Jun 292012

Sydney’s Darling Harbour was one the centre of the nation’s mercantile economy, from across the country millions of tons of grain, wheat, sugar and other commodities were loaded onto ships and exported to the empire.

Eventually Darling Harbour fell into disuse, the docks became containerised, bulk goods moved to specifically designed loaders and the new breed of cargo ships were often too big to fit under the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

What really sealed Darling Harbour’s fate was Australia moved from being a largely export based agricultural export economy to a service based consumerist economy.

Today Darling Harbour illustrates that change, the docks have become expensive restaurants, hotels and shopping centres. The notorious “hungry mile” of docks is being converted into “Barangaroo” complex of office blocks, apartments and possibly even a casino for “high roller” Chinese gamblers.

Even the cruise liners are going. The 1980s vision of Darling Harbour as a temple to consumerism and property speculation is complete. In this way, Darling Harbour has become a picture of the Australian economy.

Just as Australia’s mercantile era peaked just before The Great Depression of the 1930s – the depression of the 1890s was actually far harder on Australia, particularly Melbourne and Victoria – the consumerist era finished with the Global Financial Crisis of 2008.

It will be interesting to see how Darling Harbour evolves over the next hundred years.

For a glimpse of the final days of the old Darling Harbour, Island Shunters an ABC documentary from 1977 showed the working lives of railway workers in the goods yards on the Western side of the docks. Today those railyards are the Australian office of Google and Fairfax’s headquarters.

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