Historic Jetty Demolished

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Photo #1By Bill Garner

St Kilda residents and visitors are up in arms about the demolition of Brooke’s Jetty last October and are campaigning to have it rebuilt.

The jetty was a defining element of the St Kilda beach landscape. For more than a 100 years, the narrow structure was a magnet for sailors, swimmers, fishers, sightseers and especially for young people and children. It was a famous St Kilda destination.

The jetty originally sat alongside a boat shed erected in the 1880s by local fisherman and boat-builder, Fred Brooke.  The Brooke family is still associated with the jetty and Ken Brooke, grandson of Fred, is the patron of Bring back Brooke’s Jetty. From 1905 to the 1950s the Brooke family was deeply involved with the St Kilda Dinghy Club one of the most famous sailing clubs in Australia. For decades sightseers would crowd the jetty to watch the 14-footers race.

The Dinghy Club was also one of the social centres of St Kilda. It ran a very popular weekly dance until 1959 and it had football and ice hockey teams, and ran ladies days, picture nights, billiards tournaments, smoke nights, and pie nights. It was a champion of women sailors. When the Royal St Kilda Yacht Club (now the Royal Melbourne Yacht Squadron) decided that its rules would not allow women to enter its premises after dark, the Victorian Ladies Yacht Club moved its meetings to the other end of the beach, to the Dinghy Club.

Despite laws banning open sea swimming and bathing from any jetty or pier, by 1915 the jetty had become a favourite spot for swimmers. Plainclothes police would raid the jetty to catch miscreants. In 1916 a man was fined merely for sitting on Brooke’s Jetty in a bathing costume. But the swimmers eventually had their way, the law was changed, and by 1934 swimming competitions were being staged from the jetty. Rockets would be fired from the end of the jetty for the entertainment of the crowds who came to St Kilda on New Years Eve.

The jetty was integral to life saving at the beach and had a long connection with the St Kilda Lifesaving Club. There are more than ten recorded cases of people being rescued from drowning by using the jetty to reach them. The Brooke brothers were the unofficial lifesavers of the beach and a lifeboat was stored in their shed. When the Life Saving Club itself got into difficulties in 1919 its assets and management were taken over by the Dinghy Club.

Several times the jetty and the boat shed were damaged by storms. Although funding was always an issue, on each occasion the jetty was repaired or, as in 1934, rebuilt. In 1963 the boat shed was again damaged by storm. By this time the Dinghy Club had amalgamated with the Royal Melbourne Yacht Squadron, which had lost interest in the old premises, and St Kilda Council was keen to remove it. The boat shed was demolished but the jetty remained as popular as ever. It continued to feature in newspaper articles and photographs as a place that epitomised the lively spirit of St Kilda beach.

In recent years storms destroyed the safe lower deck, but it was not replaced. When the head of the jetty was damaged in a storm in mid 2014, Parks Victoria initially said it would be repaired but no action was taken. In 2015 they resolved that the jetty no longer served a port function and, ignoring its history and the deep affection in which it was held, quietly told Port Phillip Council it intended to demolish it. Safety was now pushed as a major concern, and a death from spinal injury in 2008 was extensively cited despite the fact that a coronial inquiry explicitly exonerated the jetty. The main reason for demolition was clearly financial. Parks had decided to sacrifice Brooke’s Jetty and avoid all future expense. There was no community consultation, no prior public notice, and no serious attempt to weigh costs against the great social benefits it still offered.

When residents became aware of the demolition in late October last year they took to the water, resulting in five arrests. The work was only completed with police protection. It has been a pyrrhic victory for Parks Victoria. Their action has generated a determined campaign to rebuild the jetty. With more than 800 supporters of Bring Back Brooke’s Jetty, the backing of Port Phillip Council, and under the watchful eyes of local politicians, it would be a forlorn hope of Parks Victoria that the memory of Brooke’s Jetty will fade away.

Photo #2

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