Circular Quay Ferry Wharves | NSW Environment & Heritage

Culture and heritage

Heritage

Circular Quay Ferry Wharves

Item details

Name of item: Circular Quay Ferry Wharves
Other name/s: Circular Quay Wharves
Type of item: Built
Group/Collection: Transport - Water
Category: Wharf
Location: Lat: -33.861066666666666 Long: 151.21091666666666
Primary address: Alfred Street, Circular Quay, NSW
Local govt. area: Sydney
All addresses
Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
Alfred StreetCircular QuaySydney  Primary Address

Owner/s

Organisation NameOwner CategoryDate Ownership Updated
Roads and Maritime ServicesState Government 

Statement of significance:

The Circular Quay ferry wharves occupy the location of the first permanent settlement by Europeans in Australia and, along with the associated Circular Quay Railway Station and Cahill Expressway and both the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House, are landmark features of Sydney which form the basis of many iconic images of the city. The wharves maintain the image of Sydney Cove as once having been the centre of maritime activity in the colony and their architectural design reflects a conscious attempt to highlight Sydney Cove as the symbolic gateway to Sydney.

The Circular Quay ferry wharves are the latest exposition of the historic use of the head of Sydney Cove for passenger ferry services first established in the 1870s and form part of a significant urban transport interchange area that is also a key destination for both local and international tourism. In their architectural and visual setting, they demonstrate Australia’s centralisation of significant infrastructure in state ownership and illustrate the outlook and philosophies of the mid-twentieth century in relation to townscape and town planning.
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.

Description

Designer/Maker: Sydney Harbour Trust (c1901); GAO (2002)
Construction years: 1901-
Physical description: Wharves 2, 4, 5 and 6 comprise fixed wharf sections with single-storey superstructures ramped to floating pontoons. Wharf 3 was rebuilt in the early 1980s and comprised a two-storey superstructure on a fixed wharf. All wharves have recent (2002) steel-framed roof structures and glass balustrades.
Physical condition and/or
Archaeological potential:
Fair
Modifications and dates: Refurbished c1956, 1986 and 2002
Further information: Structures located below Mean High Water Mark.



Comparative Places: Fisherman's Wharf, San Francisco USA; Auckland Harbour wharves.

History

Historical notes: Sydney Cove was the main port area for Australia until the middle of the nineteenth century, with stone quays around its shoreline. Early passenger ferry services in Sydney Harbour were all private concerns which operated from convenient wharves around Sydney Cove and, later, Darling Harbour. There was no government involvement and no regulation of routes, wharves or services. From the 1880s, however, with the advent of government public transport in the form of trams and greater competition amongst ferry companies for an ever-growing number of passengers, efforts were made to organise the ferries to connect with tram services and, owing to its suitability for both tram and ferry access, Sydney Cove rapidly became the preferred city terminus for the passenger ferries. The Sydney Harbour Trust was formed in 1901 and, amongst other activities, resumed all harbour lands. One of its earliest actions was to formalise the existing Sydney Cove arrangements, building passenger wharves to its own standards and leasing them to ferry companies.
The passenger ferry business in Sydney expanded rapidly in the early twentieth century as residential development spread east and north of the city but the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge in 1932 caused a severe decline. By the mid-1950s only one ferry company was still operating and, with private car ownership continually growing, this also closed in the 1970s. Since then ferry services have continued to operate under Government ownership from Sydney Cove. The Circular Quay wharves have provided the city terminus for services stretching from Manly to Parramatta. The wharves themselves have undergone continual upgrades and developments to service changing ferry technology and design and were most recently refurbished in 2002 under direction of the NSW Government Architect’s Office.
Being the most frequently used commuter wharves in Sydney Harbour, the wharves require continual maintenance and upgrading. Recent improvements have emphasised safety aspects with the construction of buffers to protect the wharves and adjacent promenade from ferry runs.

Assessment of significance

SHR Criteria a)
[Historical significance]
The Circular Quay ferry wharves at the head of Sydney Cove occupy the location of the first permanent settlement by Europeans in Australia and maintain the image of Sydney Cove as once having been the centre of maritime activity in the colony throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
The Circular Quay ferry wharves are synonymous with the sandstone semi-circular quay built in the 1840s, which was a major public work of its day and maintained Sydney Cove as the premier commercial wharf site in Sydney for the next 60 years.
The Circular Quay ferry wharves maintain the tradition of the use of the head of Sydney Cove for passenger ferry services first established in the 1870s. The quay subsequently evolved into a significant urban transport interchange area and now remains an important ferry terminus and tourism centre of Sydney.
The Circular Quay ferry wharves, in their location and design, are relics of the adoption of responsibility for provision of ferry terminal facilities by the Sydney Harbour Trust following its formation in 1901, replacing the individual and ad hoc wharfage previously provided by the individual ferry companies.
The Circular Quay ferry wharves reflect in their design the government’s intention to create a holistic architecture that not only unified the various structures simultaneously being developed in the vicinity by the NSW Main Roads Department, the NSW Railway Commissioners and the NSW Department of Public Works but also was intended to present the head of Sydney Cove as the visual gateway to Sydney.
The Circular Quay ferry wharves were originally designed as part of a larger modernist vision for what was then still the major gateway to the city, which included the railway station, the (old) AMP building, Goldfields House (demolished), the former MSB Headquarters (now the MCA), buildings along Circular Quay East up to the Opera House and the redevelopment of The Rocks. The rise and fall of this modernist aesthetic and its associated expectations for the success of centralised town planning are key aspects of the twentieth century, both architecturally and historically.
SHR Criteria b)
[Associative significance]
The Circular Quay ferry wharves are associated with the Sydney Harbour Trust and its successor organisations and with successive government policies relating to the visual and functional role of Sydney Cove as the symbolic gateway to Sydney.

The Circular Quay ferry wharves, along with the associated Circular Quay Railway Station and Cahill Expressway, are landmark features of Sydney which form the basis of many iconic images of the city and are geographically and visually associated with both the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Opera House.
SHR Criteria c)
[Aesthetic significance]
The Circular Quay ferry wharves are stylistically designed to form a visual component of the adjacent Circular Quay Railway Station and Cahill Expressway, forming a unified design at the head of Sydney Cove.

The Circular Quay ferry wharves, along with the associated Circular Quay Railway Station and Cahill Expressway, are landmark features of Sydney which form the basis of many iconic images of the city and are geographically and visually associated with both the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Opera House.
SHR Criteria d)
[Social significance]
Not assessed.
SHR Criteria e)
[Research potential]
No values identified.
SHR Criteria g)
[Representativeness]
The Circular Quay ferry wharves are representative examples of functional passenger loading wharves combining fixed pile structures and floating pontoons and are functionally similar to ferry wharves of this scale that have occupied this site since the late nineteenth century.
Integrity/Intactness: Good
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.

Recommended management:

• The wharves should be retained and conserved as a ferry wharves. • The overall form of the wharves should be conserved. • Any alterations and additions should be in accordance with the Conservation Management Plan for the site and supported by a heritage impact statement. Specific Recommendations: • The fabric of the wharves and the form and fabric of the wharf shelters are not key attributes of its significance and can be changed, as required, to maintain its current function: the cross-harbour passenger ferry activity. • The seawalls behind the wharves contains evidence of multiple changes over time and, although structural and other reasons may require further alterations to the wall and pier in the future, it should not be altered for aesthetic reasons alone. • The wharf waiting shelters provide opportunities for interpretation of the history and significance of the wharves, the ferry system and other heritage elements within the visual catchment which should be explored and developed.

Listings

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

Study details

TitleYearNumberAuthorInspected byGuidelines used
NSW Maritime Heritage and Conservation Register201028Godden Mackay Logan  Yes

References, internet links & images

TypeAuthorYearTitleInternet Links
Written  Port of Sydney journals
Written  Sydney Harbour Trust Journals

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

Data source

The information for this entry comes from the following source:
Name: State Government
Database number: 4920019


Every effort has been made to ensure that information contained in the State Heritage Inventory is correct. If you find any errors or omissions please send your comments to the Database Manager.

All information and pictures on this page are the copyright of the Heritage Division or respective copyright owners.