Kerferd Road Pier in Albert Park, Melbourne, hasn’t changed too much since it was built in 1887 – there are fewer promenaders now but certainly more lighting than there used to be.
My experience on the pier
Kerferd Road Pier is apparently little changed from when it was first built in the 1880s: a similar length to the original pier at around 250m, a boardwalk all the way along (except for a newer metallic floor on the lower level at the end), and still no fence down at the far end.
There were only a handful of people on it on the blustery spring morning we turned up, and there have been times I’ve driven past it and seen nobody on the pier, so I wasn’t eve sure it was still open.
But it did get some funding a couple of years ago – as one of the articles I link to below shows – and it’s still a really good place for a bracing walk or a spot of fishing off the end.
I did the research on Kerferd Road Pier only after visiting, which is a shame sometimes as the number of incidents, especially in its first 20 or 30 years, shows the place has a lot of memories, some tragic, and it would have been nice to imagine the scene during some of those incidents, while walking along it in 2019.
The thing about Kerferd Road Pier when it was first built is that it was very close to lots of residential housing in South Melbourne and Albert Park, so it was an east stroll down to the Bay and then a nice place to promenade for people who didn’t have the means to go for expensive nights out in the City or St Kilda.
And that’s the point of its position even today, halfway between St Kilda and Port Melbourne. So the views are always interesting.
To the right as you walk along the pier was the Spirit of Tasmania ferry, waiting to cross the Bass Strait. To the left, you can just pick out the Palais in St Kilda, and I squinted hard to try to spot the Scenic Railway in Luna Park, but couldn’t quite make it out.
On the beach by the pier was a lively beach volleyball tournament, with the umpire whistles and the screams of pairings winning a point sometimes the only sound we could hear as we walked along the wooden planks of the pier.
Right by the pier on the beach is also the Albert Park Yachting and Angling Club, whose 1909 clubhouse still stands today. I’d love to know what the two metre high wooden piles that stand in front of it were once used for?
And the same applies to the wide decking area that adjoins the pier itself just by the clubhouse. What was that once for?
The pier today is lined with lamps, something that might have saved a good few lives in the pier’s early days (see history below).
As usual, lamps on piers are always photogenic.
And they also seem to be a favourite spot for sea birds, who made no effort to move as we walked underneath them.
There are ten benches along Kerferd Road Pier, each able to seat about half a dozen bums, so lots of good spots to sit and take in the air and the views.
Down at the end were two fishermen, huddled up to shelter themselves from the cold wind, but there is no shelter otherwise on the pier itself.
The nearest official place to sit out of the sun or rain is the vintage shelter that still stands on the beach just to the Melbourne side of the pier beyond the Angling Clubhouse.
Boats can still moor at Kerferd Road Pier but none did while we were there.
It was really quiet on the pier the morning we were there; one man in lycra did run up and back as if training for the Melbourne Marathon which went past here a week earlier, but that was about it apart from the fishing guys.
The Hotel Victoria was built a year after the pier and had so much to do with the pier’s early history (see below). It still stands today but is apparently now converted into apartments.
The rotunda was always a kind of deluxe bandstand, but the days of concerts here are long gone and it seems to be a hair salon now – nice that it has survived, though, even if not for its original purpose.
And I did also like the way the local authorities have put up a signage with information on the original owners of the land round here, something I actually would love to see around all Vintage Victoria sites.
The Yakulut Willam clan of Boon Wurrung occupied a vast area extending down to Wilsons Promontory. But what I liked most of their story was that the land here was traditionally protected by an eagle, and the water near the pier by a crow.
It all reminded me actually of the Native American tour we had of Plymouth Massachusetts some years ago. This place revered by the settlers for its landing point of America’s Founding Fathers, but the best experience we had in that town was going on the Native American tour of the town, which told totally different stories of the area. Now, wouldn’t that be an idea for some of the Vintage Victoria sites?
Toilets on the foreshore beach near the pier
Benches all along the pier
No shelter on the pier itself
History and stories about Kerferd Road Pier
Built in 1887, but I found no mentions in Trove of any ceremony of opening.
Two years later, a young man called Ernest O’Sullivan made the news when diving into stormy water off the Kerferd Board Pier to try to save someone who had apparently fallen or jumped into the water. He came ashore exhausted and was taken to the Hotel Victoria (still standing today and less than a year old at the time) where ‘restoratives were administered’. He then walked off in fine fettle: I wonder what those ‘restoratives’ were? And in another similar incident a couple of years later ‘stimulants’ were administered…
Another side-note to the 1889 incident was that a group of young women was in the crowd looking on at the end of the pier. Some were near fainting (more tight corsets affecting breathing in stressful situations?), but a few were apparently critical of the other men present who didn’t choose to dive into the water to attempt a rescue before our Ernest… Ernest, meanwhile, won a Silver Medal from the Australian Humane Society.
There were further rescues off the pier in subsequent years and one tragic story of suicide by filling his trousers with stones after tying the hem tightly round his ankles and then jumping into the water off the pier.
In 1891 the Hotel Victoria was again the place the drenched rescuer went – this time for a hot bath and change of clothes, making me wonder just how often that building opened its doors to local heroes and others in need. In September of 1891, though, even the son of the hotel owner got involved with a rescue off the pier, when he witnessed a woman intentionally jump into the water in an attempt to commit suicide. A ‘chill’ was all he got as a result.
A dramatic double drowning off the pier in 1894 caught the imagination of the Australian press across the country, but also raised concerns locally about the poor safety record on the pier. Steam ferries used to use Kerferd Road Pier in those days so there was no fence or barrier at the end and it was quite common for people to fall in, especially when crowded, and the poor lighting at the time was blamed for several deaths off or near the pier, along with lifebuoys that allegedly had not enough rope to reach the water!
At the inquest into those deaths, the coroner observed that Kerferd Road Pier seemed to be ‘a pier given up to those who desire to drown themselves’. He was vicious in his condemnation of the woman who had drowned herself (and caused the rescuer also to drown), using language unthinkable in this day and age: “She appeared to be one of those hysterical people sent into this world to annoy others, and had thrown herself into the sea while in a hysterical state.” And no mention of the context of her bigamist husband, her single parent status and her row with her new lover. Hysteria like this was close to insanity, said the judge…
That inquest, by the way, was held in the Hotel Victoria, with the dead man’s body lying in a room in the hotel until his brother came to collect it after the inquest had finished.
Suicides and other drownings continued through the years, but my eye was caught by a story from 1905, when two men were arrested for bathing under the Kerferd Road Pier wearing nothing but swimming trunks. Sergeant McGillicuddy was the Dickensian-sounding officer in charge and he pressed for the appropriate fines to be imposed: If we allow trunks now, he said in court, “people will very soon be bathing without trunks at all”. Fortunately the judge had more sense, dismissing the case and encouraging the defendants to put 5 bob in the paupers bowl.
Bathing costumes were still controversial in 1922, though, when the local Council had a heated debate on swimming near the pier. Among the views voiced by councillors at the time: “ Bathers in swimming costumes should not be allowed to walk on the pier,” “The pier is no place for sun-basking,” and “The pier should be reserved to residents who came in their ordinary attire to obtain a breath of fresh air.”
In 1909, a bunch of guys who used to fish of the Kerferd Road Pier decided to form a club which would also involve yachting. Their clubhouse still stands today on the beach by the pier, looking pretty impressively vintage itself over a hundred years on.
As usual with piers on Port Phillip Bay, there were occasional shark sightings and reports of good fishing catches to be had. I was struck, though, by the 1930 report of 30 porpoises swimming in close to Kerferd Road Pier, chasing a pack of pilchards that was swimming nearby.
Drownings and other accidents or suicide attempts seemed to grow less frequent over the years, maybe due to smaller crowds on the pier or to better levels of swimming ability. There was still an occasional disaster caused by reckless diving into shallow water, or the sad case of boys from a local orphanage being swept out to sea by a sudden big wave.
From reports of hundreds promenading on the pier in the early days, to the 1950s, when 50 was a number mentioned more often. On the day we were there, it was more like 15 people on the pier, and I have driven past it on cloudy days when nobody at all has been on Kerferd Road Pier. I’m glad it’s still there, though.
Other links and writings on Kerferd Road Pier
This is the Victorian Heritage Database entry on Kerferd Road Pier.
This is a nice perspective shot of the pier in the mid-distance from the Mel Snaps blog site.
This vintage blog post has less about the pier and is more about some of the vintage houses near the pier, but it’s well worth a look.
Aaron Spruit captures a nice angle I didn’t get showing how people would have swum under the pier in high water.
The Yachting and Angling Club mentions the pier on their history page.
The Bureau of Meteorology has a picture from 2014 of waves crashing over the pier in a storm.
This is a Getty Images photo of the pier after a storm and high water in 2005.
The Age newspaper discussed the Kerferd Road Pier in a 2018 article on the impact of the closure of the pier then for repairs.
What are your stories and memories of Kerferd Road Pier?
Has anybody been on the Kerferd Road Pier when it has been busy with ‘promenaders’? If so, when was the last time?
Can you help with information on what the wide decking was used for next to the pier and on the beach by the Angling Clubhouse? Same question on those old piles that stand next to the decking?
Comment below if you have anything to add, especially with stories of your own favourite experiences on Kerferd Road Pier.
Coffee or tea near the pier?
If you know of somewhere do let us know. The nearest good coffee we found was in South Melbourne Market, which is a bit of a hike away, but well worth it for the food and the coffee.