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Shed 21 – a gateway hub

You’ll find Shed 21 on the south side of the Yarra River, on the city side of the Bolte Bridge.

Shed 21 is a steel framed shed with a concrete deck and a river frontage. Every Wednesday, at 12 noon, a different food truck is on site offering lunch for $5. The word has got out, and people arrive early. A modest queue forms. Padel courts, a novel form of tennis, have been created within the space but are still dwarfed by it.

Focus of attention – lunch at Shed 21 between the River and Lorimer Street.=

The weather dictates the mood at Shed 21.

On a sunny day, it is all possibility, all opportunity. Pull up a chair and sit in the sun. Love the River and imagine bathing in it, and look towards Docklands, an urban renewal project still unfolding. Associations arise of photographs of people laying down their bathing towels for sun baking on the banks of the Seine. The structure provides shelter and flexiblity and opportunities for imaginative people to dream.

The cormorant flies low along the River corridor.

Point of comparison – Docklands and Fishermans Bend

On a cold day, there is nowhere that feels more desolate. The wind howls up the River. The lack of shelter and the spare amenities trigger tales of the time when the River edge was a sludgy, muddy mess where timber in slings was unloaded onto drays, when there were no amenities at all, and this part of the world was referred to as Siberia.

The Bolte Bridge marks where Fishermans Bend divides. On the city side of the bridge, the Lorimer precinct of Fishermans Bend, almost a continuation of Yarra’s Edge and Docklands. Downstream of the Bolte Bridge, the NEIC (National Employment and Innovation Cluster) imagined as a place for advanced manufacturing and engineering.

Shed 21 will be a hub in coming months for talking with people about the future of the NEIC. The cheap lunch is part of a City of Melbourne and State Government initiative to provide that gathering place.

Shed 21 was recently heritage listed based on a thorough report prepared by Helen Lardner Conservation and Design. The report noted that several elements on site had already been removed including the amenities block. Getting amenities on to the wharf was the culmination of a long campaign by waterside workers under the leadership of union leaders like Jim Beggs.

The berths at South Wharf were numbered sequentially down river from 1 South Wharf right through to Pier 35 near the Westgate Bridge.

Shed 21 was formerly known as 21 South Wharf, and also sometimes as the Iron Wharf, because of the cargo unloaded there. 21 South Wharf was upgraded in the late 1950s to create a specialised berth for unloading steel. The ships to call at this berth were all built at Whyalla shipyards by Broken Hill Pty Ltd. The ships were of the Chieftain Class, and all shared the prefix ‘Iron’. The first to call at the refurbished berth was the Iron Knight. The Iron Monarch and Iron Duke were also regulars at the wharf.

In the early 1970s, 21 South Wharf came to be associated with the internal wars of the Painters and Dockers Union. Alfred ‘Ferret’ Nelson, then welfare officer of the union, disappeared in December 1971, on the eve of an election for the union. A police diver recovered Nelson’s Valiant Charger from 10 metres of water next to 21 South Wharf in January 1972 but Nelson’s body has never been found.

Note the observers on the Iron Whyalla source unknown

Transition is the urgent refrain now – rapid transition, pace of transition – the use of the word itself has accelerated since the election of the Albanese Labor government. BlueScope Steel and Rio Tinto have agreed to begin exploring methods of decarbonising the steel-making process — including setting up Australia’s first ‘green steel’ plant.  The companies have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to investigate the production of low-emissions iron feed using hydrogen. The hydrogen will be produced using green hydrogen.

Cement, a major import through South Wharf, is said to contribute about 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions. A significant expansion of cement processing is proposed by Cement Australia Pty Ltd at South Wharf. It has applied for an EPA development licence for a ground granulated blast furnace slag grinding facility at Port Melbourne – near the intersection of Todd Rd and Lorimer St. The EPA has not yet made a decision on the licensing of this plant which could have major implications for the ambitions of the Fishermans Bend NEIC.

Acknowledging the Fishermans Bend in depth heritage review, February 2021, commissioned by the City of Melbourne from Helen Lardner Conservation and Design from which this post was drawn.

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