1890 – 1914 – A new Chamber. Familiar challenges

June 8, 2023 BY

The port of Geelong in the 1920s. Photo: Geelong Heritage Centre

After a period of inactivity, a new Chamber was established in 1890.

The new organisation clearly filled an important need in the business community and, by the end of the first year, it had 104 members. As such the new Geelong Chamber was said to be the largest in proportion to the population of its area of any chamber in the colonies.

Not surprisingly, one of the Chamber’s first orders of business was the condition of and proposed improvements to the port and harbour facilities. Central to this task was the need to cut
a new and deepened channel into the bay.

Faced with the inertia of a slow moving state bureaucracy, the Chamber even proposed to replace the slow-moving government dredgers with a more responsive independent contractor. Predictably, however, the Chamber’s proactivity was rejected by the government of the day.

The problem remained a key issue for the Chamber throughout the next decades. Finally, in 1893, the Chamber recorded the completion of a new channel through the sandbar – this after 15 years of trying.

The Ford works and wharf under construction. Photo: Geelong Heritage Centre


New Prosperity

In the years between 1905 and 1914, while much of the world was struggling with economic downturn, Geelong began to experience a modest prosperity.

In 1906, all the manufacturing businesses in the district reported full employment and considerable additions were being made to machinery and buildings. The Chamber’s report for 1907 noted that the year had not thrown up any burning issues to be discussed but that a considerable amount of ‘solid business’ was emerging in Geelong. In fact, two important new employers emerged in 1908 – the Geelong and Western District Fruit Preserving Company and the Oriental Timber Company.

Along with new commercial prosperity came significant improvements to the city’s infrastructure, including mains sewerage and a tramway system. Meanwhile, telephone wires in the city were being run underground and an automatic telephone system was soon to follow.