[The First Residents] | [Discovery and Settlement] | [The Port of Mackay] | [Settlement in the Country] | [Sugar] | [Mining] | [Sea Transport] | [Rail Transport] | [Road Transport] | [Air Transport] | [Post and Telegraph] | [Radio and Television] | [Tourism] | [1918 Cyclone] | [Schools] | [Churches]

Sea Transport

Like any of the coastal towns, Mackay's main link with the outside world in the early days of settlement was by sea.  Although John Mackay's introduction to the area was via the overland, subsequent settlers usually arrived by sea.

The Pioneer River being tidal, the arrival and departure of early sailing ships often involved lengthy delays.  No doubt many a ship grounded on the sandy bottom while waiting for the tide to turn.  The river mouth was further to the south than it is today, making a wide sweep from east of the town and entering the sea about the position of Illawong Beach.  However, this situation changed in 1898 when a cyclone and heavy rain caused the river to break through the sand bar that blocked its entrance to the sea.

A postcard circa 1910 showing ships tied up to the wharves along the Pioneer River and showing the old Sydney Street Bridge.
(Mackay Historical Society Archive No. 86-71a)

With the advent of steam, ships became bigger and so unable to negotiate the shallow Pioneer River.  They then had to anchor in deep water out from Flat Top Island.  Although no longer dependent upon the tides, ships were now obliged to have passengers and cargo transferred to small river boats for the short trip to riverside wharves.  for passengers this could be quite exciting in calm weather, but positively hair-raising when rough, usually involving the same treatment used with bags of potatoes - in a sling.

As the population and trade increased, shipping company wharves stretched along the river bank east from Sydney Street.  The first was the Australian Steam Navigation Company (ASN) at Victoria Wharf under the agency of George Smith.  This was followed by Australian United Steam Navigation company (AUSN), with agent W.H. Paxton.  The ASN was eventually absorbed into the AUSN.  In 1890 James Croker became agent for the Adelaide Steamship Company and for the next 50 years this company exported the whole of the sugar production in the district.

The time came, however, when the facilities of the Pioneer River became inadequate and the need for a better harbour critical.  Various schemes were investigated over the years and rejected for one reason or another until the present Outer Harbour was approved.  It was opened on 26 August 1939 by Premier William Forgan Smith, the Member for Mackay, who sailed into the new harbour on the Blue Star liner "Sydney Star" to a tumultuous welcome from his home town residents.

Since those early days, the harbour has seen the change from bagged to bulk sugar exports and the addition of huge storage sheds, grain storage silos for the hinterland's crops of wheat and sorghum, fuel depot, facilities for the island tourist vessels as well as visiting overseas cruise ships - a multimillion 


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Mackay Historical Society



Mackay Historical Society and Museum Incorporated 2001-2006.
created 12 August 2004.
last updated 09 August, 2006 .
Site maintained by Glen Hall