An announcement on the weekend that the Freshwater Class of ferries may be axed soon has the community up in arms. Petitions and Facebook pages are springing up to save the beloved boats, and a local MP has stepped in vowing to fight for the ferries.
When you picture Sydney Harbour you imagine the Bridge and the Opera House, but it’s the iconic Manly ferries that accentuate the image. Many a local has been lucky enough to travel to the city via the Collaroy, the Freshwater, the Narrabeen and the Queenscliff. Can you imagine the sparkling harbour without these beautiful green and yellow workhorses? Well, you might have to. The State Government has plans to replace the popular Freshwater-class ferries with faster, more agile and cheaper-to-maintain vessels.
The proposal to replace the ferries with smaller Emerald-class catamarans would slash passenger capacity from 1100 to 400 per trip, potentially meaning longer queues at ferry wharves and traffic congestion on the north shore as punters look for alternative routes to Manly. It is also said these catamarans are unable to operate in large swells when traversing the heads. And yet the first of the four beloved Beaches ferries who do the job now could sail away as early as next year.
This plan has been met with backlash from the Maritime Union and Northern Beaches locals alike. The sinking feeling is that to lose the ferries is to lose a piece of Sydney history, whilst putting a strain on the transport network and serving the tourism industry yet another hit.
Many Northern Beaches Living members have expressed their anger at the government’s decision:
“These ships are for many tourists their first introduction to Manly and are cherished by locals,” said one.
“They are an icon. There is a saying that to know your future you have to know your past,” said another.
Meanwhile other community members believe the phasing out of the majestic ships is just part of the ebb and flow of life and that you can’t stop progress. “I’m sure they will be replaced with better newer versions. Come on go with the flow,” said one member of the NBL Group.
NBL member Alex Yuen raised some interesting points: “Believe it or not, the majority of the time the Manly ferry operates well below capacity and is only ever crowded during Summer and warm weekends. The Emerald class will enable more flexibility with the timetable to better meet demand while providing more travel options through more frequent services (allowing for a more seamless transfer with feeder buses at Manly Wharf) and faster travel times… I personally believe that one of the Freshwater class ferries should be preserved in working condition for historical purposes, however functionally and operationally the Emerald class will deliver a better outcome for those who use the service.”
NSW Transport Minister Andrew Constance told the Sydney Morning Herald that while he appreciates the ferries service to Sydney culture, their time has come. “[The Freshwater-class is] at the end of its life after 40 years and we are running a modern-class ferry fleet,” he said. “My preference is to maintain and try and keep at least one of the vessels on the harbour going … but, that said, we’re yet to make that final determination.”
Wayne Irvine who created the FB group, Save the Manly Ferry says that the common reaction of their 1000+ strong group is disbelief. “Manly is said to be ‘seven miles from Sydney, a thousand miles from care’. It seems that our politicians have never been to Manly on a Freshwater and are much further away from caring,” he says.
Mr Irvine’s biggest concern with the new fleet is its seaworthiness and potential disruption to services. “The section of the Manly-Sydney run between the heads can be quite rough. Will a smaller twin hull ferry be able to handle the moderate swells or will the service frequently be cut?”
Mr Irvine believes the good fight can be won by the general public. “We need to put pressure on our local members so they know the thoughts and concerns of the people who vote for them,” he added.
It seems the ferries already have an ally in James Griffin MP though, who is adamant that the Freshwater ferries won’t go on ‘his watch’. In a social media post the MP said, “Manly and its iconic ferry service to Circular Quay are one and the same. That won’t change whilst I’m the Member for Manly.”
If you’d like to sign a petition to keep the Freshwater-class of ferries, click here.
Please also see: Save the Freshwater Class Ferries and Save the Manly Ferry
Story: Alex Harmon
Main image: courtesy of Manly ferryman and legendary local photographer @ighaig72