For most of its history Port Adelaide had a reputation as a unique community – rough but honest – that reflected the character and lifestyles of the people who worked there: the wharfies who lumped cargo, the seafarers that passed through, the ketch hands who worked the fleets of wooden vessels that buzzed across the shallow gulfs, and the publicans, preachers, and prostitutes that vied for hearts and minds. The collection encompasses material that reflects the Port’s shipping history – the ketches, passenger liners, windjammers and tugs that jostled for space in the harbor, objects associated with shipping agents and significant shipping firms such as the Adelaide Steamship Company, and material associated with wharf workers, the Waterside Workers Federation, Seaman’s Unions and Mission to Seamen. It includes objects linked to the history of the local Masonic lodges, churches, high street businesses, timber merchants, mills, bond stores, sporting clubs, working men’s institutes, nautical instrument manufacturers, ship chandlers, sail makers, transport services, hotels and celebratory events in the Port such as the annual Port Regatta.
The museum is the main repository for material documenting the social history of Port Adelaide in Australia. Through these objects and images it is possible to construct a picture of the Port at various periods in history. The collection chronicles key events in the Port’s history – waterside workers strikes, maritime tragedies (fire on the City Of Singapore) and documents events unique to the Port such as regattas, king tides, and building projects. It also documents how world events such as world war, economic recession and epidemics impacted on this community.
The collection includes extensive collections of material from organisations with a unique connection to the Port – such as the Port Adelaide Institute later Nautical Museum. This rich collection was established in the 1870s and provided the core of the SA Maritime Museum collection. There are collections of personal memoribila from some of the Port’s significant and eccentric personalities. Thousands of photographs from the 1870s until the present document the history of the Port from a harbor creaking with masts and cranes to one almost devoid of vessels. 1500 images from the Port-based Bond Studios, provide intimate portraits of the people who eked out a living in the Port.