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By Cameron Atfield
The Caincross dry dock.Credit: Neil McGregor
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A last-minute ditch to save a World War II dry dock appears to have failed, after the Queensland Heritage Council knocked back a bid to add it to the state’s protection register.
And the developer-owner Lendlease looked to be cashing in on the decision – the site was put up for sale on Tuesday, five days after the Heritage Council knocked back the nomination.
Brisbane City Council had approved Lendlease’s proposal to fill in the Cairncross Graving Dock at Morningside in March, but noted the application to include it on the Queensland Heritage Register.
“[A]t the time of assessment and decision, the Queensland Heritage Council is yet to confirm the site as a heritage place,” the council said.
Given this week’s decision, that became moot.
The Cairncross Graving Dock under construction in 1942.Credit: Australian War Memorial
When approached by this masthead, a Queensland Heritage Council spokesperson defended its decision.
“The council took into consideration a range of material including the application itself, submissions from interested parties, and expert engineering reports,” the spokesperson said.
“While the [Heritage] Council acknowledged the role the Cairncross Graving Dock played during World War II and in later years, it noted that much of the place’s original buildings and associated infrastructure had been removed over time and the overall physical condition and structural integrity of the remaining infrastructure was such that it would prevent the place’s cultural heritage significance being preserved.”
Aerial view of the Cairncross Graving Dock at Morningside.Credit: Google Earth
But Heritage Council’s decision notice, obtained by this masthead, conceded it had not been able to assess the condition of the dry dock in its flooded state, as it had its gates open since about 2017.
“While the scale of the dry dock is impressive when viewed from inside the dock when it is dry, this cannot be appreciated when the dock is flooded,” the Heritage Council says in the decision notice.
That did not wash with local campaigner and Bulimba District Historical Society member Francis Price, who was instrumental in the push to add the dock to the heritage register.
“The fact is that it has heritage significance,” he said.
“It reflects an era when Queensland was under threat. It reflects, in terms of construction, unique and leading edge engineering that has been recognised globally.
“And yet, as a state, we think that’s not worth protecting and being able to show people in the future.”
Property records show the site was sold to Lendlease subsidiary Bulimba East Development in 2016 for $39.5 million.
But on Tuesday, the site appeared on real estate websites, listed by commercial real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield. The dry dock is listed as a feature.
Tank landing ship HMS LST-419 in Cairncross Dock circa 1943, at the height of World War II.Credit: State Library of Queensland
When asked on Friday, a spokesperson would only say: “We continue to work with relevant stakeholders on a number of potential options for the site.”
Cushman & Wakefield was a little more expansive in its pitch to potential investors, published on several commercial real estate sites both in Australia and overseas.
“The Cairncross site is a blank canvas providing an incoming purchaser the opportunity to develop a master planned industrial estate within Queensland’s most sought after industrial markets, the Australia TradeCoast,” Cushman & Wakefield says.
“The site’s scale, water access and significant marine infrastructure will also appeal to owner-occupiers.”
Price said the potential sale was a cynical move.
“Obviously, they see there’s increased value because it hasn’t been listed, where as a community, we lose an asset that can never be replaced,” he said.
While not appearing on the state’s heritage register, Cairncross Dock does feature on Engineers Australia’s list of historic engineering markers.
“First planned in 1934 and built by the Allied Works Council for the Queensland government during a period of unprecedented war strain between September 1942 and June 1944, the 263-metre-long dock gave valuable wartime service before becoming a major peacetime asset for the Australian shipping industry,” Engineers Australia says in its commendation.
“The dock’s restored viability 50 years after its commissioning is a tribute to the foresight of engineers who planned, designed, constructed, operated, maintained and subsequently refurbished it.”
The dock ceased operations in 2014.
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