Diving in to restore Princes Pier for future generations

Melbourne’s iconic Princes Pier is being restored for future generations

They say if walls could talk, they'd have some incredible stories to tell.

If the same is true of planks and piles, then the 107-year-old Princes Pier could tell some fascinating tales from Australia’s history.

After all, key moments in the lives of thousands of Victorians have taken place on the Melbourne landmark.

It was the departure point for World War I ANZACs between 1914 and 1918, and again 20 years later for World War II, providing a last glimpse of home before they ventured into the unknown.

Then, in the 20 years after the second World War ended, the pier was the first sight of a new home for over one million post-war migrants. Thousands of families can trace the start of their Australian story back to the planks and piles of the heritage pier.

Now, thanks to $3.05 million from the Victorian Government, the future of Princes Pier is being secured for coming generations.

Delivered over four years, the funding is supporting the strengthening and protection of more than 250 structurally compromised piles.

The repairs are good news for the community, who continue to use the pier for significant events.

One such event is the annual Blessing of the Waters celebrated on the pier by parishes from across Melbourne's Greek Orthodox community.

Another was the 2020 performance of ‘Murmuring’, a piece created by The Australian Ballet and Australian Ballet School in response to the Covid pandemic.

For Project Engineer Chris op’t Hoog and the rest of the Professional Diving Services team, the ongoing cultural importance of the pier is apparent as they undertake the repairs.

"The biggest standout for us has been the sense of community you find working at the pier," said Chris.

"You can have people fishing, you can have school kids visiting, you even find people shooting scenes for short films," he added.

This vibrant environment has proved welcoming to the Professional Diving Services team.

"You've got community members coming down for a chat, just because they're grateful for the repairs and the part we're playing in them," said Chris.

Chris is confident the work his team is doing will provide longevity for the pier and its unique atmosphere.

"The repairs are expected to extend the lifespan of individual piles by 10-20 years," said Chris.

According to Chris, if a pile has a failed section - one that cannot support the structure - the team cuts out the failed part and replaces it with marine-grade timber. This is known as a ‘pile splice’.

However, if the pile has a hole or defect, they undertake an ‘encasement’ and wrap a support structure around it.

With repairs progressing nicely, Chris and the team are looking forward to celebrating a job well done and ensuring the pier will be there for future generations.

"It's great being involved with the community - we're going to make sure Princes Pier stays as they need it, for as long as they need it."