Crane conundrum

The port’s luffing cranes are getting a makeover, but in the end there’ll be just two left.

IT’S neither practical nor financially viable to restore two retired Fremantle port luffing cranes, which are due to be canibalised to create a single museum piece.

That was the blunt assessment from WA Museum CEO Alec Coles after the Fremantle Society urged people to pressure the museum to save both 1952 Stothert and Pitt cranes, which were decommissioned in the 1990s and now grace the slipway precinct on Victoria Quay.

Recently the Museum and Fremantle Ports announced a joint project to disassemble and prime the two cranes before mixing parts to create a single exhibition piece, while a separate 1925 Babcock and Wilcox crane will be preserved in entirety.

The Babcock and Wilcox, measuring 20 metres in height and weighing 60 tonnes, is the last remaining crane of its type at any Australian port.

Luffing cranes could haul a few tonnes, compared to the 65-tonne capacity of the modern gantry cranes which now loom over North Quay.

Restoration works will take place this year, but the cranes’ new location will depend on the Future of Fremantle taskforce, which is looking at how to rejig the port area once container trade moves to Kwinana.

Ports CEO Michael Parker said the cranes would be a visual reminder of the port’s heritage.

“Cranes of these types were once commonplace along both Victoria Quay and North Quay, handling break-bulk cargoes in the days before containerisation, and many people will remember that fondly, including former port workers,” Mr Parker said.

But Fremantle Society president John Dowson says the museum, which took control of one of the Stother and Pitts when the WA Maritime Museum opened, should have done a better job looking after it.

“We have already lost the crane that was at E Shed, also for 20 years – chopped up and sent to the rubbish tip,” Mr Dowson said. 

“That important 1922 Babcock luffing crane had been assembled at the North Fremantle Implementation Works.

“And one at J Berth was gotten rid of several years earlier.

“Those cranes should all have been kept, as giant pieces of urban art for the redevelopment of Victoria Quay – a reminder of the industrial workings with cargo,” Mr Dowson said.

But that wasn’t feasible, Mr Coles said.

“It is neither practical, nor financially viable, to restore every piece of industrial infrastructure at the port.

“We, Fremantle Ports and, importantly, the Heritage Council, believe that this is a pragmatic and acceptable compromise which retains examples of each of the cranes, maintains the evocative skyline, but also is responsible use of the public purse.

Mr Coles revealed that a decision to save just one Stothert and Pitt was made more than a decade ago. He said that basic care and maintenance had been carried out since then, but as part of the $3.5 million committed by the Cook government to the slipway precinct, including an upgrade of the HMAS Ovens, they would now be given a long-term future at Victoria Quay.


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