Cunningham Pier is probably the most iconic structure on our magnificent waterfront. Opening in the mid 1850’s, the pier was a vital part of our port with rail being used to load and unload cargo. Originally knowns as Railway Pier, the post war modernisation of Geelong’s ports saw many larger ships move to Corio Quay. While Cunningham Pier did see some commercial use up until the 1970’s it was no longer suitable for modern ships and fell into disuse.
Other than the odd visiting naval vessel Cunningham Pier sat dormant for many years. But in 1989, some local entrepreneurs saw the potential of the green cargo shed on the pier and started the first of what became an institution on Geelong’s social calendar, New Year on the Pier. This mammoth event turned the goods shed into a huge nightclub with thousands seeing in the New Year. New Year on the Pier remained on the pier each new year until the pier was sold off in the 1990’s, forcing a slight name change to the event when it became New Year by the Pier.
In the mid 1990’s the 330 metre long pier was sold, and the green goods shed was removed to make way for the giant white structure that we have today. Island Trader opened their very popular Smorgy’s restaurant on the pier with an enormous buffet and an Animatronic floor show, which featured wind, water and a Geelong football / Greek God theme. The highlight of the show was an extremely cute animatronic seal who was called Salty. He was much-loved by young and old. It is rumoured that Salty the seal retired to the Jirrahlinga Wildlife Sanctuary near Ocean Grove.
In mid-2002, there was an announcement that the pier was to be turned into a massive residential development with 120 apartments, a 150 room hotel and convention centre. The plan was to cost around 130 million dollars and also include large marina facilities as well as more than 20 shops. Artist’s impressions of the plan showed the pier almost double its length. Unfortunately this exciting plan never reached reality.
There have also been several plans to use the pier to lure large cruise ships to Geelong, bringing business to the town and surrounding area. This vision, although not to the scale the city would have liked, did become reality, with several vessels visiting including visits by the Silver Shadow and Silver Spirit in 2011.
In 2006 local business man Frank Costa, purchased the iconic pier, he unveiled new plans which added to a refurbished restaurant, a function centre and boutique hotel.
Smorgy’s left the pier in early 2010, and later in the year the pier got a facelift and opened as a brand new function centre called “The Pier”, a bar called “City Quarter”, “Baveras” a gourmet restaurant and an alfresco cafe known as “The Dock”. These exciting facilities all offer spectacular views across Corio Bay and Geelong’s beautiful foreshore.
Cunningham pier has also been used as a venue for many of our foreshore’s major events. One of the first to take advantage of this vast open space was Ford’s 75th Anniversary in 1999, when dozens of speciality vehicles were displayed on the pier. Recently major sporting events, The Festival of Sails and the New Year’s celebrations have used the pier for activities and an entertainment venue.