A Brief History

Page created Tuesday, 3rd July, 2007 - HTML 4.01 Transitional
Last modified/checked: Sunday, 7th June, 2009

Passenger, and for a time, goods and vehice ferries, have been a necessity on Sydney's waterways from the time of British settlement. Todays ferry operations are the result, making them the longest continuously operating form of public transport in Australia.

These services had their origins with private operators, the largest of which was Sydney Ferries Limited who basically operated what are still referred to today as the "inner harbour" sevices. The other main operator was the Port Jackson & Manly Steamship Company who carried commuters and weekend pleasure crowds to Manly. The opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge in 1932 greatly reduced the revenues of Sydney Ferries Ltd and by 1951 the NSW government was somewhat levered in taking over their services to guard against total abandonment.

New steel "Lady" class vessels arrived between 1968 and 1980 allowing at least a basic service to be maintained. In 1972 the ailing Manly Steamship company was was bought out by Brambles Transport Industries creating such uncertainty that the NSW government was forced, once again, to rescue services with a buy out. The Manly services joined the ferry division of the newly formed (1972) Public Transport Commission of NSW. The PJ&MSC had introduced Hydrofoils from 1965 and the government expanded their numbers until withdrawal in 1991.

The bulk of todays ferry fleet was delivered during the 1980s and 90s and consists of purpose built craft for specific types of services. The largest are the "Freshwater" class for Manly services while the smaller "First Fleet" serve the many inner harbour routes. As well there are different catamarans including the "Supercats" for Watsons Bay services and the shallow hull "Rivercats" for the Meadowbank and Parramatta services. The most recent chapter in Sydney's ferry services was the replacement of the Manly "Jetcats" with a privately operated fast service in 2009. Shortly after the NSW Government announced that they would not proceed with privatising the rest of the ferry services.

Whatever the situation, the catchment area, diversity of vessels and scenic beauty of Sydney's waterways combine to make its urban ferry operations unparalleled.

Yvonne Goolagong unloads at Parramatta Wharf
during May 2008. This basin is as far as the
Parramatta River is navigable and services have to
perform a 180° turn before berthing.
At the opposite end of the system, Freshwater is seen
at Manly Wharf in March 1994. Sister ships Narabeen,
Collaroy and Queenscliff were built specifically
for the Manly services and soon proved very popular.

Sydney Ferry services as at December 2008.
The 1951 Government takeover of SFL secured the Zoo, Mosman, Neutral Bay and Woolwich services. Smaller private ferry operators have served many other locations on this map before and after that time. Not all these services originated from Circular Quay.

Sydney Ferries home page
1989 Thorn-EMI system-->