Abandoned Places : SS Ayrfield, Sydney Harbour

The area of Homebush Bay was once an industrial crossroads of Sydney, filled with ships transporting coal and oil during the early 20th century. Unfortunately, the waters soon became contaminated and toxic (probably because of all that coal and oil), a problem that only got solved after the commercial boom following the 2000 Olympics. The area is now a fully-functional residential suburb, but you can still catch a few glimpses of Homebush Bay’s industrial past—and they’re much prettier than you might think. Most notably is the SS Ayrfield, a rusted abandoned freighter that has miraculously become overgrown with mangrove trees.

The SS Ayrfield’s fate was sealed. After 60 years of faithful service, having been built in Scotland and sailed to Australia, then used as a transport supply boat to US troops in the Pacific in World War II, and then retired, as such, to run coal from Newcastle to Sydney for the rest of its working life, the cargo ship was destined for the scrap heap. But something happened in the weeks the Ayrfield was floating in the bay, waiting to meet its fate. The value of scrap metal plummeted and the wrecking yards went out of business. There was no one left to deal with the Ayrfield, and indeed no one left to care for Homebush Bay at all. So it just sat there.

It has since partially sunk & rusted. It lies in a group of at least seven rusted hulks that still rest in plain sight in one of the world’s most beautiful waterways. The SS Ayrfield was one of several vessels due for wrecking that were just never wrecked, and which have now become part of the harbour seascape, as much a part of Homebush Bay as the mangroves that grow from within it.