Irish engineer Charles Yelverton O’Connor is best known for his work in Australia, with two of his most notable achievements being the design of Fremantle Harbour and the Goldfields Water Supply Scheme.
At the time he was head-hunted from New Zealand as Chief Engineer by the Premier John Forrest, the Gold Rush was making the creation of a harbour more urgent.
C Y O’Connor assessed several options, including the Premier’s preference for a channel cut through Success Bank, a long jetty, protection mole and a rail connection to Fremantle.
With that determined to be too expensive, C Y O’Connor was able to lobby for his vision for an Inner Harbour scheme.
He survived a rigorous grilling by a Parliamentary select committee and his scheme was selected. Work began in 1892.
The major first tasks involved the placement of north and south moles, with rock being quarried from Rocky Bay and Boya, followed by the removal of the rocky bar by drilling and blasting off numerous timber platforms that held up to 120 to 160 men.
Then six dredges were used for the dredging that removed 9.5 million cubic yards to make a deep harbour.
The creation of the wharf faces required significant reclamation prior to construction of the wharves, which C Y O’Connor boldly designed parallel to the shoreline rather than the finger wharves popular elsewhere.
On A Berth, near the Maritime Museum, Fremantle Ports has left an area of decking open, with a fence around it so that people can see the timber wharf construction.
C Y O’Connor’s legacy to Western Australians is that he had the courage to pursue his long term vision for public works. He understood that ports are living, dynamic organisms and that to service their communities they needed to respond to changing technologies and to expand.
At the time of the creation of the Port of Fremantle, ports all round the world had to respond to the change from sail to steam, from timber to iron ships, to larger vessels and to increasingly mobile communities and economies.
The challenges of change are with us still as ports need to be responsive to new technologies and trade trends.
An impressive bronze statue of C Y O’Connor by Pietro Porcelli was unveiled by Sir John Forrest on 23 June 1911. It is located near the entrance to the Fremantle Ports administration building on Victoria Quay.