Author: Daniel Wilksch

Digital Projects Coordinator

"...I think that the river
is a strong brown god—sullen, untamed and intractable..."
T.S. Eliot,  The Dry Salvages, 1941.

Among the delights of Youtube are work-in-progress videos of public infrastructure projects. Time-lapses track railways snaking across grassland in Melbourne's west, or linger over Betty, the giant tunnel boring machine as she prepares to dive under Yarraville.

Interviewed on his retirement in 1959, J.B.O. Hosking nominated the building of an automated steel handling berth and reinforced concrete wharf on the River Yarra at South Wharf as the proudest accomplishments of his quarter of a century as the Melbourne Harbour Trust Chief Engineer. Collated and carefully indexed in the mid-1950s, the collection of photos named for him serve a similar function to today's videos - documenting activity, progress and improvement around the ports of Melbourne.

black and white photo of construction
100 ton drag line excavator with 1½ cub.yd. bucket on 85 ft. jib excavating silt at site of Appleton Dock opposite No.1 berth, and discharging into tipping trucks drawn by steam locomotive on north side of Melbourne-Footscray Road. vprs8359 p1 unit1 item27A 003


The images capture the excitement of acquiring big new toys like dock cranes, as well as the intricacies of work to fix the banks of a tidal estuary. They also depict other aspects of the harbour community that Hosking was a steward of: improving worker and public safety, building warehouses and ships, and cleaning up when things went wrong.

The volunteers who’ve been busily digitising these images include Joy Hirst who has curated the exhibition Time and Tide to bring the stories of the port, and of J.B.O. Hosking, to a wider audience. 

Launched to coincide with National Volunteers Week, the Time and Tide exhibition opens on Saturday the 25th of May and runs through to September 2019. View it in our Archives Gallery space 10am to 4.30pm Monday to Friday, and every second and last Saturday of the month.  


black and white photo of ships on ocean
Port Phillip between Breakwater Pier and Gellibrand Pile Light. General view of wreck of S.S "George M. Embiricos" with S.D "D. York Syme", S.L "Hovell", S.H.B "William Strong" and No. 43 pile barge engaged on salvage operations. vprs8359 p1 unit1 item51 001


black and white photo of boats docked
Williamstown Workshops and Slipways. 45 foot timber tugs for Australian Army at Workshops Pier for fitting out. vprs8359 p1 unit1 item126 001

Further Reading:

Material in the Public Record Office Victoria archival collection contains words and descriptions that reflect attitudes and government policies at different times which may be insensitive and upsetting

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples should be aware the collection and website may contain images, voices and names of deceased persons.

PROV provides advice to researchers wishing to access, publish or re-use records about Aboriginal Peoples