With the future of the now-empty Marineland building in Manly Cove under review, it is perhaps appropriate to note that Manly has a long association with public aquariums.
The first was a grand construction, located on the corner of The Corso and Darley Road, opposite today’s St Matthews Church. It opened in December 1886 and consisted of a large two storey building, fronting The Corso but set back from Darley Road. It contained two large halls, one on the ground floor and one on the upper, for concerts and other uses. Galleries ran down both sides of the lower hall with six large fish tanks in them, each tank 15 ft long and holding 15,000 gallons of water.
There was also a magnificent seal house, 60 feet long by 30 feet high, with a tank containing another 15,000 gallons of water, complete with ‘sea-elephants, seals, and other kindred specimens’. It was constructed in a naturalistic style with rocks and caverns, ‘so that the fish (and seals) may be seen as in their native element disporting themselves in and out among the rocks and seaweed’. A large engine provided pumping power and generated electric light and there were a further 50,000 gallons of water stored in a large tank under the main building.
After great initial success, the opening of competitors in Bondi and Coogee had an impact and in 1890 the aquarium portions were closed. Today, The Old Manly Boatshed operates in a basement that was originally the water storage tank. A section of the original facade remains above street level at 36 The Corso.
In 1929 the Port Jackson and Manly Steam Ship Company, which operated the Manly ferries, leased the cargo wharf adjacent to the passenger wharf and converted it to an amusement pier. Between the two wharves it also built an aquarium, which opened on May 17, 1930. The new aquarium got off to a somewhat shaky start. Among its initial stock were a 3m grey nurse shark, a wobbegong and a stingray. These apparently coexisted happily but when a 5m tiger shark was introduced it attacked and killed the grey nurse.
In 1963 a South African company built a much grander and more modern aquarium – Marineland – as a standalone circular structure in the western end of the harbour pool. It survived the storm of 1974, but the pool did not. Faced with this competition the original modest aquarium responded in the late 1960s by giving its entrance a major facelift. The public now entered through the jaws of a very large shark, thanks to the versatility of fiberglass. However, in 1981 it succumbed to the competition and closed down.
Marineland went through several ownerships and iterations – Manly Underwater World, Oceanworld and Manly Sealife Sanctuary – but it too closed in 2018.