Pier One’s belly flop crisis

During the 1980s, before Pier One was converted into a boutique hotel, it was a popular shopping and leisure centre, inspired by successful ‘harbourside marketplaces’ in Boston, Seattle and San Francisco.

This venue attracted tabloid headlines in 1984—when about 30 people, including children, fell into deep water as an overloaded gangway collapsed during a belly flop diving contest.

‘Pier Plunge!’ screamed The Daily Telegraph, which published front-page photographs of the crisis and quoted shocked parents of children who were rushed to hospital with suspected bone breaks.

Pier One’s marketplace operator, Vern Howlett, said he would never have expected the steel-reinforced, timber-balustraded gangway to have been a safety hazard but if he had seen it overloaded, he would have herded people away.

These newspaper clippings (kindly donated by former Maritime Services Board property manager John Sturday) explain one of Walsh Bay’s memorable public disturbances. Fortunately no-one died in this incident—although alcohol-related drownings and late-night murders were regularly reported around the wharves during the 1920s and 1930s.