‘The rollicking waterfront with the sailors of the seven seas making merry at the closely clustered hotels – its liquor tended to develop that raw ‘I’m as good as you ‘attitude.’
This comment in Footscray’s First Hundred Years, released in 1959, was part of an attempt to describe a unique community character. It is beyond the bounds of this survey to research or analyse sociological issues that might relate to this waterfront community, although it might seem logical and interesting to look to the waterfront for clues to a perceived local community character.
From very early days there had been ‘public houses’ or hotels on the waterfront. The earliest licence was given in 1839 for the Victoria Hotel on the corner of Bunbury Street and Maribyrnong Street. This same site was later occupied by the Bush Inn and then the Ship Inn.
The Stanley Arms, further south along Maribyrnong Street, next to Grimes Reserve, was given a licence in 1854. The Bridge Hotel, on the corner of Maribyrnong Street and Wingfield Street, came into existence sometime in the 1850s or 60s. No one seems to be quite sure when.
These hotels, and other amusements, grew up with the maritime character of early Footscray. Although only a small waterfront it seems to have been lively, by all accounts, and has been described as an essential ingredient in the make-up of a particular or peculiar Footscray ‘psyche’ or way of thinking. Several colourful stories can be found in Footscray’s First 100 Years and Footscray’s First Fifty Years about fun and games in the pubs in these early years.
These hotels were a watering hole for those travelling on the punts. They serviced sailors and other maritime workers, settlers and farm hands, and the gold rush hordes. Railway gangs came with the railway in the late 1850s. The crews of the shipbuilding boom in the 1880s came to drink and play in these pubs. Many workers passed this way to and from the many large industries in Yarraville and the immediate vicinity – metal workers, tannery workers, woollen mill workers and many others.