Looking Back: Hall once home to waterside 'wharfies'

HISTORIC places enliven our history and provide a physical connection to people, events and movements from the past.

However, all too often the places that remain for us to see are the grand and imposing; the mansions, the churches and office blocks.

The nature of the buildings preserved then determines the strands of history that are recognised.

We therefore begin to lose that physical connection to a significant part of our community's history; that of the working class.

One of the most important buildings we have in the Maryborough CBD is the heritage listed Waterside Workers' Hall.

This humble timber structure is a link to a very essential part of our past and the men who worked on the wharves at the Port of Maryborough.

The Waterside Workers' Hall's exact origins are obscure but from 1918 it functioned as the headquarters for the Maryborough branch of the Waterside Workers Federation.

The Waterside Workers' Hall, essential to the working class at Maryborough's wharves.
The Waterside Workers' Hall, essential to the working class at Maryborough's wharves.

The land was donated to the union by Jack Ryan, the publican of the adjacent Riverview Hotel (now known as the Criterion).

It took on a number of roles, specifically as a meeting place, a union office and a pick-up centre for the workers

As with the Bond Store, Customs House and Port warehouses, this building tells an essential aspect of the story of the Port of Maryborough.

While the river banks are much quieter now, for many decades they were a hive of activity and a major place of employment with wharves stretching from the site of the Brolga Theatre to past the Granville Bridge.

This hall was central to that work.

Prior to 1943, workers were selected according to the Bull System whereby who would be employed for each shift would be chosen by the shipping bosses.

However during the Second World War this was changed and they were then selected by their union on a rotational basis.

Both systems required the men to present themselves for work on notice of the arrival of a ship.

In Maryborough, some companies required the wharfies to meet at the wharves.

Others, such as local timber firms of Hyne and Sons and Wilson Hart are recorded as using the Hall as a pick-up centre, which, as a sheltered building with seating was preferred by the wharfies to the open sheds on the wharves.

With changes in communication and transportation plus the development and increasing importance of Urangan as a deep water sugar and fuel port, the port at Maryborough began to decline.

By the 1950s Maryborough wharfies were being increasingly employed at Urangan but with Maryborough remaining the pick-up place for local workers.

On March 18, 1963 the last work was performed by waterside workers at Maryborough, bringing to an end the tradition which is encapsulated in the built form of this humble structure.

Recently a local organisation, the Save Our Waterside Workers' Union Hall Inc, has been formed with the aim of acquiring and preserving this vitally important historical building.

If you are able to help in any way, please contact me on 0448 183 372. If you have any photographs or stories relating to the building we would love to hear from you.

This hall saw a great deal of Maryborough's history with hundreds of wharfies coming through it over the years.

It is a testament to the working lives of these Maryborough men who ensured the port worked effectively.

Together with the other maritime related buildings, its continuing presence on Wharf St long after the port has closed is a connection worth retaining.

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