Changes to Pyrmont – Ultimo from the 1960`s

Changes to Pyrmont – Ultimo from the 1960’s
Characteristics of area / workforce
Close to Sydney’s CBD – Central Business District (connected via the Pyrmont
Narrow streets
Series of older polluting factories, with outdated industrial technology
Clothing and footwear industries that were labour rather than capital intensive
A relatively unskilled population
Good access to a sheltered, deep water port
Shipping facilities – finger wharves
Reasons for the decline of industry in the Pyrmont – Ultimo area
Advances or changes in transportation technology in the 1960’s – the development of
container ships, crude oil tankers, bulk ore carriers and Ro-Ro (Roll-on Roll-off) shipping,
meant that the existing finger wharves could no longer cope with the increase in the size
of these new ships.
Finger wharves that had been in use for nearly 100 years had become useless.
New port / wharf facilities were needed. Shipping activity within Sydney Harbour was
relocated / transferred to Port Botany (Botany Bay) with the completion of the Port Botany
Container Terminal in the 1960’s and its expansion in the 1970’s. Sydney Harbour
became quieter as the container ships offloaded their cargo at Botany Bay. ‘Hammerhead
cranes’ lifted the containers onto the awaiting semi trailers which whisked their cargo via
an expanding network of highways / freeways and distributor roads.
Many of the wharves on the eastern side of Darling Harbour and near Pyrmont were
transformed to longshore wharves to cater for these much larger container vessels.
The remaining Pyrmont firms (CSR closed in 1993) that relied on road had to truck in
their supplies from Botany Bay and while the distances were not too far, the size of the
new semi-trailers which were able to carry these new containers and much larger
volumes of cargo, found it difficult to navigate the narrow, inner streets of Pyrmont –
At the same time that new shipping and road transportation technologies had emerged,
the technology of production had also changed. Firms went from being labour to
capital intensive. Instead of having a labour force of say 100 people to produce clothes
or footwear, with the new machinery, a staff of 25 may be able to do the same work.
(Firms automated) Large-scale unemployment resulted and became a feature of the
manufacturing (secondary industry) across Sydney and a feature of industrial economies
throughout the world in the 1960’s and 1970’s. The Goldsborough Mort Wool Stores that
had been in Pyrmont since the 1860’s / 1870’s relocated to Yennora, near Parramatta in
the 1960’s because of the new woollen bale handling technology and traffic congestion.
The new site covered 13 hectares with the warehouse occupied 3.25 ha or 32,500m 2, out
of a site covering 13 ha. The warehouse could store 10 million kgs of wool and had
sufficient room to allow for 300 truck movements per day.
These new automated firms needed larger premises. The old, inner city factory that was
close to the city was no longer suitable. Firms needed more room for this new production
technology. Industrial Parks were established on the ‘fringes’ of cities – in Sydney, the
western and some south-western suburbs; Smithfield, Silverwater, Parramatta, St Mary’s.
The road system started to change – highways and freeways were ideas imported from
America. Trams as a means of transport were phased out in 1963 and with them the
closure of the thermal power stations. Australians began their love affair with the motor
car in the 1950’s and 1960’s. The cost of cars decreased and people’s ability to afford
cars increased. New suburbs, away from existing railway lines, became a reality –
Sydney started to ‘sprawl’ across the Cumberland Plain.
New power sources also became available. The completion of the Snowy Mountains
Hydro Electric scheme meant that the polluting, coal-fired power stations of Pyrmont and
Ultimo eventually closed (1963) and gave way to the ‘cleaner’ hydro-electricity.
The passing of the NSW Clean Air Act in 1961 also meant that people could no longer
burn their waste (papers, garbage) in their backyard.
With an increasing number of firms closing or relocating to other parts of Sydney or
interstate or overseas, the level of unemployment within Pyrmont – Ultimo increased.
Some workers relocated or moved out of the area in search of work and left a much
smaller population.
Not only had transportation and production technology changed, so too,
communications technology. The development of STD and ISD – subscriber trunk
dialling and international subscriber dialling, automated telephone exchanges, the
development of the fax machine and subsequently, satellite communications, meant that
firms could communicate more effectively than ever before. Firms were now footloose.
They could locate where they chose. They did not need to be near the source of raw
materials, nor did they need to be close to their market, as the new shipping and
transportation technology would allow them to transport their goods wherever they were
Income for the council plummeted as both industries, firms and people left. Derelict
buildings (the Powerhouse, the Ultimo Power Stations 1963, the wool stores late 1960’s)
and an abandoned Darling Harbour railway goods yard 1984 -characterised this area –
urban decline gave way to urban decay. The area was ripe for redevelopment, especially
given its closeness to the city, its harbour views. As the bicentenary (1988) approached,
the NSW and Federal Governments saw an opportunity to redevelop this area of the
inner city – much like Manhattan, NY had been redeveloped in the 1980’s.
Photograph, Darling Harbour, from a full plate glass negative,
Kerry and Co, Sydney, Australia, c1884-1917.