The search for a Sydney overseas terminal … or two! Debacle or dilemma? by Graeme AndrewsOver the last 30 years or so State governments of both persuasions, aided and abetted by those ‘uber riche’ with good connections, have carried out a continual attack on the industrial aspects of what was once considered to be Australia’s finest port – Port Jackson.

Ex-Prime Minister Paul Keating even suggested moving the navy’s very expensive facilities out of the port – to where he did not say. The NSW Water Police, based in Campbells Cove for almost 200 years were shunted to several locations (always under attack from the new area’s NIMBYS) so that another really expensive hotel could be built there.

The wharves along the east side of Sydney Cove disappeared not long after they blossomed with a display of three or even four square-rigged sailing ships during the 1970 Cook Bi-centennial.

The 1960 model Sydney Overseas Terminal in Sydney Cove was later rebuilt in such a way that much of its designed capacity to handle up to 2,000-odd passengers at a time was minimised and replaced by several up-market restaurants, whose patrons have been known to complain loudly when a ship has the temerity to be there when they are fine dining.

Other complaints about terminal congestion have come from cruise ship passengers who have to use the remnants of the building that ship passengers are allowed to use.

Meanwhile, west of the bridge, a new terminal was constructed at the foot of King St. Here there was good swinging room for ships and the location, close to the city, was considered to be almost ideal. This terminal replaced the purpose-built Wharf 13 Pyrmont which, for more than 40 years, provided good service to the liners of P&O. Like so much of the Sydney’s waterfront facilities, 13 Pyrmont has become just another pile of expensive home units.

Other than to mention that the King St terminal is to be absorbed into the ship-free Barangaroo development (a plan which is producing new chaos and confusion almost every week) I’ll leave that particular mess to the Daily press and TV.

Several hundred cruise ships enter Sydney Harbour in an average year. We are regularly told that these ships bring vast rivers of gold to our economy although who actually gains is less obvious.

Empress of Britain with a tanker had a combined beam greater than does Queen Mary 2. Seen here is the Woolloomooloo Finger Wharf before WWII. The unworthy, now-defunct Labor government produced the plan to do away with the King St Terminal. The idea was to shunt medium-sized cruise ships over to the southern side of the Balmain peninsular well away from Sydney. This area was previously a container berth but more recently was a site looking for a role. Eureka! A cruise ship terminal.

Questions as to how some thousands of people would reach central Sydney through Balmain’s 19th century lanes and streets, produced the suggestion that ferries could do the job. What these ferries were to do in the non-cruising season was left to someone else to decide. Heavy truck-loads of food and supplies would need to service the area as they did when the container ships called. The burghers of Balmain were ecstatic.

How will this berth in congested Balmain cope with several ships? G.Andrews 1983.Meanwhile a representative of Carnival Cruises which owns most of the cruise lines, including P&O and Cunard and other once-independent lines, was quoted as being not too pleased with the mess, quoting Melbourne and Brisbane as ports becoming increasingly attractive to her company.

The problem that has gained the most press attention has been the berthing of the really big liners – that is those too tall to get under the Harbour Bridge. West of the bridge is where the remaining ships berths are /were, other than that in Sydney Cove.

Whenever the towering cruise ship Queen Mary 2 enters the port the problems erupt.

For several years we were told she was too big to berth at the Overseas Terminal. As all other berths east of the bridge had been alienated by various State governments, the RAN was expected to allow the giant to berth at Garden Island base.

What that did to the planned Naval ship maintenance and work programmes of this industrial area seemed to be irrelevant to politicians and to the commercial imperative. The RAN repeatedly pointed out that it had barely enough berthing space with very large ships under construction and soon to arrive. It has obviously argued against regular visits of such giant ships.

The King St terminal handles just one ship but has the advantage of delivering visitors to the centre of the city.An effort by the RAN to arrange extra naval berthing on the eastern side of Garden Island some years back brought forth howls of rage from the well-connected denizens of the eastern Sydney waterfront.

Here perhaps, it might be time to indulge in ‘what if’.

Almost 100 years ago a massive timber wharf was built in Woolloomooloo Bay. It had (eventually) an overall length of more than 350m (1,140ft) and regularly berthed three or four of the biggest liners of the day. The big wharf was intended to service passengers and had a large roadway running along the inside. There was room for cars, delivery vehicles, even room for buses to turn around – a capability removed from the Sydney Cove Passenger terminal when it was rebuilt as a multi-purpose structure.

To the west of the Finger wharf was the older Jones Wharf now also converted into luxury waterfront homes.

Taken from HMAS Melbourne, this image shows how much wharf space was available at the Finger Wharf in Woolloomooloo Bay.The Finger wharf underwent an unexplained fire which but for the MSB’s fire tug would have solved the Greiner Coalition government’s quandary of what use to make of it. It too has become a collection of investment units with berthing adjacent for their owners’ floating status symbols.

Sadly no-one then had the forethought to note that cruise ships were getting ever larger and that Sydney had only one large commercial ship wharf EAST of the Harbour Bridge.

It is worth noting that the big wharf then had water room for two WWII aircraft carriers in adjacent berths on the eastern side (combined flight deck widths of more than 80m) with navigable room between.

Greater depth could have been provided before the port’s dredging service was disbanded and it is interesting to consider just how many of the liners that now find themselves anchored off Bradleys Head, might have used a wharf that was built for ships, not as a site for upmarket accommodation.

So, what if the Jones Bay wharf had been removed entirely and the area foreshore ‘given back to the people’? The western side of the Finger Wharf would have had room for very large ships.

Meanwhile, in March 2012, Queen Mary 2 was berthed IN Sydney Cove. Whoever put forward the plan and then worked the project through should be congratulated although it gave one wag the opportunity to mention that Sydney Cove now had a West Wall as well as an East Wall (of stacked apartments).

This aerial view shows how the old Finger Wharf could have handled very large ships if sufficient foresight had been applied.Queen Mary 2 at 345m (1132ft), is the largest, longest and widest liner to berth at the Overseas Passenger Terminal. The record was set by the beautiful French liner France (316m – 1035ft) way back in the early 1970s and in length there was not much in it – but beam, that’s another matter entirely. Queen Mary 2 is 41m (135ft) wide and France was a mere 34m (112ft).

So, where might we go from here?

Cruise ships will probably continue to reach ridiculous dimensions until something nasty happens to one or more of them that wipes the word ‘Titanic’ from the lexicon of hyperbole. Something similar happened with super tankers in the 1970s and 1980s when the race to build ever bigger ‘oil bergs’ abruptly ceased.

One suggestion could be to reinstate a more modern version of the defunct Sydney Cove Wharf 7a and 7b. This was in Campbells Cove and was replaced by the present small jetty in front of the hotel. Extending and reinforcing this jetty until it reaches its original length would allow the end to be used a mooring extension for a ship of, perhaps, 360m.

This fine image taken from a Channel 7 news bulletin shows the small wharf ‘under’ Queen Mary 2’s bow that replaced the 7a-7c jetty. With thanks to Channel 7. At other times it could be used to berth and display some of the more interesting small craft that used to be part of the visual comings and goings around Sydney Cove.

In the same way it might be time to greatly reduce those areas of the terminal now given over to ‘browsing and sluicing’ to allow ships’ passengers to use a terminal that was intended for passengers?

Pyrmont’s wharves were built to handle large ships, most of them now have non-maritime activities.