Woolloomooloo Finger Wharf | NSW Environment, Energy and Science

Culture and heritage


Woolloomooloo Finger Wharf

Item details

Name of item: Woolloomooloo Finger Wharf
Type of item: Built
Group/Collection: Transport - Water
Category: Wharf
Location: Lat: -33.8674881670 Long: 151.2211393110
Primary address: Cowper Wharf Road, Woolloomooloo, NSW 2011
Parish: St James
County: Cumberland
Local govt. area: Sydney
Local Aboriginal Land Council: Metropolitan
Property description
Lot/Volume CodeLot/Volume NumberSection NumberPlan/Folio CodePlan/Folio Number
LOT1 DP1007565
LOT2 DP1007565
LOT4 DP1007565
LOT5 DP1007565
LOT6 DP1007565
LOT1-212 CP/SP61618
LOT1-88 CP/SP61619
LOT1-165 CP/SP61770
LOT1-30 CP/SP61771
All addresses
Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
Cowper Wharf RoadWoolloomoolooSydneySt JamesCumberlandPrimary Address


Organisation NameOwner CategoryDate Ownership Updated
NSW MaritimeState Government 

Statement of significance:

Woolloomooloo Finger Wharf is of cultural significance for its rarity, scale, construction methods, artefacts of industrial archaeology and diverse history of uses and events. It contains the largest and most distinguished timber wharf building in Sydney Harbour and reflects in its form and contents the history of Woolloomooloo and the principal role of the wool industry in Australia during the nineteenth and early twentieth century (CSHI 3041).

The Wharf is important as an example of a timber engineering structure on a scale unparalleled in Australia and exceptional in world terms. It also represents the use of Australian timbers in sizes and quantities which would never be matched in the future and in a situation in which their durability and other properties can be assessed. The structure demonstrates engineering and construction processes and the surviving equipment includes the only electrically operated goods conveyers in the State and three of the oldest operating electric lifts in Sydney, which demonstrate the processes of goods handling in the past. It is important for its historic and symbolic associations with Australia's involvement in both World Wars, as the embarkation and disembarkation point for troops, and with immigrants for whom the wharf was their arrival point. The overall scale of the structure, the sizes of the individual components and the quality of construction are in the technical sense outstanding and have impact upon the observer comparable with that of the great monuments of antiquity. The public reaction to proposals for the demolition of the wharf shows that there is an extensive community esteem to these qualities (RNE 016335)
Date significance updated: 22 Mar 01
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.


Designer/Maker: HD Walsh
Builder/Maker: Sydney Harbour Trust
Construction years: 1910-1916
Physical description: Woolloomooloo Finger Wharf is a turpentine piled wharf of 400 m long and 64m wide (approximately 2 times as long and times wider than each of the wharves at Walsh Bay, Sydney). The building on the wharf takes the form of twin storey sheds (Nos. 6, 7 and 8, 9) flanking a central covered roadway. Halfway along its length the building is crossed by an open transcept linking the two outer sides of the wharf. The gates, gateposts and spear fence at the entrance to the wharf are possibly the only remains of the nineteenth century Cowper Wharf complex. The building is characterised by the three parallel and immensely long pitched roofs of the two sheds and the roadway and by the flat wall surfaces patterned by the repetitive lines of the structural grid and the alternating rhythm of infill panels.

The Port of Sydney took advantage of its small tidal range of only 1.7m and its access to the best hard timbers in the world to build enduring timber pile structures with timber warehouses. It is said to be the largest remaining timber pile wharf in the world. It is the only wharf in Sydney with a central roadway on timber piles and is the largest all pile finger wharf ever built in Sydney.

The wharf contains a number of significant items of industrial archaeology. Originally eight electrically driven bale elevators and four electric lifts were provided. Today it contains the only examples in the State of electrically driven goods conveyers running from the central roadway to the upper level, and one of the oldest operating electric lifts in Sydney. (RNE 016335)
Physical condition and/or
Archaeological potential:
Contains sites of archaeological potential. (CSHI3041)
Date condition updated:04 Dec 98
Modifications and dates: 1924 - wharf extended by 30m at northern end; c1943 - berthing fenders constructed; 1957 - Berth 7 converted to passenger terminal; 1993 - modernisation of office areas at shoreward end. (CSHI3041)
Current use: Hotel and residential apartments, restaurants, marina
Former use: Wharf, passenger terminal


Historical notes: The Woolloomooloo Finger Wharf appeared during an era of large finger wharf building. It was built on the site of Sydney's first fish market (1872-1910) for the Sydney Harbour Trust, which was created in 1900 to bring order to the chaotic state of the wharves throughout the harbour and began a substantial rebuilding programme.

The jetty was commenced in 1910 and was largely completed by 1913. The Engineer-in-Chief was Henry D Walsh. The wharf has a length of 410m and a width of 64m and is composed of two side sheds running almost the length of the jetty, connected by a covered walkway.

An extension (approximately 30m) to the wharf was added in 1916. Further development in the form of road building, wharf and pile repair, and shed construction continued up to early 1920s, expanding on the pattern already created. It then became one of the major wool dispatch points, the site of Sydney's only wool dumps (where wool bales are compressed by hydraulic plugs) and the terminal for some of the largest ships entering Sydney Harbour.

In 1926, the northern end shed was constructed to serve as a store and a carpenter's shop. During World War 1 and World War 2, the wharf was an embarkation point for troops boarding converted passenger liners to be transported to foreign theatres of the wars.

The finger wharf was an operational working wharf for much of the twentieth century. For about 70 years it primarily handled the export of wool. It took overseas shipping from Europe and America, as well as from the Pacific. It also acted as a staging point for troop deployment to both World Wards, as well as a disembarkation point for new migrants arriving in Australia (Wentworth Courier, 2014, 18).

Shed No.7 was altered in 1956 when it was upgraded to a passenger terminal. This section of the wharf was one of the principal passenger wharves in Sydney and was one of the first contact points for migrants to Australia (RNE 016335).

By the 1970s, new container ports with larger wharfing facilities and cruise liner terminals around the city meant that the use of the wharf declined. By the 1980s the wharf lay derelct and in 1987 the State Government decided to demolish it. A new 440 berth marina and resort complex was approved to replace it. But when demolition was due to begin in January 1991, locals blocked the entrance to the site. Public sentiment was for retention and a host of public meetings were held before unions imposed a Green Ban which stopped demolition crews from undertaking work. Other calls for the site were canvassed and included a museum of work and industry.

The wharf was leased to a private company, Wharf At Woolloomooloo Pty Ltd (a joint venture of Walker Corporation and Multiplex). In 1999 the Walker Corporation and Multiplex completed a $300m makeover that created 300 apartments, a hotel and a marina. The development has since attracted some famous tenants, among them actor Russell Crowe and radio presenter John Laws (Wentworth Courier, 2014, 18).

An array of restaurants on the ground floor of the wharf have become one of Sydney's notable dining spots, and the hotel is now operated by the Taj Hotel Group, as the Blue Hotel (ibid, 2014, 18).

Historic themes

Australian theme (abbrev)New South Wales themeLocal theme
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Events-Activities and processes that mark the consequences of natural and cultural occurences (none)-
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Industry-Activities associated with the manufacture, production and distribution of goods (none)-
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Technology-Activities and processes associated with the knowledge or use of mechanical arts and applied sciences (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)-
7. Governing-Governing Defence-Activities associated with defending places from hostile takeover and occupation Involvement with the First (Great) World War-
7. Governing-Governing Defence-Activities associated with defending places from hostile takeover and occupation Involvement with the Second World War-

Assessment of significance

SHR Criteria a)
[Historical significance]
Of historical significance as the only surviving finger wharf built and rebuilt at Woolloomooloo, 1880s - 1920s, and for its association with both World Wars as the soldiers' embarkation point and its ability to demonstrate patterns of industrial development. (Sydney City Council undated)
It contains the largest wharf built by the Sydney Harbour Trust (1900-1936). It is one of the few remaining structures in Woolloomooloo which has direct associations with that suburbs commercial history. Berth No.7 was the second passenger wharf built in Sydney after WW2. (Sydney City Council undated)
SHR Criteria c)
[Aesthetic significance]
Of architectural significance as an excellent example of its type in its detailing, design and form and scale, the largest timber pile wharf in Sydney Harbour. An innovative Australian adaptation of foreign wharf design and rationalised cargo handling processes by the engineers of the Sydney Harbour Trust. (CSHI 3041)
SHR Criteria d)
[Social significance]
Of social significance as demonstrated by the response by an extensive community to the proposed demolition of the structure.
SHR Criteria e)
[Research potential]
Part of the Aboriginal 'Eora' territory, which is reflected in the name "Woolloomooloo" reflecting this former Aboriginal occupation of the area. It contains sites of archaeological potential. It is the largest of all finger wharves built in the Port of Sydney and one of the largest in the world in the Edwardian period. Also contains early 20th century pieces of machinery which are possibly of high significance. Contains a significant quantity of Australian hardwood. (CSHI 3041)
SHR Criteria f)
Integrity/Intactness: The wharf is undergoing extensive refurbishment for adaptive reuse as hotel and residential accommodation.
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.

Procedures /Exemptions

Section of actDescriptionTitleCommentsAction date
57(2)Exemption to allow workStandard Exemptions SCHEDULE OF STANDARD EXEMPTIONS
Notice of Order Under Section 57 (2) of the Heritage Act 1977

I, the Minister for Planning, pursuant to subsection 57(2) of the Heritage Act 1977, on the recommendation of the Heritage Council of New South Wales, do by this Order:

1. revoke the Schedule of Exemptions to subsection 57(1) of the Heritage Act made under subsection 57(2) and published in the Government Gazette on 22 February 2008; and

2. grant standard exemptions from subsection 57(1) of the Heritage Act 1977, described in the Schedule attached.

Minister for Planning
Sydney, 11 July 2008

To view the schedule click on the Standard Exemptions for Works Requiring Heritage Council Approval link below.
Sep 5 2008

PDF Standard exemptions for works requiring Heritage Council approval


Heritage ListingListing TitleListing NumberGazette DateGazette NumberGazette Page
Heritage Act - State Heritage Register 0143718 Apr 00   
Heritage Act - s.170 NSW State agency heritage register 4920028   
Regional Environmental Plan SREP2305 Jun 90   
Heritage study CSHI-304101 Jan 89   
National Trust of Australia register   24 Sep 84   
Within a National Trust conservation area Sydney Harbour24 Jan 83   
Register of the National Estate 016335   

Study details

TitleYearNumberAuthorInspected byGuidelines used
Maritime Services Board Heritage and Conservation Register : Sydney Harbour19902025Anglin Associates  No
City of Sydney Heritage Study 3041Sydney City Council  No
Marine Ministerial Holding Corporation S170 Register1999 Heritage Unit, Department of Public works & Services  Yes

References, internet links & images

TypeAuthorYearTitleInternet Links
Tourism 2007Woolloomooloo Finger Wharf - Berths 6, 7, 8 & 9 View detail
TourismAttraction Homepage2007Woolloomooloo Finger Wharf - Berths 6, 7, 8 & 9 View detail
WrittenB.Little, S.Clarke, W.Whittaker1984National Trust of Australia (NSW) Classification
WrittenDoring, Margret2016'Woolloomooloo Finger Wharf - the rise, decline and amazing resuscitation from near death of a Sydney icon (in two parts) View detail
WrittenWentworth Courier, The2014'Ten things you might not have known about the Woolloomooloo Wharf', in Eastern Suburbs Insider

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: Heritage Office
Database number: 5051359
File number: EF14/5703; S90/03363/6

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.

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