As Sydney’s third cruise terminal, Port Kembla doesn’t need to be seen as ‘second prize’

At first glance, Port Kembla seemed like a fanciful idea but it certainly has its attractions.

David Jones

David Jones is a journalist and cruise industry veteran, with his career including 13 years as corporate communications manager at Carnival Australia. He has shared the below opinion with travelBulletin in response to MYLES STEDMAN’s recent article on Port Kembla possibly becoming Sydney’s third cruise terminal. Read that HERE.
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A 1900-vintage photo recently appeared on social media showing a large cargo ship anchored in Woolloomooloo Bay with a post remarking on the fact that it must have been deep water to accommodate such a large vessel and the finger wharf that was ultimately to be built there. I immediately thought that the finger wharf or nearby Garden Island were always the obvious but unrequited choices as an additional home for cruising in Sydney Harbour to support industry growth.

As everyone now seems to agree, neither option seems likely in anyone’s current lifetime and of course the cruise terminal idea that was never going to fly — Yarra Bay — has been sensibly ruled out.

I feel a certain personal culpability in the Woolloomooloo option going missing in action. When the historic finger wharf’s fate was being decided, I was working for NSW Premier Nick Greiner.

Had I known in 1990 that within 30 years cruising would be a $5 billion a year industry — two thirds of it generated in NSW — I would have said, “Hey Nick, make the finger wharf Sydney’s third cruise terminal!” Unfortunately, no one in the NSW Government was then gifted with a crystal ball and the finger wharf instead became condominiums for the rich and famous.

Now, Port Kembla has emerged as a candidate for a terminal to cater for the Sydney overload during the peak summer cruise season.

At first glance, Port Kembla seemed like a fanciful idea but it certainly has its attractions. It’s easy to think of the logistical negatives. In fact, the Illawarra is one of the best kept tourism secrets with idyllic coastline scenery and villages.

However, it isn’t sufficient to say that other cruise-loving countries berth ships at ports well away from main centres, so we should just get used to that idea here. It’s even harder to sustain that argument when the Sydney Harbour experience has been part and parcel of cruising for locals and international visitors for decades.

With a bit of thought, the Port Kembla option doesn’t need to be seen as a “second prize”.

For example, there is scope for package deals including pre-cruise and post-cruise accommodation to experience the local sights and attractions of which there are many. The convenience of wharfside parking for the duration of a cruise would also make the 90-minute run to Wollongong more attractive.

I have another reason to give Port Kembla a chance to be part of the cruise phenomenon — it earned it with a great expression of humanity at the height of the covid response that overwhelmed cruising.

It was the Illawarra community and Pastor John Kewa, in particular, from the local Mission to Seafarers, who embraced the crew of Ruby Princess when cruise ships were being driven out and help was needed most. Pastor Kewa, later named Wollongong’s Citizen of the Year, and the Illawarra adopted Ruby’s crew sending gift packages and messages of support. A seafaring community stood by fellow seafarers in their hour of need.

Ruby Princess - Thank you Illawarra

Remember the ‘THANK YOU ILLAWARRA’ banner on Ruby Princess’s stern when the ship was finally able to depart from Port Kembla. The community support was in stark contrast to what seafarers received from the authorities at the time.

In treating these seafarers with dignity, respect and humanity, Port Kembla and the Illawarra certainly earned consideration as a third cruise terminal option.

Now, it’s over to the same community to complete the value proposition that could make this a reality. I wish them all the best in doing so. Thank you Illawarra!

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