Building the Port

Construction of the K.S. Anderson Wharf, c 1959. Gift of the Port of Portland, 1996. Glenelg Shire Council Cultural Collection.

More than 770kg of crayfish and chickens, 200kg of ham and other cold meats, 250kg of mixed vegetables, 200kg of potatoes, 270 dozen pastries, 518 litres of ice-cream, 54kg of cheese and 51 litres of strawberry topping.

There was that much food ordered for the Portland Harbour official opening ball that it was at the time measured in the old measurement "centum weight" – around 112lb or 50kg.

But with a building project that lasted nearly eight years, and which saw many injuries and the loss of two lives, the expense and effort fitted the occasion perfectly.

The Age newspaper declared it "the greatest day since the first Henty landed" and the Portland community would have agreed that the official opening of the harbour – a building project that cost in excess of £6 million – was an auspicious occasion worthy of much effort and expense.


View of wharf

Construction of the K.S. Anderson Wharf, 1958. Gift of the Port of Portland, 1996. Glenelg Shire Council Cultural Collection.

The official opening celebrations took place over a week, including an official opening ceremony, which was held on Friday 19th November 1960, and the ball the night before, an occasion that attracted – and fed – 3000 people.

The planning of a deep-water port for Portland had been many, many years in the making, the first mention of it being in 1845 when it was acknowledged the settlement desperately needed a safe port "for the benefit alike of the town and district".

Fishing fleets and other vessels anchored in the unsheltered bay were regularly battered – and sometimes destroyed – by the prevailing winds and huge waves.


Chicken by the cwt for ball 20.10.60

A clipping from the Portland Guardian published on 20 October 1960, which details the huge amount of food ordered for the Portland Harbour official opening ball.

The lack of still water and shelter in the bay would hamper the town's development for decades but still nothing concrete was done until 1949 when the Victorian Premier Thomas T Hollway presented and saw the passing of a bill that would become the Portland Harbour Trust Act. This set the scene for construction to begin, with Chairman of Commissioners Keith Anderson taking charge of the project, something he is credited with developing and seeing through to fruition.

After several more years of planning and funding searches, the first stone was tipped on the construction site on 17th November 1952. The momentous occasion was an exciting day for politicians, the council and residents alike. But for those working on site, the excitement soon turned very serious very quickly.

When it comes to occupational health and safety, it's safe to say that no such rules existed in those days and with a construction project that was delayed on several occasions and had a large budget blow out, there were many injuries and two deaths over the construction period.



Parade David Moreton donated 2012 colour

Queen of the Harbour entrants in the street parade to celebrate the opening of the port, 19th November 1960. Gift of David Moreton, 2012. Glenelg Shire Council Cultural Collection.

But it wasn't unusual for the time and this was a massive project with stone quarried on precarious cliffs that plunged many metres to the rough seas below.

"It was pretty hairy sort of stuff – by hell it was hairy stuff!" says George Wallace, on the documentary Construction of Portland Harbour – the Worker's Story.

The documentary was produced by Garry Kerr in 2010 and features interviews with 10 men who worked on the project, including Jack Condon.


Opening of the Port 1960 KS Anderson Henry Bolte Dallas Brooks

From the bridge of the naval frigate HMAS Quiberon, Sir Dallas Brooks, Governor of Victoria officially opens the new port 19th November 1960. Seated are Chairman of Commissioners of the Portland Harbour Trust K. S. Anderson (left) and Victorian Premier Henry Bolte (centre). Gift of the Port of Portland, 1996. Glenelg Shire Council Cultural Collection.

"Three of us or four of us used to go down there (the cliffs) with ropes around our bellies, over the cliff – no safety, no nothing," Jack remembers.

"The jackhammer would be lowered down to you, and a basket, and they'd hold the weight of it for you while you drilled into the side of the cliff.

"Little Lenny Hogan slipped out of his rope one day and how he didn't get killed I don't know. Being light it helped I think. We went down and got him and all he could say was, "I lost me tobacco pouch!"

Some of the other mishaps recorded during construction included bulldozers going over cliff edges, the loss of fingers, crush injuries, overloaded dump trucks tipping over with giant boulders rolling out and falls from cliffs and other heights.


Opening 19.11.1960

Crowds on the deck of HMAS Quiberon and on the new K.S. Anderson Wharf for the opening of the port, 19th November, 1960. Gift of the Port of Portland, 1996. Glenelg Shire Council Cultural Collection.

"You've got to remember this was the 1950s. If this was the 1990s or 2000s I can't see that some of the methods employed ... would have been acceptable," Geoff White, who worked on site and is a former Glenelg Shire Mayor, explains on the documentary.

Considering the dangerous nature of the work, it really was a miracle that more men weren't killed.

And considering the budget blow-outs and construction delays, it is little wonder that with the amazing feat of building such a massive piece of infrastructure that no expense was spared to celebrate the harbour's official opening.



How much were the men who worked on the Port of Portland construction paid, and was it a fair wage for the sometimes dangerous work?

Why were there delays to the construction project, and how much did the budget blow out by?

How did Portland Harbour Trust raise the extra funding needed to complete the project? And did the building of the port bring the region the prosperity promised?

Who attended the Harbor Ball that helped officially open the new port, and did they really eat all that food?

To find the answers to all these questions and more, visit Glenelg Shire Council's museum and research centre History House, where you will find documents, books and DVDs that will give you more information about the construction of the Port of Portland in the 1950s.


And you'll also find passionate volunteers willing to share their immense knowledge with you!


History House – Museum and Research Centre
Cliff Street, Portland VIC 3305 (PO Box 409)

Phone: (03) 5522 2266

Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Open daily 10am-noon and 1pm-4pm. Closed Good Friday and Christmas Day.