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Familiar harbour landmarks become pollution monitors in Sydney

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Words:
Pamela Buxton

Plans for a tunnel prompted Victoria King’s Surface Tension: Blueprints for Observing Contamination in the Sydney Harbour Estuary

Blueprint for Renewal: Existing and Proposed Conditions on Goat Island.
Blueprint for Renewal: Existing and Proposed Conditions on Goat Island.

Victoria King
Surface Tension: Blueprints for Observing Contamination in the Sydney Harbour Estuary
University of Melbourne
Tutors: Gini Lee; Alan Pert


Victoria King’s project was inspired by her great grandfather, who was a boat builder in Sydney Harbour, and by her father’s stories of growing up in the harbour environment. 

Her survey and research into the harbour’s past, present and future revealed the impact of 200 years of industrial use – both in terms of the physical remnants of wharves, shipyards and other infrastructure, and the less visible but rising levels of pollutants in the harbour such as micro-plastics and heavy metal contamination. Plans for the Western Harbour Tunnel, due to start next year, are expected to have significant environmental ramifications. Realising that data on contamination in the harbour was not being systematically documented, she developed proposals for a network of monitoring and observation sites across the estuary, and explored instances where contamination can provide opportunity for renewal.

She developed proposals for a network of monitoring and observation sites across the estuary, and explored instances where contamination can provide opportunity for renewal

King’s proposals are based on the sites of three ‘micro-narratives’ that she identified in her research relating to the modification and contamination of the harbour environment. The Vessel is at Snapper Island, the smallest island in the harbour, which was originally an oyster reef but was re-formed through land reclamation into the shape of a ship and subsequently served as a nautical training centre. The Cardinal Mark is located as a marker for the site of the proposed harbour tunnel, which entails the relocation of 500 tonnes of contaminated sediment. The Slipway is on one of the harbour’s last remaining covered slipways, in a dilapidated wharf on Goat Island.

In this way, King used familiar objects of harbour infrastructure as the basis for new infrastructure addressing the future of the harbour.

‘Each of these sites became an observation point for me to help address what I saw was a gap in observation and data collection, and in the understanding of the threats being introduced into the harbour,’ she said.


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