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Manly Ferries Are More Than Just Public Transport for the Harbour City


Yasmin Catley MP


The Berejiklian Government’s years long antipathy for its heritage ferries reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of the importance of these icons both for marketing our city to the world and for sustaining more than a century of tradition on the shores of a harbour which defines Sydney’s sense of self.

The double-ended harbour ferry has been a part of Sydney’s ferry network since 1879, when the Wallaby was first introduced by the North Shore Ferry Company. Over the past 140 years we have had a series of similar vessels, many of which have entered the lexicon to describe and typify Sydney Harbour – the South Steyne, the Lady-class ferries, and finally, the Freshwater class.

The State Government refused to consider retaining the Lady Northcott and the Lady Herron, even though they were loved by tourists and locals alike. These two grand old dames of the Harbour were towed to Newcastle in the dead of night earlier this year and put up for sale, reminding us once again that the Berejiklian Government knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.

Just as we are being told now about the Freshwaters, the cost of maintenance and the need to make custom parts to keep the old Ladies running was cited as the reason for their withdrawal, against a backdrop of protest from the travelling public.

We must not allow the Government to do the same thing with the Freshwaters. They are the last remaining link with Sydney’s rich and storied maritime past, but that doesn’t make them obsolete. These four ships provide many thousands of miles of reliable, safe and efficient service every week for many thousand commuters, tourists and local day-trippers alike.

We can take no comfort from Andrew Constance’s proposal for the staged scrapping of the Freshwater-class ferries. The suggestion that one boat would be kept for summer holiday trips is fanciful. In practice, the last boat would be scrapped by the Liberal Government the moment any costly maintenance or repair work was required because it makes no sense to sustain a vessel class of one type, without the economy of scale provided by maintaining a fleet of four.

The Labor Opposition has been campaigning hard on the importance of local jobs. We want to see local manufacturing workers supported to build the world’s best trains, trams and ferries for New South Wales public transport passengers. But we also respect the work and expertise of the past. The Freshwater­-class ferries, like the Lady-class vessels, were built in Newcastle and their longevity and reliability is a testament to the skill and quality of our local shipbuilders.

To that end, when the Freshwater-class vessels do reach their end of life, they should be replaced by a high-quality, fit for purpose vessel which is built by a local shipyard using local workers’ expertise and skill. We have already learned the hard way what happens when a replacement fleet is built offshore for the cheapest possible price – the River Class vessels shipped in earlier this year from overseas were riddled with asbestos and have hundreds of manufacturing and engineering faults that will take months to resolve. To add insult to injury, they won’t fit underneath low level bridges along the Parramatta River without bringing passengers inside and lowering their masts at high tide.

Like Andrew Constance’s imported trains, the overseas built ferries don’t fit!

Nobody benefits from the Berejiklian Government’s antipathy for our maritime heritage and our manufacturing sector except the offshore shipyards that will build a steady supply of cheap and nasty replacements for the Manly ferries. And we will need a steady supply, because there is no way we will get forty or fifty years of reliable service from them like we have from the Freshwaters, or the Ladies, or indeed the Bingarra-type, which ran in one form or another from 1905 through to 1983 when the Baragoola was finally withdrawn from service.

However, the real madness of the Transport Minister’s decision is a practical one. The replacement ferries will only seat one third of the passengers and can’t handle the big swells between Sydney Heads that the Freshwaters can, meaning services will be cancelled sooner and more frequently. In more ways than one, this decision is a false economy seemingly driven by blind Liberal ideology.

The Berejiklian Government needs to be reminded that it is not just a contracts manager or a service provider for residents in New South Wales, but a custodian of many of our icons, traditions and our history. These icons and traditions must be preserved and built upon, not torn apart through some kind of bureaucratic sport to run the cheapest possible service.


Yasmin Catley is the Deputy Leader of NSW Labor and the Member for Swansea. Facebook Website