Image: View of the city from the Howard Smith Wharves. Credit: Ellie Freeman.

The Howard Smith Wharves, built in the 1930s and no longer in use, are nestled under the north end of Brisbane’s Story Bridge.

Run down but enduring, the heritage-listed site is one of the last reminders of the role the inner city played in shipping before Brisbane’s expansion pushed the main wharf further out.

The site was used as a wharf until the 1960s, the name coming from the shipping company that held the lease, Howard Smith and Co.

Howard Smith Wharves as seen from Brisbane River. Credit: minh mcCloy.

Howard Smith Wharves as seen from Brisbane River. Credit: minh mcCloy.

Howard Smith Wharves are also home to several air raid shelters dating back to WWII.

WWII Bunker 1

One of the World War II bunkers at the Howard Smith Wharves, Brisbane. Credit: Ellie Freeman.

Following this, the location was occupied by the Water Police until the 1980s but has since been left vacant.

Ex water police HQ

The restored water police headquarters building at Howard Smith Wharves, Brisbane. Credit: Ellie Freeman.

In the 1990s, Brisbane City Council proposed to redevelop the site. Since then, multiple plans have been proposed and rejected.

Now, it seems that the renovation of the Howard Smith Wharves will finally go ahead.

The plan includes a boutique hotel, commercial development and restaurants, with 80 per cent of the area to be designated as open space parkland.

As part of Brisbane City Council’s “City Centre Master Plan Ideas Fiesta”, the area was opened to the public for a few hours on Saturday April 20.


An ‘Ideas Fiesta’ sign in Brisbane. Credit: Ellie Freeman.

Food and drink stalls lined the wharf, and curious Brisbanites strolled along the new decking.


People walk in and around the Howard Smith Wharves during its open day, 20 April, 2013. Credit: Ellie Freeman.


Freshly-made paella at the Howard Smith Wharves open day 20 April, 2013. Credit: Ellie Freeman.

Two empty sheds were open to the public, a showcase of potential renovation and conjured history, rather than work completed – as there were only reinforced roofs and walls to see inside.

Inside one of the Howard Smith Wharves sheds, April 2013. Credit: Ellie Freeman.

In the spirit of the Ideas Fiesta, an area was assigned for people to post their “big idea for the sheds”.

Suggestions ranged from art performance spaces, a cheeky “Starbucks” logo, and the most popular: markets, with cafes and restaurants a close second.

Many advocated for the preservation of the structures and their surrounds, with a few clarifying what they didn’t want: “No Hotel” appeared more than once.


The public expressed their ideas for the redevelopment of the Howard Smith Wharves, with some unhappy about the proposed hotel. Credit: Ellie Freeman.

Councillor Vicki Howard, who occupies the Brisbane Central Ward, dropped by to check in on proceedings.

She explained how ideas will be considered once they’ve been submitted.

“They’re all put into consideration, there’s a team of people that will be working to come up with a master plan,” she said

cr vicki howard

Councillor Vicki Howard at the Howard Smith Wharves open day, 20 April, 2013. Credit: Ellie Freeman.

“It will take most of the year before we actually put it to Councillors.”

First proposed by Lord Mayor Campbell Newman in 2010, a multi-million-dollar development was to include a hotel and convention centre, and construction to stabilise the cliff-face surrounding the wharves.

A group of New Farm residents, backed by then-local Councillor David Hinchliffe, opposed the project and threatened legal action.

Howard Smith Wharves as seen from Kangaroo Point. Credit: minh mcCloy.

Howard Smith Wharves as seen from Kangaroo Point. Credit: minh mcCloy.

The proposal was withdrawn, but reintroduced a few months later after the Lord Mayor re-zoned the area to allow for the development.

The Bligh state government rejected the Council’s amended plans in 2011, citing the flooding of the area in January of that year.

Lord Mayor Graham Quirk resurrected the project in September last year.

Regarding the flooding concerns, Councillor Howard underscored the care being taken with the redevelopment.

“Council has been at the forefront of mapping the flooding of the river and where that will affect people; any construction that we do would certainly take that into account.”

Speaking to ABC Radio in February, Lord Mayor Graham Quirk clarified that during the 2011 flooding there was “only a small amount of water” on the proposed development areas and emphasised that the plans account for flood risk.

under construction

Sheds under construction at the Howard Smith Wharves, Brisbane. Credit: Ellie Freeman.

However, there are those who remain staunchly against the development.

When the plan was most recently revived, the Greens announced their firm opposition.

Anne Boccabella, who ran for the Brisbane Central seat as a Greens candidate in the 2009 Queensland State election, campaigned against the previous plan and has been outspoken against any commercial development of the wharves.

Ms Boccabella has labelled the current plans “ridiculous”, claiming the flood risk is too great and the development would be an eyesore.

“People would much rather take a river cruise down [the river] and see beautifully lit cliffs going up to the story bridge, rather than a Marriott,” she said.


Cliffs and trees near the wharves

Ms Boccabella encouraged those against the development to take action.

“I think they need to get together as a large group. They need to stand outside City Hall; they need to stand outside the Alderman’s office, the Greens will certainly be campaigning against it.”

“We want to see it beautified and made permanently available for the people of Brisbane.”

under the wharf

The walkway under the wharf, which has been rebuilt after being destroyed during the 2011 floods. Credit: Ellie Freeman.

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported.

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4 Comments Leave a comment
  • Cas Allan

    Best story Citizen J has run to date. Let’s have a lot more of these. Love the photos, all of the information, all of the sides to the story, the history. Just wonderful. Well done Dan and all involved.

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