A shipbuilding industry was so busy on the banks of the Maribyrnong River at one time that between 300 and 400 men worked there. This short boom in the mid-1880s didn’t last long and the ships have long gone. But it is a definite chapter in the maritime past of Footscray’s wharves areas.
When Melbourne was first settled, the junction of the Yarra and the Maribyrnong then was only a couple of hundred metres south from Napier Street. An article in a 1934 newspaper said….
‘as the shipping increased to Melbourne the upper river became crowded, and an anchorage was made of the Saltwater river from the junction with the Yarra to the spot where Hopetoun Bridge now stands.’
The article also said Footscray was born here because this was the first scene of permanent human activity in the area. The demand for repairs and amusements forced a business village into existence.
The junction of the Yarra and Maribyrnong Rivers was originally near Parker Street, Footscray. Just a little south of the Shepherd’s Bridge, which extends from Napier Street.
In the 1860s this little village had began to develop into a major industrialised area and by the 1880s foundries and engineering works established it as one of the most industrialised areas of Melbourne.
It was in this climate that it was decided that Footscray ‘afforded greater facilities for the work of construction than any other place in Port Phillip’, and the result was the improvising of shipbuilding yards on both sides of the Saltwater River.
There was more boat building activity just south of Napier Street during the Second World War by a company called Botterill Frasier Boat Builders, which built 40 foot workboats and ferries.