Major imports through the port in the early years of its history were manufactured goods, food products and some raw materials such as coal. Fisheries products, sandalwood and other timbers, wool, gold and later wheat were the major exports, but for many years, obtaining sufficient cargoes to backload the ships was a problem.
In the early years of Fremantle Port’s history, sandalwood was an important trade. The highly aromatic wood was in demand in Asia for incense sticks, and the first shipment of four tonnes from Fremantle was made in 1845. Within 3 years, sandalwood exports had risen to 1335 tonnes, earning about 45 per cent of the colony’s export income. The principal markets were Singapore and China. The York and Toodyay areas were among the early sources of supply, and before the introduction of rail transport, the sandalwood was imported by horse and bullock teams. Some of the buyers took delivery in Guildford and sent the timber by river to Fremantle for shipment. The opening of the Eastern Goldfields railway later gave sandalwood pullers access to further resources in the agricultural and goldfields areas. Sandalwood oil, sometimes referred to as ’liquid gold’ because of the high prices it can fetch in Asia, is still exported from Fremantle Port, but the industry is carefully managed to conserve the resource.
In the early years of the port and before containerisation, a variety of cargo was handled by the transit/goods sheds along Victoria Quay through ship discharge and loading operations. Cargo was conveyed to and from the sheds and wharf area by rail or road transport. Rail lines can still be seen in and around the heritage-listed sheds. In the earlier years, the sheds and berth area also facilitated the arrival and departure of passenger, naval and special-purpose vessels. With the advent of containerisation, the sheds no longer handle cargo and have been repurposed for a variety of other uses in recent years.
Built in 1926-27, this shed replaced an earlier, smaller shed. A Shed’s dormer roof was removed in 1969.
Built in 1926-27, this shed replaced an earlier, smaller shed. B Shed is the only shed on Victoria Quay retaining its original dormer roofs intersecting the main roof.
Built in 1903-04, C Shed is the oldest original goods shed on Victoria Quay. In 1913, it was extended by 58 metres to 146 metres and widened in 1927. In 1985, the shed was reduced in length to its current size.
Originally built circa 1902, D Shed was later reconstructed and widened by 9 metres in 1928-29 to accommodate the increased flow of goods and the much larger ships arriving at the port.
E Shed was relocated in 1996 from the wharf area east of D Shed to its present site near Cliff Street.
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