Station Pier history
Historically, Station Pier has been Australia’s welcoming point for generations of new arrivals.
Opened on 12 September 1854, it was formerly known as Railway Pier.
The Argus newspaper described it at the time as ‘memorable in the annals of Victoria and Australia’ because the railway line between Flinders Street and the pier was Australia’s first.
Operating for more than 160 years, the pier has been important in almost every phase of Australia’s history.
- In war and peace.
- Commemoration and celebration.
- Servicemen returning home.
- Migrants arriving from distant lands.
- Refugees arriving from war zones.
Some historic milestones
- Mid-1850s – The first major migrant arrivals for the Gold Rush.
- 1861 – The first English cricket team to tour Australia arrived.
- 1862 – Burke and Wills exhumed remains arrived from Adelaide.
- 1895 – The great horse Carbine (winner of the 1890 Melbourne Cup) was loaded to return to Britain.
- 1899 – The first Victorian and Tasmanian contingents left for the Boer War.
- 1908 – The Great White Fleet from the US visited.
- 1940s – Australian troops left from Station Pier headed to various World War II theatres of conflict.
- 1940s – General Douglas MacArthur’s first Australian base.
- 1950s – Hosted the royal yacht Gothic for Queen Elizabeth II’s first Australian tour.
Realigned and renamed
In 1930, Railway Pier was realigned and renamed Station Pier. The Melbourne Harbor Trust Commissioners spent £624,375 on it, including dredging the Port Melbourne Channel and the area around the pier to a depth of 10.4 metres.
The new pier could then accommodate the new generation luxury passenger liners.
But it was in the post-World War II years that Station Pier became the welcoming point for immigrants. This is why it holds such a special place in the hearts of many Victorians.
Between 1949 and 1966, an average of 61,000 passengers arrived every year, reaching 110,802 at its peak in 1960.
It was not uncommon to have four migrant vessels berthed at the same time and thousands of new arrivals disembarking in one day.
Today’s modern pier
Aeroplanes replaced ships for migrants in the early 1970s, and Station Pier was no longer the main arrival point for migrants. For many years, its only shipping operations were annual visits by P&O ships for the Spring Racing Carnival.
Station Pier has heritage status but has been transformed over the last few years into a modern cruise ship terminal.
It hosts navy ship visits throughout the year and was TT-Line’s mainland ferry terminal, linking Tasmania and Victoria, from the early 1980s until late 2022.
Improvements to the pier’s infrastructure and facilities are part of the long-term maintenance and capital improvement program of Ports Victoria. They will ensure it can serve as Victoria’s passenger gateway for cruise ships.
The long and perilous journey: A history of the Port of Melbourne, Judith Raphael Buckrich, published by Melbourne Books, Melbourne 2002, ISBN 1-877096-00-8.
Welcome & Farewell: The Story of Station Pier, by Jill Barnard with Sonia Jennings, published by Australian Scholarly Publishing, 2004.