Monday, January 10, 2011

Ask Otto: Pier One

Byter Steve has raised another question.  He advises that he and Diane spent the new year break playing tourist in the city, staying in a hotel overlooking the harbour.  He also advises:
Diane said to me “Why is there no Pier 1?”  I immediately had a look myself, and she was right, the piers start at number 2 and go up to number 6.  Of course, I haven’t a clue why there is no Pier 1, but I said to Diane “Leave it to Otto, he’ll find out for us!”  Over to you, oh oracle!
Easy peasy, Stevie.
I recall that years ago I would go to Pier One at the foot of the Harbour Bridge, play the penny arcade machines and have fish and chips on the wharf or in the park, purchased from one of the cheap cafes. Pier One was the forerunner of the many trendy aprtments, eateries, boutiques and galleries that now line the harbour in the old wharves at Walsh bay and Woolloomoolo.

I also recall that back in my university years, before the penny arcade days mentioned above, the wharves were unused except by people fishing, especially by Italian families.

Looking at Walsh Bay now it is hard to envisage that at the end of the 19th century the streets and waterways were filthy and rat infested. The streets contained mainly wool and bond stores; there was no sea wall, the wharves were unsanitary and the harbour foreshore was awash with rubbish, pollution and infested by rats.

Things came to a head in January 1900. The authorities had been watching the spread of bubonic plague along the trading routes to Sydney but took no action to deal with it if it should arrive. And arrive it did, in January 1900 when van driver Arthur Payne was the first to become infected, in Dawes Point just above the wharves. Then the government reacted. It resumed the wharves, disinfected and whitewashed the houses and sent the residents to the Quarantine Station at North Head. It also tidied up the wharves and eradicated the rats. The outbreak was over by the end of August but not before over 200 people had been infected, of which 102 died.

In 1901 the Sydney Harbour Trust, established in 1900, began operation. The Trust was charged with rebuilding the port of Sydney to improve trade activity and it embarked on its task with enthusiasm:
• It renewed the wharves as one of the first tasks.
• It carried out major road construction on the foreshore and cok areas.
• Cliffs were removed and roads disappeared to form Hickson Road.
• Double decker finger wharves were commenced in 1910 with a series of high bridges to connect to the high roads of Millers Point, with the area between Dawes Point and Millers Point being renamed Walsh Bay after the chief engineer.

The steam lighter 'Star' at Pier One, Walsh Bay c 1913 (clcik onj pic to enlarge).

Companion photograph to the one above showing the stern of the ‘Star’ and the stern of the ship ‘Niagara’

The wharves became hives of shipping activity but were also places of sadness. I have previously written about the area between Darling Harbour and Millers Point becoming known as the Hungry Mile during the depression:

By the early seventies the wharves had again fallen into disuse. The great ships no longer berthed there, the wharfies no longer loaded cargoes of wool bales. It was abandoned as a port and fell into disrepair.

In 1982 Pier One was turned into a shopping and amusement complex.

When the Sydney Theatre Company took over wharves 4 and 5 in 1984, the transformation and gentrification of the area began in earnest.

Today Pier One comprises a hotel, apartments, shops, restaurants, bars and cafes and the area of Walsh Bay is one of the most valuable and most sought after in Sydney.

Pier One

As I mentioned in the Hungry Mile post, the site of hardship and sadness has now become an area of multimillion dollar residential apartments and commercial sites. The spirits of Arthur Payne and those who walked the Hungry Mile may well be scratching their heads at the irony.

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