Residents fight to save Manly's freshwater class ferries

EVELYN'S WAR: Manly resident believes it is important to preserve Manly's Freshwater class of ferries. Photo: Tikky Hes
EVELYN'S WAR: Manly resident believes it is important to preserve Manly's Freshwater class of ferries. Photo: Tikky Hes

FERRIES helped turn Manly into the "Brighton of the South" and now residents are fighting for what they see as an essential part of the area's fabric.

The Freshwater, Narrabeen, Queenscliff and Collaroy are set to be replaced by Emerald class catamarans, or fast ferries, by the middle of the year.

The NSW government plans to stop using the Narrabeen and Queenscliff when the new boats are ready, but has agreed to continue to run the Freshwater and Collaroy on weekends and public holidays.

Evelyn's perspective

Long term Manly resident Evelyn Shervington is one of many locals who believes the larger, traditional ferries are an essential part of Manly's waterways.

The 79-year-old has lived in Manly for 20 years and uses the service multiple times a week.

Prior to moving to Manly, he lived in Balmain and would often take the ferry to Manly for day trips on weekends.

While he had caught catamarans before, he said they just wern't the same as the larger vessels, which transport up to 1100 passengers.

"The thing I like about the ferry is it's suitable for all weather. It's lovely on a warm day just sitting outside, but it's also interesting in stormy weather," he said.

"One day they had to put me on the upper deck because water was going through the bottom deck, it was really exciting."

Evelyn, who uses a wheelchair, said the larger boats were much more wheelchair friendly.

"They (the current class of ferries) are historic vessels, the crew are good at getting me on and off and there is bags of space for a disabled person," he said.

He said in his experience fast ferries were not spacious enough for a disabled person and designated wheelchair spaces were not large enough.

Evelyn also said the volume of smaller vessels would impinge on recreational water space and would bother residents due to the noise.

The former economist also questioned the viability of continuing to crew and maintain two ferries which would only operate on weekends and public holidays.

Evelyn said he would like to see the government turn the current ferry services into an environmental project by running them on solar or electric power.


Evelyn said in the 50 years he had lived by and travelled on Sydney Harbour, it had changed markedly.

"It used to be a working harbour with lots of ships and boats moving around," he said.

"There were big cargo vessels and cruise liners moving all around us, they moved materials around on barges and people worked on Cockatoo Island."

The history of Manly's ferries

ALL ABOARD: The Narrabeen and Queenscliff at Manly Wharf in October 1984. Image courtesy of Northern Beaches Council Library Local Studies.

ALL ABOARD: The Narrabeen and Queenscliff at Manly Wharf in October 1984. Image courtesy of Northern Beaches Council Library Local Studies.

The first ferry service in the area was started by Henry Gilbert Smith, who saw Manly's potential as a seaside resort town similar to Brighton in England.

He chartered paddle-steamer Huntress and started running journeys between a wharf he built at Manly and Sydney in 1855.

He gradually developed a regular service, acquiring shares in other steamers as he went.

In 1878 a company called the Port Jackson Steam Boat Co (later the Port Jackson Steamship Co) launched the PS Fairlight, a purpose built paddle steamer.

In 1893 a new company called The Manly Co-Operative Steam Ferry Company was formed, lasting only three years, before being absorbed by the Port Jackson company.

In that time The Co-Op managed to lower fares and laid the groundwork for the next generation of ferries by commissioning Naval architect Walter Reeks to design them a flagship vessel.

New and improved ferries continued to be designed and built, with the NSW Government taking over the service in 1974.

The current Freshwater class of ferries were commissioned and launched in the 1980s.

Good for Manly

The Good for Manly community group, which is chaired by Northern Beaches deputy mayor Candy Bingham, has formed a Save the Manly Ferries committee.

The committee supports the use of the new Emerald class fast ferries for commuters during am and pm peak periods, adding to the fast ferries that already service the area.

However, it maintains that the larger and slower freshwater ferries are more popular with tourists, visitors and locals who travel for leisure.

The committee believes the Freshwater class ferries should continue to operate in the middle of the day on weekdays, as well as on weekends and public holidays.

It also has concerns the fast ferries, which seat 400, will struggle to meet capacity during peak visiting times.

According to the Good for Manly website, 1 million international tourists visited Manly by ferry in 2019 and 98 per cent of visitors who travel to Manly by boat use the larger, slower ferries.

The committee has circulated a petition to save the ferries and has gathered over 20,000 signatures, meaning the matter will be debated in the NSW parliament.

Government response

A spokesperson for Transport minister Andrew Constance said the government was working hard to balance transport needs with people's sense of nostalgia.

She said the government would be willing to give the Narabeen and Queenscliff to any party or group that was willing to pay maintenance costs once the government stopped operating them.

For more information, click here.

This story Ferries worth the fight for Evelyn first appeared on The Senior.