Sydney Cove Passenger Terminal | NSW Environment & Heritage

Culture and heritage


Sydney Cove Passenger Terminal

Item details

Name of item: Sydney Cove Passenger Terminal
Other name/s: Overseas Passenger Terminal
Type of item: Built
Group/Collection: Transport - Water
Category: Water Transport Administration building
Primary address: Circular Quay, Sydney, NSW 2000
Local govt. area: Sydney
All addresses
Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
Circular QuaySydneySydney  Primary Address


Organisation NameOwner CategoryDate Ownership Updated
Sydney Ports CorporationState Government 

Statement of significance:

The Sydney Cove Passenger Terminal is a significant building on the shores of Sydney Harbour. The site is important for its ongoing historical use as a commercial and passenger shipping facility and its early role as a public gateway to the city.

The building displays a twentieth century approach to adaptive re-use in response to changing community needs and, in its fabric, illustrates layers of its own history and use.

The original building constructed in 1958-60 has historical associations with the changing needs of international travel. As the first point of entry for many immigrants during the post World War II period in Australia, the building also possesses social value. The architecture of the building is representative of the utilitarian approach to terminal design at the time with its 'functionalist' character influenced by international trends.

The 1988 modifications to the building by Lawrence Nield form part of the Bicentennial works that focussed on improving the urban design character of Sydney Cove. The building responded to a desire for increased public access to the foreshore and an enhanced interrelationship with open spaces including First Fleet Park and Cambells Cove Plaza. The architecture is of aesthetic significance for its successful adaptive re-use and reductionalist approach and reinterpretation of the robust steel portal frame structure. With its maritime imagery and use of strong visual devices, including the northern tower, the building is of landmark value from Sydney Harbour.

The site has archaeological potential arising from the likely subsurface presence of remains of early wharfage, the nineteenth century seawall and the original shoreline deposits. The building is also important for its ability to demonstrate an early use of concrete caisson technology as foreshore reinforcement.
Date significance updated: 05 Jul 04
Note: The State Heritage Inventory provides information about heritage items listed by local and State government agencies. The State Heritage Inventory is continually being updated by local and State agencies as new information becomes available. Read the OEH copyright and disclaimer.


Modifications and dates: 1960 Sydney Cove Passenger Terminal was officially opened by the Hon. J.B Renshaw, MLA Deputy Premier, Treasurer and Minister for Lands on the 20th December 1960.

1987substantial modifications including additional features such as restaurants and cafes took place as part of the lead up to the Bicentenial celebrations (Godden Mackay Logan:1999)

2001 Information needed.
Current use: Overseas Passenger Terminal


Historical notes: The site:
The western shore of Sydney Cove is generally thought to be the site of the landing of the First Fleet. It was from Sydney Cove that all subsequent development spread during the early years of the colony.

Wharves, docks and warehouses spread along the western side of the cove and during the nineteenth century major reclamation works changed the face of the cove. It was renamed Circular Quay. By the 1870's expansion of trade and the need to be near the rail network saw much of the shipping trade relocate to Darling Harbour. In 1879 the first ferry wharf was constructed at the southern end of the Cove and commercial shipping was pushed back as the area increasingly became the focus of passenger transport.

During the twentieth century dramatic changes occurred at Circular Quay. On the western side, the Commissariat store built in 1809 was replaced in 1940 by the headquarters of the Maritime Services Board(now the Museum of Contemporary Art) and the warehouses which had serviced the wool trade since the 1850's were demolished in the1950's.

The Sydney Cove Passenger Terminal:
The Sydney Cove Passenger Terminal was officially opened by the Hon. J.B Renshaw, MLA Deputy Premier, Treasurer and Minister for Lands on the 20th December 1960.

Until World War 11 passenger traffic in the Port of Sydney had stabilised at 20,000-30,000 arrivals and departures each year. Following the war a combination of high immigration, increased tourism and short cruises instigated by shipping lines lifted arrivals and departures to 160,000 in 1962. By then larger ships with associated needs for customs clearance and visitor facilities had prompted development of specialised facilities, initially at Pyrmont by the early 1950's, then at Woolloomooloo in 1956. The Board recognised this as a stop-gap measure and had already investigated Sydney Cove as the site of a third passenger terminal.

The location was ideal due to its proximity to public transport; its situation in a busling commercial centre surrounded by stately buildings and with a rich local history. A further impetus to development came when P&O - Orient Line decided to build two super liners "Oriana and "Canberra" for the Australian route.

Following extensive research and investigation to determine the most satisfactory form of construction, the Maritime Services Board commenced work on the new facility at Sydney Cove in 1958. Wharves and sheds were demolished and a seawall was constructed using reinforced concrete cassions to enclose solid fill reclamation. This method had the advantages of being cheap, easy to construct and practically free of maintenance problems. The wall was 720 feet long. Behind a 40 foot apron the building extended 625 feet north-south and was 111 feet wide. The ground floor was taken up with cargo handling and the first floor catered for passengers and customs facilities(Port of Sydney :1960).

The new terminal was opened on 20 December 1960 and 10 days later the "Oriana" on her maiden voyage berthed at the terminal. Over the next two decades the terminal was the arrival point of many newcomers to Australia and as such played an important role in the history of Australia of which the contribution of migrants to Australian life is a large part. However by the 1980's the price of air travel had dropped to a point where it became an affordable option for the majority of travellers. Thus by 1983 when an ideas competition was run to gather suggestions for re-use of the terminal it was suggested that up to one third of the terminal was obsolete.

A1985-87 design by Lawrence Nield and Partners was adopted for the Sydney Cove Passenger Terminal and substancial modifications, including additional features such as restaurants and cafes, took place as part of the lead up to Bicentenial celebrations (Godden Mackay Logan :1999).

In the 1990's substantial planning took place for the East Rocks and Forshore areas and in response to the "Sydney Cove Waterfront Strategy" prepared in 1997, The Sydney Ports Corporation proposed further changes to increase both public access and efficiency of functions within the building.

Historic themes

Australian theme (abbrev)New South Wales themeLocal theme
2. Peopling-Peopling the continent Migration-Activities and processes associated with the resettling of people from one place to another (international, interstate, intrastate) and the impacts of such movements (none)-
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Transport-Activities associated with the moving of people and goods from one place to another, and systems for the provision of such movements (none)-

Assessment of significance

SHR Criteria a)
[Historical significance]
The construction at west Circular Quay represents an ongoing use of the site with a shipping function. The Sydney Cove Passenger Terminal has historical significance through its original use as an international customs facility. Its construction in 1958-60 is associated with a post World War II period in Australia's history that involved an influx of mass immigration. It also represents and ongoing use of the site for shipping and demonstates the importance of west Circular Quay as part of the image of Sydney Cove as the gateway to the city.
SHR Criteria d)
[Social significance]
The Terminal is of social significance for its role as the first point of entry for immigrants into Australia, especially in the post World War II period. The Mural in the foyer is of particular social significance.

The public nature of the building, its legible functions (such as the farewell deck) as well as its prominent location at the entrance to Circular Quay makes the Sydney Cove Passenger Terminal an identifiable landmark to the residents of Sydney.

The building also possibly has significance to employees who have worked there.
SHR Criteria e)
[Research potential]
The Terminal has technical significance arising from its early use of reinforced concrete caissons as seawall foundations.
Assessment criteria: Items are assessed against the PDF State Heritage Register (SHR) Criteria to determine the level of significance. Refer to the Listings below for the level of statutory protection.


Heritage ListingListing TitleListing NumberGazette DateGazette NumberGazette Page
Heritage Act - s.170 NSW State agency heritage registerSydney Ports Corporation4560023   
Heritage study     

Study details

TitleYearNumberAuthorInspected byGuidelines used
Sydney Cove Passenger Terminal - Heritage Impact Statement1999 Godden Mackay Logan  Yes
Sydney Cove Passenger Terminal - Heritage Impact Statement1999 Godden Mackay Logan  Yes
Sydney Cove Passenger Terminal - Heritage Impact Statement1999 Godden Mackay Logan  Yes
Sydney Cove Passenger Terminal Upgrade. Statement of Environmental Effects.1999 J B A & Berkhout Urban Planning Consultants  Yes

References, internet links & images

TypeAuthorYearTitleInternet Links
Written 1960A New Ship - A New Terminal Sydney Ports Journal Vol 7 -5
Written 1959On the Construction Front - Port of Sydney Journal Vol 7 - 1

Note: internet links may be to web pages, documents or images.

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Data source

The information for this entry comes from the following source:
Name: State Government
Database number: 4560023

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