The Finger Wharf the Australian Imperial Force set sail for
Egypt and Gallipoli.
the Finger Wharf the survivors of Changi returned.
Sydney's Waterfront the hope and toil of woolshed and paddock,
the enterprise and ambition of rich and poor, the architect's
vision and the engineer's skill, the tracks and roads and
rails of a fledgling nation all converged. And here they met
Here, hardship rubbed shoulders with
prosperity and together they created this giant among the
world's wooden buildings, this 'cathedral of commerce' - The
Woolloomooloo Bay Finger Wharf.
The Finger Wharf combined local building
traditions and materials with the most advanced technologies
of it's day, in an ingenious response to the three great challenges
of commercial shipping; friction, gravity and time.
The Sydney Harbour Trust built the
Finger Wharf between 1911 and 1915. H.D Walsh the Trust's
Engineer-In-Chief designed this masterpiece of industrial
This place knows of longing looks between
the ship and shore. It feels the joy of sweethearts reunited,
the pangs of separation, the thrill of new beginnings, the
finality of ends.
It was from here that the ANZACs
sailed for Gallipoli and a generation later, the survivors
of Changi returned.
Here, on luxury liners, giddy socialites
and globetrotting millionaires sparkled and caroused.
Settlers from a war-torn world brought
their skills, their cultures, and their children and stepped
ashore into new lives, here.
'…there were a few tearful scenes, but they got us away
well…..we could still see the people waving as we disappeared
around the Heads…..there was many a chap on the boat who they
would never see again….' Corporal A. Barwick, 1914.
Ships began loading and discharging
their cargoes at the Finger Wharf in 1912, while it was still
being built. From this great building, the raw materials and
products of a nation newly born flowed out into the markets
of the world.
The World's wealth in return poured
through the Finger Wharf, breathing the life of trade and
commerce into the young country.
For the next 70 years, Woolloomooloo
was a hive of commercial shipping activity.
The Wharf Community
was a pretty tough neighbourhood, the Woolloomooloo waterfront.
To families here, the Finger Wharf brought a life of mixed
blessings; employment and strife, celebration and hard won
Building the Finger Wharf meant steady
work for tradesmen and labourers, from 1911 to 1915. Today
this magnificent example of Federation architecture is their
legacy to Sydney.
The men who shifted the cargoes,
on and off the ships, on and off the carts and trucks, up
and down the Finger Wharf, were the men of Woolloomooloo.
Often it was the women's work
that saw families through hard times.
Visiting officers hobnobbed at Government
House, while visiting crews did their dancing in Woolloomooloo.
When the Wharf itself was threatened
with demolition, community protest kept it standing. The parties
interested in pulling it down found that this was still a
pretty tough neighbourhood.
The Woolloomooloo Wharf was a bustling
workplace for most of the 20th century.
For the Wharfies who loaded and unloaded
cargoes here, working conditions were often harsh, dirty and
dangerous. Most labour was casual- a job today did not necessarily
mean a job tomorrow. Daily work was handed out at the Wharf
gates by the 'bull system' which favoured the biggest men
and those least likely to complain. Physical deformities,
broken bones, torn muscles and diseased lungs were common
among workers on the wharves.
waterside workers federation fought to improve wharf labourers'
conditions. Opposition from employers and government was often
violent. Scarce work during the great depression of the 1930's
also weakened the unions' stand.
…"It was heartbreak time for a foreman
with the least touch of humanity in him. He would stand at
the wharf gate to pick perhaps forty men at the most, from
a crowd of between three or four hundred hungry, desperate
men. From his elevation he looked down into a sea of imploring
eyes and the keen disappointment of those turned away was
painful to witness" … Captain J. Gaby
employment during and after the second World War strengthened
the Waterside Workers Federation. The 'bull system' ended
and conditions slowly improved. By the mid 1950's, Wharfies
had won attendance pay, sick leave, annual leave, and first
aid equipment, medical care, washrooms and sanitary eating
places on the job.
During the 1970's, new container ports,
cruise liner facilities and airports in other places around
the city gradually replaced the Wharf's functions. The work
and the workers moved with them. For nearly a decade, this
enormous building lay derelict and decaying.
In 1987, the state government decided to demolish
the Woolloomooloo Wharf.
After more than 70 years at the
heart of Sydney's cargo and passenger handling industry, the
Woolloomooloo Wharf had become a local landmark - symbol of
the community's struggle for both economic development and
The state government's 1987 decision
to replace the Wharf with a new marina caused a storm of community
protest. The national trust and The Royal Australian Institute
of Architects opposed the demolition of this significant building.
The local member of parliament was outspoken in her criticism
of the proposal.
property developers and politicians still pushed for the Wharf
to be torn down. One of their supporters called it "the great
grey dunny" and favoured "blowing it to bits". The minister
assisting the premier condemned it as an "eyesore".
For the next three years, the government,
the heritage council, the conservationists and the developers
wrangled over the future of the Wharf.
November 1990, the Building Workers Industrial Union placed
an interim ban on demolition of the Wharf. Supporters of the
Wharf formed the 'Friends of the Finger Wharf Inc'. This group
supported the Union's Green Ban on demolition, promoted environmentally
sensitive retention of the Wharf and encouraged public debate.
Some one hundred and twenty placard
waving protestors converged on the Wharf in January 1991 to
demonstrate against its demolition. The Green Ban remained
in place. The government prevented from demolishing the Wharf,
was not prepared to conserve it. The minister said..."it will
just sit there and nothing will happen. We will let it lie.
The Wharf won't be fixed"
another year of public meetings, protests, debate and yet
another development proposal, the government relented and
called for redevelopment proposals that would conserve the
Woolloomooloo Wharf. Conservation planning began in 1992.
may 1993, the BWIU lifted its green ban and work on the wharf