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Published March 10th 2014
Old Port New Public Playground
Today the port of Geelong services hundreds of ships annually, turning around billions of dollars' worth of cargo. But pre-settlement, back in the early 1800's the western end of Corio Bay was a shallow backwater blocked by a sandbar which crossed the Bay on a line from Point Henry to Point Lillias. Before the port could develop much work needed to be done dredging channels to enable access by larger ships.
A revitalised Cunningham Pier is one of the features of Geelong's waterfront precinct
With the ships came the shore-based infrastructure including Mooroobool Street Wharf, Steamboat Wharf, Yarra Street and the Customs House Piers handling cargoes including the 'Golden Fleece', Victoria's wool-clip, the produce on which the city of Geelong was largely built.
In 1854 work began on the Railway Pier, a state-of-the-art wharf complete with a railway line which ran the length of the pier and down along Cunningham Street to the city centre.
Modified, tweaked and updated over the years the Railway Pier remained an integral part of the port into the 1970's. Today it's much better known as Cunningham Pier, but more of that later.
'Hello Sailor' - one of 103 carved bollards to be found along the length of Geelong's revitalised waterfront
By the early 1900's the city's waterfront was unable to cope with the number of ships visiting the port and new facilities were developed in North Geelong.
Mooroobool Street Pier was demolished in the 1950's, Yarra Street Pier was destroyed by fire in 1988 and by the early 1980's Cunningham Pier was unused and slowly deteriorating. So by the late 1980's, while Geelong's maritime industries flourished on the north shore, the cities original waterfront precinct was reduced to a run-down, disused industrial wasteland, a blight on the city skyline.
But take a look at it now.
From the mid- 1990's the investment of millions of dollars have turned that once derelict waterfront into a fabulous public leisure area and entertainment precinct.
Cunningham Pier has been the focal point for many major events and, recently rejuvenated, boasts the new Pier Function Centre, BAVERAS gourmet restaurant, The Dock Café and the City Quarter Bar.
The revitalised foreshore features attractions including helicopter scenic flights
Along with a totally revamped streetscape, parks and expansive grass areas stretch all the way from Eastern Park and Limeburners Point to the Esplanade and Rippleside.
Bars, restaurants and cafes abound alongside playgrounds, a skate park, a magnificent carousel and a host of seasonal attractions.
The front provides a favourite walk for locals and visitors, all the more interesting for the 103 carved bollards placed along the track and depicting characters from Geelong's past history. The work of artist Jan Mitchell, the characters were carved using recycled wharf timbers.
Geelong's Eastern Beach swimming enclosure has been around since the late 1930's. The fully-enclosed pool can accommodate thousands of swimmers. With its Lifesavers pavilion, beautiful art-deco kiosk, diving boards, floating islands and slides, children's pool plus a sandy beach and nearby playground it's little wonder that Eastern Beach has been a local favourite for almost a century.
The Eastern Beach swimming enclosure has been a favourite since the 1930's
The most striking individual element of Geelong's waterfront rehabilitation has to be the extremely rare 1892 vintage Armitage Herschell Carousel.
Following years in New York City, then at Mordialloc on the eastern shore of Port Phillip Bay, the carousel was part of a travelling carnival before being left to rot in a paddock on the Murray River at Echuca.
Once left derelict in a country paddock the refurbished 1892 Armitage Herschell Carousel takes pride of place on the Geelong foreshore
Sold at auction it was moved to Castlemaine before being purchased by The City of Greater Geelong for restoration. With 36 horses and 2 chariots the carousel was originally steam-powered but restoration included electrification. Twenty-four of the 36 horses are original, each requiring more than 300 man-hours of work to return them to their original condition.
Today, protected in a purpose-built pavilion it's one of very few carousels of its vintage still operating and one of the very best in the world.
The Carousel's purpose-built pavillion is a striking additon to the foreshore in its own right
Geelong's reviatlised waterfront provides a vibrant leisure and recreational area, the envy of many a coastal community and well worth a visit.