest, perhaps the National Trust?
In 1981 while MSB gardeners were at work, a dump of 19th century cartridges of several types were unearthed. GKA.The NSW National Trust has a long record of instigating both the preservation and the practical use of notable structures, many of them NOT grand public buildings or 19th century mansions.
Sydney’s Port Jackson no longer justifies the use of the term ‘Port’ – the great increase in ship size and the great reduction in port facilities, combined with the removal of shipping wharves east of the harbour bridge, means that cruise ship owners have been threatening to reduce cruise ship calls, while the greatly improved container wharves of Brisbane and Melbourne have combined, with the poor transhipment facilities of Botany Bay, to attract some of the trade that might have used Sydney or Botany Bay facilities.
Sydney’s harbour and its once commercial foreshore has been largely handed over to private use and no more will we see large and small commercial vessels coming and going – although some of the really large floating ‘toys’ are the size of Manly ferries, perhaps even larger? I wonder where we might berth 30-odd Tall Ships during a future port celebration?
For those who have feelings of historic and commercial loss, as I do, for those who have known, worked and admired a great commercial waterway I recommend a visit to the website of the Sydney Heritage Fleet. There you might enjoy the 1950s photos of the Davidson Collection, taken by two young women shipping enthusiasts, or perhaps the wider ranging collection under my name. The SHF has a much larger similar collection in-house but in April 2011 not as yet on their website.