Marking 200 years of Macquarie Pier

Last Sunday marked 200 years since construction began on Macquarie Pier, or Nobbys breakwall, with a foundation stone laid by Governor Macquarie himself.

Nobby's Island & Pier 23 January 1820 (Anonymous artist). Courtesy of the State Library of NSW 

Nobby's Island & Pier 23 January 1820 (Anonymous artist). Courtesy of the State Library of NSW 

The engraved foundation stone marked the beginning of the boldest harbour project of the convict era, and although past efforts to unearth it have failed, it's believed to lay deep beneath Foreshore Park's amphitheatre near Nobbys Surf Club. 

A group of councillors and heritage-minded Novocastrians joined me at Nobbys to commemorate the anniversary to the minute with three cheers and a three-gun salute from Fort Scratchley.

Our three cheers was a reprise of the gesture of labourer convicts on 5 August 1818, when they did the same at 4pm after enjoying a bonus ration of rum.

Built to connect Coal Island or Nobbys Head with the mainland, Macquarie Pier was designed to provide a safer passageway for coal ships coming into Newcastle Harbour that would often get caught on Stockton’s perilous oyster banks.
The foresight and ambition of the project was truly momentous, changing Newcastle's economic prospects, and it was an incredible undertaking for those who laboured for decades to complete the project for our city.
The pier assured stronger coal profits for the British Empire before eventually facilitating an annual export trade in excess of 150 million tonnes a year as a major economic contributor for not only Newcastle but the entire state and nation.

The monumental construction project, which took a staggering 28 years to complete, shaped the landscape of the city's colonial history and heritage, transforming shoals into what we now know as the iconic Nobbys Beach.
Years later, heavy seas breached the breakwater before huge sandstone blocks hauled from a Waratah quarry reinforced it and the work was finally completed in 1872. In 1957 the harbour side of the breakwater was cement rendered except for a small stairway near Nobbys.

Matt Murray