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Developing trade and port histories: Port Adelaide - further development

Changes in governance

Port AdelaideMeanwhile in 1856, the government leased its Queen's Wharf to Fox Lloyd and Company for 21 years. While the government maintained responsibility for navigation lights and dredging of the harbour, it was no longer responsible for wharves and berths. These were all now in private hands. In 1860 all three bodies managing the port - Trinity House, Local Marine Board and Port Adelaide Harbor Trust - were abolished and the Marine Board of South Australia was enacted in the Marine Board Act (Number 17 of 1860 An Act to consolidate the Acts relating to the regulation of the ports, harbors, havens, ... and for the better regulation of shipping ...).

The Marine Board and Navigation Act (Number 237 of 1881) extended these responsibilities to cover ports, lighthouses, buoys, beacons, wharves, jetties, dredges and barges everywhere in South Australia. Physical maintenance of the dockyards was passed to the Department of the Engineer-in-Chief in 1888, under the terms of a clause in the 1881 Act.

This Act stood until 1913 when the Harbors Act created the South Australian Harbors Board (Number 1149 of 1913 An Act to provide for the acquisition by the Crown of wharves, water frontages and similar properties and to make better provision for the management and control of harbors ...).  This brought all aspects of harbour management back into government hands. (In 1915 the Commonwealth government took control of all lighthouses in South Australia, except those in ports and rivers.  (See Lighthouses of South Australia)

Twentieth century developments

Perhaps the major development of the early 20th century was the construction of the Outer Harbor at the tip of Lefevre Peninsula. The growing size of ships in the late 19th century saw many of them unable or unwilling to negotiate the passage to Port Adelaide. Moorings were laid off Semaphore but passengers and mail were off loaded to lighters and taken to the jetty for transfer to Adelaide. This process was exposed to all weather and was hardly satisfactory. In addition there was no wharfage for cargo. During the late 19th century private enterprise began reclaiming the land, but lacked the money to complete the work. Others also worked to the same ends. It was even proposed to build a harbour at Marino, at the southern end of Holdfast Bay. Port Adelaide was slipping behind the other Australian ports, because of the limitations on the size of the ships it could handle. The Outer Harbor scheme was raised again. The railway was extended to the end of the peninsula; work began on the construction of wharves. Money ran out, and the Marine Board took over, completing wharves, breakwater and channel. On 16 January 1908 the Outer Harbor was opened: there were 275 metres of wharf, and the shipping channel was 60 metres wide, 10 metres deep with a swinging basin 900 metres by 300 metres. Outer Harbor was and remains the 'easiest to enter of any sheltered harbour on the Australian coast.'

When the government acquired the wharfs at Port Adelaide under the Harbor Act of 1913, it quickly discovered that they were old and in a state of disrepair. Many of them did not have sufficient depth to allow newer vessels to use them. A programme of dock deepening and wharf replacement began. Reinforced concrete platforms, new piles buried deep within soil backfill, and steel facings was the new order. Ocean Steamers Wharf and No.2 Quay on the eastern side of the river were the first to receive this treatment, with 10 metres depth at low water. Wide bituminised cargo aprons and flush rails and new open plan sheds expedited the loading of trains and trucks. Restoration work continued around the port, although not all wharfs were treated. No.1 Dock and McLaren Wharf were redesigned, necessitating some demolition or relocation of buildings. Dredging of the channel continued, with new dredges acquired in 1916.  The spoil from this was used for land reclamation.

In the late 1920s bulk handling facilities for coal and petrol were built. These were located well away from the Inner Harbor, in part because of the explosion and fire on SS City of Singapore, in which the ship's back was broken and three firemen lost their lives.

The Birkenhead Bridge was opened in December 1940 and in 1969 a new Jervois Bridge, replaced the original swing bridge which had operated since 1878. The new bridge was fixed however as there was no longer the need for shipping to proceed further upriver.

In 1950 Port Adelaide was rated as the third busiest port in Australia: it had the berthing capacity for 41 ships, with 6 kilometres of wharfs. The Greater Port Adelaide Plan was published that year with plans for the expansion of the port. Reconstruction of the wharfs continued, and in 1960 facilities were built to handle the roll-on/roll-off ship Troubridge. This was on the site of the old Copper Company and Prince's Wharfs. Bulk handling facilities for coal and other bulk materials were built. In 1963 huge grain silos were constructed at No. 27 berth with bulk handling facilities. The 1960s saw containers beginning to dominate world shipping. Port Adelaide had to hurry to catch up. In 1972 Outer Harbor was deepened and the container terminal built at a cost of $8.7 million dollars. Extensions to this facility have continued. A roll-on/roll-off facility is also available for the export of cars.

The road bridge for the Port River Expressway was opened for traffic 3 August 2008; the parallel rail bridge opened earlier in May 2008. Together these two bridges will link Outer Harbor and its rail terminals directly to the National Highway via Port Wakefield Road, and to the interstate mainline rail network. The expressway consists of three stages: a 5.5 kilometre expressway link, and both a road and rail bridge across the Port River between Docks 1 and 2. Both bridges will be opening bridges, but with set times for the openings: 6am and 7pm weekdays and 10am, 3pm and 6pm on weekends 'when there are ships waiting to enter the harbour.' The road bridge is named after Tom 'Diver' Derrick, and the rail bridge after Mary MacKillop. The expressway opened in 2005, and the bridges in 2008. The project is 'an important strategic transport route for South Australia, which will ... [link] our export enterprises and industrial areas with key transport routes and facilities.'

The majority of Port Adelaide's shipping is at Outer Harbor or downstream from the Inner Harbor.  The 'New Port' as conceived in 1940 is largely used for pleasure craft such as dolphin cruises, or visiting naval vessels, or historical replica vessels such as the Duyfken.  The 1986 Jubilee Sail Training Ship One and All also used this area, (until recently) tying up at the end of Lipson Street (it has now re-located to Port Augusta).

Further reading:

Couper-Smartt, John Port Adelaide: tales from a "commodious harbour" Port Adelaide: Friends of the South Australian Maritime Museum, 2003

Parsons, Ronald, Southern passages: a maritime history of South Australia Netley, S. Aust.: Wakefield Press, 1986

Ritter, Ron Triumph, tragedy and Port Adelaide [Para Vista, S. Aust.]: Ronald C. Ritter, 2005

Port River Expressway bridges: a marine users' guide for the Port River: advice for safely navigating the bridges of the Port River and responsible boating [Walkerville, S. Aust.: Dept. for Transport, Energy and Infrastructure], 2008

Birkenhead Bridge
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City of Singapore stern down
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Copper Company's Wharf
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Dock number 1
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Dredger Adelaide
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Fire on board City of Singapore
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Firefloat 'Ada'
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First Port River bridge
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First reinforced concrete wharf
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Fisher Swing Bridge
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Laurentic at Port Adelaide
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Manual handling on the wharves
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