Hervey Bay Historical Society and Museum

Bay icon celebrated for 25th time

TOMORROW a local icon comes alive again for the 25th time since it was almost demolished, taking with it almost 100 years of history and the fond memories of generations of locals.

“Even when I was growing up as a kid, that's all anyone talked about, Urangan Pier,” says Lawrie West, president of the Fraser Lions and organiser of the 2010 Pier Festival.

And it seems like everyone still loves to talk about the place.

The Urangan Pier has a long and storied history, beginning construction in 1913 and officially opening as the Port of Maryborough in 1917.

In its hey-day it was one of the busiest piers in Queensland and, at more than a kilometre long, required full-size steam engines to tow cargo wagons up and down its length filled with coal, sugar and timber for export around the world.

By the 1950s the Urangan Pier was a commercial hub for the area, popular not only with foreign ships keen on local sugar, but also with the neighbourhood kids.

Hervey Bay Historical Society and Museum president John Andersen, who was born and bred in the area, says he and his friends used to ride down to the pier on a weekend to muck around in the cargo ships and marvel at the visitors from far-away places like China, Japan and India.

“It was quite a novelty to see, because in those days the Bay was just purely Europeans, there was not a mix of nationalities like there is now,” he said.

He remembers trying to cadge exotic coins and stamps off sailors, and exploring the deep in the bowels of the sugar ships docked there, a pastime that would be impossible today.

“You'd go all over the ship, up into the wheelhouse, down into the engine room, down into the propeller shaft. You just can't believe in this day and age that it actually happened,” he says.

But, according to Geoff Cornwell, sometimes the sailors didn't take too kindly to that and the kids would cop a serve if they strayed too far.

“When we were kids back in the mid-50s we used to go down there and annoy the hell out of the sailors,” he says.

“They'd be chasing us around there like idiots.”

But he says it was all good, clean fun and the boys ended up building a rapport with the sailors, who got to know them after they'd put in at the pier a few times.

Hervey Bay Historical Society and Museum publicity officer Brian Taylor says the pier started to change in the late '50s, when the Bundaberg Port took over sugar exports and most of the traffic moved up the coast.

After that it was used for fuel imports by Caltex, before that too stopped and the pier fell into commercial disuse.

Although the steam ships and commercial boats had left, the community's love for the pier remained, and it stayed an icon of the region and a local fishing hotspot.

And Mr Taylor says when the pier was slated for demolition by the State Government in 1985, the people of Hervey Bay made their voices heard loud and clear.

“There was a very large public outcry and petitions and so on to stop it being demolished, which was good because if they hadn't done that we'd have had no pier at all,” says Mr Taylor.

In the end the locals were successful and the demolition was halted in 1986, but not before about 200 metres of the pier had already been torn down.

Since then, a lot of work has taken place to restore the pier to its former glory, with the latest work done with a cash injection of $2.7 million from the Fraser Coast Regional Council in 2009.

Mr Taylor says it was a good investment.

“It's a pity it was knocked down at all, any of it,” he said.

“And now that the land adjacent to the pier is being developed it's become even more important because it's a community focal point now.”

Lawrie West says the Urangan Pier Festival was originally started as part of the campaign to save the pier, but since the council stepped in all funds have been going to local causes.

For a place that was once to be demolished, it's still got a lot of life in it, with the festival attracting thousands every year and locals still going down every day for a walk or a fish.

And Mr West says that, thanks to the efforts of the community, the Urangan Pier is now safe for future generations.

“It's part of the Bay's history,” he says.

“It couldn't disappear.”



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