History of the Port of Brisbane


Brisbane’s first exports were shipments of timber from local pine and cedar forests during the early days of European settlement.The logs were rafted down the river and across Moreton Bay to Dunwich (North Strabroke Island), where sailing ships would load the cargo and head for Sydney.

Between 1850 and 1885 Brisbane emerged as the main commercial centre in the colony. Net tonnage through the port grew from 8,128 tonnes in 1850 to 690,883 tonnes in 1885. In the same period the area’s population grew from under 8,000 people to over 100,000.

During this time water transport was dominant, with ships carrying exports of coal and rural products, and imports of manufactured goods between Brisbane and Ipswich.

In 1888 the frozen beef trade was introduced in Brisbane, creating considerable employment and prosperity in the port.

The next major historical event to substantially influence port activities was World War II. Normal maintenance dredging activities were disrupted, resulting in inadequate channel depths by 1949. During this period Cairncross Dockyard was constructed to meet the demand for ship repair facilities.

Later in the decade, a new wave of development began, dominated by the processing of sugar, meat, oil and mining output. The population grew from 457,000 in 1947 to 693,000 in 1961. In the same period, total tonnage through the port rose to 2.6 million tonnes. Two major phases of development began in the 1960s, which were to change the industrial and port structures of Brisbane.

Firstly, the discovery of the Moonie oil fields resulted in two refineries being constructed at the mouth of the Brisbane River.

Secondly, containerisation prompted a change in cargo handling technology, and by 1969 the port’s first container terminal had been built by private enterprise in the Hamilton Reach of the river.

Purpose-built port

In 1972 the Queensland Government commissioned the then Department of Harbours and Marine (now Queensland Maritime Safety which is a division of Queensland Transport) to undertake a review of the role of the Port of Brisbane in the national trade scene.

The review was published in 1974 and recommended that a master plan be developed. The plan was completed in 1976 and key conclusions were:

  • The Port of Brisbane must expand its facilities to meet increasing trade. Trade through the port had trebled between 1962 and 1972.
  • Optimal expansion of the port could be achieved by constructing entirely new facilities on Fisherman Islands at the mouth of the Brisbane River.
  • Increased trade through the port would create fewer environmental problems by developing the port at Fisherman Islands than by upgrading the existing river port.
  • For efficient expansion to take place, it was essential to establish a port authority.

As a result, the Port of Brisbane Authority Act 1976 took effect on 6 December 1976, and the Authority awarded its first contract for a port project on 7 April 1977. The project involved building a five-kilometre causeway, two road bridges and a rail bridge to link the islands to the mainland at Lytton.

The Port of Brisbane Authority was corporatised in 1994 under the Government Owned Corporation (GOC) Act 1993, and changed its name to Port of Brisbane Corporation. On 1 July 2007, the Port of Brisbane Corporation changed from a statutory to a company GOC, listed with the Australian Securities and Investments Commission.

On 2 June 2009, the Premier of Queensland announced the State Government's Renewing Queensland Plan, which included the sale of a number of government assets, including the Port of Brisbane Corporation.  As part of the sale process, on 1 July 2010 the Queensland Government transferred all equipment and machinery, including the dredging fleet, all employees of the Port of Brisbane Corporation, and the operating rights associated with the Port of Brisbane to a new operating company - the Port of Brisbane Pty Ltd (PBPL). On 10 November the Queensland Treasurer announced that Q Port Holdings had been selected as the successful bidder. The sale process was completed on 30 November 2010 with QPH becoming the new owner of Port of Brisbane Pty Ltd.

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