Making Maritime Memories

Pre-visit tasks

– A Visual Arts enrichment program to celebrate Sydney’s maritime history

Making maritime Memories is a Visual Arts enrichment program run by the Observatory Hill Environmental Education Centre. It involves you addressing an Artists Concept Brief to develop a Site Specific public art installation to be situated at the new Headland Park Barangaroo. The installation will celebrate Sydney Harbour’s maritime heritage, particularly in the area of Walsh Bay, Millers Point and Darling Harbour East.

What does maritime heritage mean? Any way that people interacted with Sydney harbour and the waterfront.

This background information provides you with the resources you will need to address the brief. The information resources will help you:

  1. Understand the proposed site
  2. Understand the history of the waterfront area you will be visiting
  3. Learn about your concept brief, public art and environmental art.

This will help you develop a concept for your installation and to select and curate images on your history walk on the workshop day.

When you have studied the pre-visit resources and completed your fieldwork (including collecting images and ideas on the day for your concept), use the Conceptual Framework Template to complete your public art concept. 

1 The Proposed Site

Headland Park 1 Headland Park 2 Headland park 3

The new Headland Park Barangaroo – currently under construction (Images courtesy of Barangaroo Delivery Authority)

Further Site Resources:

Find out more about Headland Park and view an animation of the park

You should look at this information and decide where a good place for your installation would be in Headland Park.

2 The history of maritime activity in Millers Point and Walsh Bay

AboriginalPrior to white settlement, Aboriginal people from the Gadigal Clan of the Eora Nation lived near the cliffs and rocky shores around Millers Point and present day Headland Park Barangaroo. The area near Dawes Point (under the Harbour Bridge) was originally known by the Aboriginal names of Tar-ra and Tullagalla. Aboriginals used the waters for fishing from bark canoes, or they would spear fish in the shallow waters. Maritime activity was originally centred on Circular Quay but Millers Point started to develop in the 1830’s as maritime and commercial activity moved away from the congestion of Sydney Cove and moved around Dawes Point to Millers Point and Darling Harbour East.



colonial1Colonial mapMillers Point was named after ‘John Leighton or Jack the Miller, who had arrived as a convict in 1804 and had built one of the first windmills on Observatory Hill. The village became a vibrant and cosmopolitan community. Maritime activity became increasingly export-oriented during the 20’s and 40’s. Wharves and warehouses expanded in size to accommodate the ever increasing tonnage of wool that was replacing whale oil as the main cargo on the Millers Point wharves. It was during the next ten years that the village of Millers Point emerged as merchants, sailors and labourers moved into the area to work within the growing maritime and mercantile infrastructure of the area. Millers Point also provided homes for many of the well-to-do merchants who took advantage of the closeness to the wharves to engage in their shipping businesses. These homes were built on the high ridges particularly in Lower Fort St.

The gold rush of the 1850’s bought new growth to the area particularly through the export of wool. Steam ships began to appear replacing the fast wool clippers that would race each other to be the first to deliver wool to England. Wharves and storage companies expanded their activities by building new jetties and storage sheds. By1880, Sydney had become a major maritime city but

colonial2by 1890 there was a depression leading to the Great Maritime Strike of 1890. By this time, many parts of Millers Point consisted of slum-like housing and the maritime facilities were decaying. In 1900 the bubonic plague struck Sydney, brought in by rats from ships. Over 100 Sydney residents died from the plague. The government began a clean-up campaign that including reconstructing the seawalls around the docks to prevent rats from jumping ship and coming onto the land. During this time, the Sydney Harbour Trust was set up to carry out a massive redevelopment of Sydney’s waterfront. Henry Dean Walsh was the engineer-in-chief of the Sydney Harbour Trust when it was established in 1901. His engineering and administrative abilities were evident in the remodelling of Dawes and Millers Points, including the design and construction of the Walsh Bay and Jones Bay wharves and cargo-handling systems. Walsh designed a new system of wharves, stores and associated roads and hydraulic systems to service them. This reconstruction made the wharves better suited to modern shipping. The development was complete by the 1920s when Walsh Bay became a main landing point for thousands of new migrants.

Walsh Bay 2Walsh Bay was strongly linked to Millers Point where the Sydney Harbour Trust built new housing for its waterside workers. Many of these terrace houses still remain from this period, as well as the many pubs where thirsty waterside workers would gather after work.

After WWII, changes were occurring in shipping including the way cargo was loaded and unloaded. Newer wharf areas were being built at Botany Bay and Darling Harbour East and the wharves at Walsh Bay were going into decline. By the 1980’s, the age of containerisation had arrived, requiring large flat areas load and unload cargo with the use of cranes. Walsh Bay was derelict and deserted by the early 1990s as most maritime activity had moved around the corner to Darling Harbour East and Botany Bay. During the 1990’s the Walsh Bay wharves were abandoned.

Container terminalBy the early 2000’s Walsh Bay was given a new lease of life when the NSW government decided to renew and revitalise the area. Meanwhile containerisation was continuing at Darling Harbour East. By the mid 1990’s, even this area was thought unsuitable for shipping. This was due to the growth of the city and the difficulties of importing and exporting cargo from the Darling Harbour  site. The NSW Government decided to redeveloped this site, renamed Barangaroo, and the northern third of the site was dedicated to public parkland (to be called Headland Park) which was designed to recreate the original shoreline lost over many years of maritime development. With its waters, foreshores, headlands and tributaries, Sydney Harbour is the city’s largest and most accessible open space and natural asset. It is the city’s best loved urban space, a national icon, a busy transport corridor, an economic powerhouse for industry, commerce and trade and tourism.

 The Harbour remains a place of unmatched Aboriginal significance. It has the most significant surviving evidence of colonial architecture and is now a powerful symbol of a multicultural Australia.

History Resources:

State Records NSW

Walsh Bay History Walk

Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority

Australian National Maritime Museum

Barangaroo Delivery Authority

City of Sydney Working Harbour Images

You Tube Film clips

‘Four’s a crowd’ – a series of comedy sketches in 2 parts made by the Waterside Workers Federation Film Unit (WWFFU) in 1957 showing men working on the wharves during this period.

‘The Hungry Miles’ – a documentary in two parts showing the history of workers on Sydney’s ports and particularly the impact of families during the great depression of the 1930’s.

3 Site-specific public art

Site-specific art is artwork created to exist in a certain place. Typically, the artist takes the location into account while planning and creating the artwork. Site specific public art is often commissioned by an organisation, council, business etc and artists are asked to submit proposals which address the brief created by the organisation. Public art takes many shapes and forms. For example, sculpture, murals, video projections (including animation) , mosaics etc.

Constraints of public art may include weather, vanadalism, public safety, public interaction and engagement and cost.

Your brief – Making Maritime Memories

Your brief is to plan a Site Specific public art installation, to be situated at the new Headland Park Barangaroo, that celebrates the maritime heritage of Sydney Harbour, particularly in the area around Walsh Bay, Millers Point and Darling Harbour East. Aspects of marine life may be the subject of your artwork, however you should consider incorporating maritime materials and forms. You may work either individually or with a partner.

Your public art installation should

  • be innovative and exciting
  • improve the parkland’s amenity
  • activate a public space in the park
  • create a safe and secure space
  • enhance the site and strengthen the concept of maritime history

It should also fit in with the Barangaroo Delivery Authority’s goals for the Headland Park of:

  • Restoring a naturalistic headland that will balance with the other natural headlands it faces around the harbour
  • Providing a place for the public to relax by the harbour in natural surroundings just minutes from the CBD
  • Creating a public foreshore walk, which will continue the length of the site and on to Walsh Bay and Darling Harbour.

The audience for your public artwork will be the general public who visit the site or pass by the site on the harbour.

You can select from the following forms:

  • 2D eg mural or Mosaic
  • 3D eg sculpture or installation
  • 4D eg time based projections like a digital film, animation, slide show etc

Site-specific public art resources:

Examples of artists focusing on site-specific public artworks include:

Joan Ross – Joan Ross is an artist whose work often dissects Australia’s colonial past. Her works include sculpture and installation, painting, drawing and video.

Robert Smithson – in particular the work Spiral Jetty

Andy Goldsworthy

Martin Hill

Other public art exhibitions:


Sculpture by the sea

Art and about

You can also search Google images for examples of:

  • public art
  • site specific public art
  • environmental art

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