PORT Welsh-pool’s Shipping Pier, locally and affectionately known as the Long Jetty, was officially re-opened on Friday June 21, 2019, with the granddaughter of the man who worked for ten years to have it built in the first place helping to cut the ribbon.
Kath Hunt, formerly of Fish Creek and now of Foster, was among the group of long-term, earnest Long Jetty supporters who each were armed with scissors at the opening ceremony.
Mrs Hunt’s grandfather Patrick Keane, a Shire of South Gippsland president and West Riding councillor, started lobbying for a jetty suitable for transporting agricultural produce like potatoes and onions as well as timber and fish in the mid-1920s, attending meetings and appearing before commissions.
Cr Keane lived to see the first pile for the half-mile long, 25,000-pound jetty driven in July 1936 before he passed away in September of the same year.
Former South Gippsland Shire mayor and councillor Jeanette Harding emulated Cr Keane’s efforts more than 80 years later, campaigning hard over more than a decade for local, state and federal funding to restore the closed ageing and fire-damaged Long Jetty, alongside equally passionate community and interest groups.
Mrs Harding had a pair of scissors, too, on Friday, as did former Gippsland South MLA and Victorian deputy premier Peter Ryan, current Gippsland South MLA Danny O’Brien, Gippsland Ports chief executive Chris Waites, the Port Welshpool and Welshpool Working Groups’ Paul MacPhail and the Gunaikurnai Land and Waters Aboriginal Corporation’s Grattan Mullett.
A hundred people gathered at the Long Jetty to celebrate its re-opening in fine, clear, cold weather instead of the expected rain squall, and to admire the many newly installed information boards mounted on sturdy walls of yellow stringybark wharf timbers retired from the jetty itself.
The $11,058,100 Long Jetty Rehabilitation Project rejuvenated 190 metres of the jetty and rebuilt a further 572 metres for a total of 762 metres from the shore to the present jetty’s seaward end. Concrete has replaced the wooden decking, the single handrail has become two, and lighting, seating, fish cleaning benches and safety ladders have been installed.
At the jetty’s far end is the shed housing Gippsland Ports’ old Port Welshpool slipway winch together with more history, facts and images on display. There is also a diving bell that once belonged to Bass Strait diving vessel manager Eric Bedomme.
The original 850-metre structure was completed in 1938 and was later extended to 908 metres in 1982 to supply the Bass Strait oil and gas industry.
Managed by Gippsland Ports, the restoration project received federal funding of $4,858,100 through the efforts of then McMillan now Monash MHR Russell Broadbent and $5 million from the Victorian Government as promised by Mr Ryan, together with $1 million from South Gippsland Shire Council and $200,000 from the Victorian Fishers Authority.
On his last day in office the departing South Gippsland Shire Council chief executive Tim Tamlin was the master of ceremonies, a task he undertook with good-humoured relish as he greeted the guests of honour and the public, and read the apologies from an impressive list of state and federal ministers and government department heads.
The opening began with a welcome to country greeting from Gunaikurnai man Mr Mullett who acknowledged and paid his respects and those of the gathering to the area’s traditional owners the Brataualung people and all past and present elders.
“This region has a lot to offer in terms of its natural beauty and diversity,” Mr Mullett said. “We commend all of those who have taken part in this project and extend our appreciation for the involvement we have had with the first people’s interpretive signage.”
Current MLA Mr O’Brien said, “it’s fantastic to be here, this has been in the wings for a long time! The Long Jetty is such a great asset, I’ve been here with my kids and there were people everywhere!
“Peter Ryan has been this project’s biggest supporter and he delivered $5 million for the Long Jetty,” he said. “When I was elected in 2015, the first letter I wrote was to [the relevant minister at the time] Jaala Pulford who confirmed the funding so Peter still gets the credit!”
Mr Ryan commended the council for putting up $1 million, and said it was, “marvellous to see Jeanette Harding here today who worked hard to see this great outcome for the community happen.”
Shire acting CEO Brian Sword said projects like the Long Jetty, “start with the community, and we wouldn’t be here today without the community’s vision.
“This project effectively got bipartisan support, but without the aspirations of the community it wouldn’t have come to fruition,” he said.
“Nearly 25,000 people have come to visit the Long Jetty since Christmas and already it’s having a local economic benefit.”
Gippsland Ports CEO Chris Waites said that while he hadn’t been in his job for long, it was, “clear that community interest got this project over the line” and that Gippsland Ports was, “proud of the result.”
“We’ve been here doing inspections, and there are bus trips and school groups coming to look,” he said.
Mr Waites specifically congratulated Gippsland Ports project managers Gary Lugton and Ian Cameron for their part in the Long Jetty restoration.
Former MLA Mr Ryan said he was, “thrilled to be here, I always knew it would work, especially having Jeanette Harding beside me as my fellow sparring partner!
“There had been all sorts of mumblings about the fate of the Long Jetty … but I always believed it was critical to keep it because it is an icon of this region.”
Then head Long Jetty advocate Jeanette Harding said she felt, “quite emotional” seeing the Long Jetty project finished, and hearing, “so many accolades!”
Mrs Harding thanked the three levels of government, and, “most importantly we have to thank the people because if it wasn’t for the support of the community including people from Melbourne and beyond this wouldn’t have happened.
“It wasn’t just a little group in the end,” she said.
“The original plan for the Long Jetty was to be like the one in Western Australia [referring to the Busselton jetty underwater observatory] and I’d like to remind you that there were still lots of little seahorses and fishes at the end of ours,” Mrs Harding said.
“I’ll come back when you’ve raised a few more million dollars, even in my coffin, to build the finishing touches down at the end of what we used to call ‘the boot!”
Mrs Harding also thanked Mr Ryan, Mr Tamlin and former shire councillors Mike Wrigley and Kieran Kennedy for their help over many years.
Long Jetty Steering Committee and local towns advisory groups representative Paul MacPhail said he was the fourth generation of his family in the Welshpool district.
“I can remember catching my first flathead here at Port Welshpool, and also when it was a huge fishing town here with 30 and 40 boats,” he said.
“The Long Jetty has been the lifeblood of the area, and when it shut in 2003, we managed to get heritage listing for the sand underneath to stop it being pulled down.”
Mr MacPhail thanked Mr Ryan, local naturalist Bob McDonald, Welshpool stalwart Eddie Fowler and early Welshpool Rural Transaction Centre worker Kerry Pinzone for all of the work and time devoted towards the Long Jetty. “And thanks to all of the community, too.