Geelong Harbour Precinct – from Wasteland to Wonderland

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When people think of Geelong, there are several instant memories – the Geelong Waterfront and Kardinia Park – or Simmonds Stadium as it is now known.

The Waterfront has undergone a massive transformation over the last 25 years. From what was effectively an industrial wasteland with oil wharves, extractive industries and port infrastructure no longer in use, the area has now been transformed. Now one can walk from the Eastern Beach Parklands, including the restored beachside and nearby Botanical Gardens right through to Rippleside Park in Geelong West, enjoying Corio Bay, whilst partaking of the many cafés, dining opportunities and recreational pursuits.

Of course it hasn’t always been this way. It had very humble beginnings as a wool shipping port. And that means a very unpleasant area with odours from wool scouring (washing the manure from the wool), tanneries and other livestock based industries. In 1840 the first regular steamer service was running between the Ports of Melbourne (Sandridge) and Geelong. The first wool shipments had been dispatched to England in 1841. With the Gold Rush of 1852 Geelong’s population increased twentyfold. Ships anchored in Corio Bay and thousands disembarked and made their way to ‘the diggings’.

The area was always somewhat dampened and stilled by the presence of the huge Wool Stores on the harbour’s edge – buildings full of wool, not people.

The Geelong Steampacket project, commenced in 1996, was to transform the precinct. The site chosen was one of these now ghostly largely unoccupied Dalgety Woolstores. The Woolstores spanned much of the waterfront area real estate.

As it stood the waterfront had a number of iconic and interesting features. The Eastern Beach Art Deco Bathing Complex was constructed between 1928 and 1939. Cunningham Pier, originally built in 1850 was and still is a central feature. It was originally called ‘Railway Pier’, and that was its main purpose – to transfer goods from rail to ship. It was eventually refurbished in 2006 after being purchased by local business identity Frank Costa. Then there was the Carousel Pavilion, with its 1892 steam driven carousel, The Royal Geelong Yacht Club and the very unique and identifiably ‘Geelong’ Bayside Bollards.

In 1995 the then Victorian Government and the City of Greater Geelong created an entity called the Steampacket Place Development Board. The aims of the partnership were to redevelop and beautify the area, stimulate the local economy and attract Tourism. The Steampacket Place Development Board was formed to guide the project. Keys Young were engaged as the Town Planners. Their resultant plan received an award in 1996 for Planning Excellence from the Royal Australian Planning Institute. A code was written and adopted with all adjoining areas required to integrate with the new coded area zoned a Special Use Zone (Waterfront Geelong). Keys Young developed a flexible masterplan for this selected area.

Landscape architects Taylor Cullity Lethlean were selected to interpret and develop the ‘hard landscape’ aspects of the plan, and to design the hard and soft landscape for the project.

The key elements of the plan were:

  • Ideals of research and innovation in industry and education to be expressed in both the design and sire activities. The waterfront is to be a representation of the future aspirations of Geelong.
  • Reinforce the primary links to the waterfront connecting the Central Activities Area along Bellerine, Yarra, Moorabool and Gheringhap Streets.
  • Heighten the sense of Waterfront Geelong by activating pedestrian relationships with the water.
  • Protect the view-lines to the bay along the principle streets.
  • Create a high quality promenade link along the waterfront connecting Eastern Beach parklands through to Rippleside parklands.
  • Provide a range of eating, dining and recreational spaces whilst retaining a primarily urban parkland image.
  • Identify opportunities for a range of art components that enliven the waterfront, integrate into the landscape and speak of Geelong as a centre for technology, innovation and research.

The first stage saw the conversion of the Dennys Lascelles Woolstores on Western Beach Rd into a Deakin University campus in 1994-96. This project was budgeted at $30 million.

The Busport Transport Interchange was also developed at the same time servicing Greater Geelong and the Surf Coast with public buses. It also provides carparking for 200 vehicles.

The full restoration of Eastern Beach was completed in 1996 including the swimming enclosure, the children’s pool, established palm trees and the renovation of the Art Deco Beach House. A mineral spa centre is now planned for the precinct as well.

In 1998-99 the ‘Steampacket Quay’ was built by the local firm Geelong Civil Constructions at the base of Moorabool St. It provides an exciting vista on the edge of the city and a watersports activity centre for boating enthusiasts. It provides a Melbourne-Geelong ferry terminal and a place for anchorage of seaplanes.

Perhaps Geelong’s most recognisable foreshore features are its Baywalk Bollards. These were created by local artist Jan Mitchell and reflect local history and character in a whimsical and comical fashion. There are well over a hundred of these art pieces placed strategically throughout the entire precinct.

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So we can see the transformation from an industrial wasteland, an embarrassing reminder of the past disrespect for this coastal shoreline into a modern thoroughly delightful liveable precinct. A place where no longer oil slicks, pollution and neglected rubbish strewn banks mar the vista. A place where a well designed, clever implementations of a truly living precinct now exists for today’s residents of Geelong; and its thousands of regular visitors from Melbourne and elsewhere. Relax, exercise or simply take in the view. Geelong – the Harbourside City.

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Balance Architecture recognises the importance of the preservation of Historical Architecture. We specialise in the renovation and restoration of Heritage Buildings.

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