The wharves grew in the first place because in the 19th century water transport was traditionally cheaper for the economic activities of life generally and industry particularly. Furthermore, a good deal of the goods produced in the Footscray Wharves area were exported throughout Australia and internationally.
And it is partly economics that is determining the demise of that old wooden profile in the water that conjures up so many waterside images. It simply costs too much to build them or replace them today. And the industry has all moved away to larger sites in other places. So most of the wood has made way for stone embankments.
As part of the clean-up and beautification program in the 1980s the Port of Melbourne Authority was trimming the tops off the old wharves and leaving the underwater parts.
So part of the old wharves still remain. Only they mostly lie unseen under water level, still acting as a retaining wall for the clay soils that line the banks of the Maribyrnong River. It is interesting to note that it is the wood exposed above the water, the wood exposed to the air, that rots and gets eaten away over the years, to get that old weather-beaten look. The wood that stays under water doesn’t rot. It stays almost as good as it was when put in about a hundred years ago.
Part of the wharves still remain for a small group of boat owners, just south of the survey area. The modest wharf for Maribyrnong River Cruises, at the end of Wingfield Street, also remains to house the tour boat ‘Blackbird’.