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Fremantle Port Overview

working port

The port of Fremantle in the mouth of the Swan River, was opened in 1897. It was constructed at the direction of the Supervising Engineer of Public Works, Charles Yelverton O'Connor. Before its construction there was much debate about where the port should be: in the river, in the sea near its mouth, in Gage Roads, or in Cockburn Sound. The discussion continues to this day.

Before the port was opened, ships used at first to have to drop anchor somewhere in the sea near Fremantle. That this was a risky procedure is shown by various shipwrecks, notably that of the Marquis of Anglesea, 23 August 1829, which was wrecked on what was subsequently named Anglesea Point.

Then various jetties were built: in Bathers Bay, in South Bay, and out from Anglesea Point (the short and then the long jetties).

The port is under the control of an independent body called Fremantle Ports (formerly the Fremantle Port Authority). The plural is required because the organisation controls not only the Inner Harbour in the Swan River but also the Outer Harbour in Cockburn Sound. The current Harbour Master from 1 February 2021 is Captain Savio Fernandes.

The first administrator of the port of Fremantle was the first Harbour Master, Mark Currie, who arrived in 1829 with the first Governor, James Stirling. In 1903, the Fremantle Harbour Trust was set up. It became the Fremantle Port Authority 27 November 1964. And Fremantle Ports from 1999.


South Wharf in 1905

South Wharf

Victoria Quay was the name given to the South Wharf of the Inner Harbour in the Swan River at Fremantle - referring to the reign of Queen Victoria. It was given that name (after the death of the queen) by the Duchess of Cornwall and York (later Queen Mary) 26 July 1901 when she and the Duke (later King George V) visited. (The name could be changed back to the non-regal but more meaningful one.) The North Wharf is in 2022 almost entirely a container terminal. This page deals with the buildings on this southern wharf.

The two activities most typically seen on South Wharf involved the downloading and security of motor vehicles from large ships — and the visits of cruise ships (except for during the Covid period), which moor at the two-storey Passenger Terminal. Unfortunately, the two activities occur right next to each other. The car unloading is not affected, but there is a deleterious effect on the human passengers, who experience difficulty in getting transport to and from their ship due to serious security fencing. Also, it's not a good look.

In 2022 it is proposed the RoRo function (delivering motor vehicles) be transferred to the north wharf. As it is also proposed in 2022 that the port be moved to Cockburn Sound (where arguably it should always have been), there are many plans being hatched for the South Wharf.

Cargo Sheds

There were as many as nine cargo transit sheds on South Wharf, identified by letters from A to I. Cargo sheds A-D are still on the wharf, but E Shed is now on the other side of the access road, and functioning as a tourist market and restaurant facility. J Shed has been moved to Arthur Head.

Historian David Hutchison had a go at writing the history of the sheds, but it is a long and complicated story, and you might need to jump to the summary at the end of the article - which is available online on this site.

In October 2019 Fremantle Ports asked for Expression of Interest from parties interested in leasing A Shed (1925-6), which was leased to the WA Museum for their use as offices and storage associated with the activites of the Maritime Museum which is adjacent. The Museum exhibited boats in B Shed until the new building was available in 2002, and many of those old boats were later storedin this shed, until it was handed over to Gage Roads brewery. From 2022, this shed has become a booze barn: Gage Roads.

B Shed (1925-6) housed in recent memory a vintage car museum, part of the Peter Briggs collection (which is now the York Motor Museum). That was closed in 2008, and the shed now houses the STS Leeuwin office and store at one end with the Rottnest Ferry booking office at the other, with a rarely used performance space in between.

C Shed (1903-4) is the oldest shed on the wharf. It and D Shed (1928-9) were not in use in the early 2020s, which is amazing when you think of the value of some 5000m^ of available covered space. Fremantle Ports obviously get enough income from the operation of the port as such. C Shed's renovation is now complete in late 2023, and we await Ports' announcement of a tenant (or use).

The Immigration Complex


Google's image shows the gap between C and D Sheds on the left (and a naval ship in port) and the four buildings in the immigration complex. From the top they are: the cafeteria, immigration office (and toilet), waiting room, electricity substation.


Fremantle Library photo c. 1909 no. 976: The Western Australian Immigration Office and Information Bureau on the Fremantle wharf at Victoria Quay. It was completed 29.11.1906 at a cost of 1002 pounds. It stood near the C shed for six years and was then moved to the Railway reserve at the Market Street bridge. In 1907 there were 949 assisted and nominated passages to Western Australia and in 1911, 9578.


The building with the sign 'The Old Police Station' was the Immigration Office. It is currently wire-fenced. The statue of C.Y. O'Connor used to stand in front of this building, looking towards the harbour that he originated. (It now stands in front of the Fremantle Ports building but looking to the east, in the direction of the water pipeline to the Goldfields that was his other enormous achievement.) The sign used to say TOURIST AND IMMIGRATION BUREAU. The small building on the right was a public toilet.

The former Waiting Room (1928) is being allowed to fall into disrepair by Fremantle Ports.


The back of the old waiting room.


The largest building is the 1945 lumpers cafeteria now called the C.Y. O'Connor Centre. It was also known as the Security Centre. This building required the demolition of the 'First and Last Store in Australia', Mr Rochefort's refreshment room and tobacconist shop.


Central entrance on the southeastern side of the O'Connor Centre.

The Passenger Terminal


The Passenger Terminal (1964) is a large and significant building which is still used by cruise ships despite access to its southern side being compromised by the area being mainly used for the temporary parking of imported motor vehicles. It was designed by Hobbs Winning & Leighton, the firm founded by J.J. Talbot Hobbs.

The Maritime Museum


Cox Howlett & Bailey Woodland's Maritime Museum (2002) is near the most western extremity of the wharf.

The Harbour Trust building


The 1893 Harbour Trust building - seen here in its original position on Arthur Head, when it was the office of the Supervising Engineer of Public Works, C.Y. O'Connor - was on the FPA site until 1962.


The Port Authority building

The Fremantle Ports building (seen here from the Dalgety building) is very close to the southern wharf, tho it has the nominal street address 1 Cliff St. The organisation's name now has 'ports' in the plural because it controls not only the port in the Swan River, but also various facilities in Cockburn Sound. The present Harbour Master (since 2008) is Allan Gray.

References and Links

Appleyard, Reg 2012, 'Port plans: Stirling to O'Connor'Fremantle Studies, 7: 123-136. 

Dowson, John 2001, Fremantle: the Immigration Story, Fremantle Society.

Dowson, John 2003, Old Fremantle: Photographs 1850-1950, UWAP.

Dowson, John 2011, Fremantle Port, Chart and Map Shop Fremantle.

Dowson, John 2014, Off to War: WWI 1914-1918, TFS Corp, 2014.

Ewers, John K. 1971, The Western Gateway: A History of Fremantle, Fremantle City Council, with UWAP, rev. ed. [1st ed. 1948].

Fletcher, Tony 1999, 'Fremantle 1939-1945: extraordinary events at the port'Fremantle Studies, 1: 25-29.

Harcourt, Geoff 1999, 'The purple circle'Fremantle Studies, 1: 39-46.

Hutchison, David 1999, 'Shedding light on sheds in transit', Fremantle Studies, 1: 66-76. [See also: sheds on Victoria Quay.]

Hutchison, David 2006, 'Walk 1: Victoria Quay', Fremantle Walks.

Hutchison, David 2012, '"Bloody Sunday" revisited', in Paul Arthur Longley & Geoffrey Bolton, Voices from the West End: Stories, People and Events that Shaped Fremantle, WA Museum: 210-249.

Ludewig, Alexandra 2014, 'Fremantle Port: gateway to abeyance', Fremantle Studies, 8: 78-95.

Macintyre, Stuart, 1984, Militant: The Life and Times of Paddy Troy, Allen & Unwin.

Oliver, Bobbie 2019, 'War on the waterfront', Radical Perth Militant Fremantle, Interventions, Melbourne: 231-239.

Oliver, Bobbie 2019, 'Fremantle's Bloody Sunday', Radical Perth Militant Fremantle, Interventions, Melbourne: 241-250.

Peters, Nonja 2004, 'The immigration buildings Victoria Quay 1906-1966'Fremantle Studies, 3: 40-52.

Stevens, J.W.B. 1929, The History of the Fremantle Harbour, A Romance in Port Building, in Hitchcock, qv.

Tull, Malcolm 1997, A Community Enterprise: the History of the Port of Fremantle 1897-1997, International Maritime Economic History Association, St Johns, NL.

Fremantle Ports, Administration Building: a booklet called 50 Years Administration Building may be downloaded from that page as a PDF..

Notes in Fremantle, the newsletter of the Fremantle Society: October 1994 (E Shed), August 1998March 2004August 2007September 2008March 2010October 2014.

Fremantle Ports website

See also: lumpers.

Top photo courtesy Roel Loopers.

Garry Gillard | New: 18 September, 2017 | Now: 10 January, 2024