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With international container shipping services to Australia to start within a year, a select committee was established in April 1967 to investigate the country’s readiness for change.

The committee concluded that Australia, which even today depends on shipping for trade, must get on board the ‘container revolution’. However, it was frustrated by a widespread lack of appreciation for the potential of containerisation and alarmed at how unprepared exporters and port authorities were for its introduction.

New terminals needed to be constructed and existing ones modified to accommodate the larger container ships. It was also essential that terminals had direct access to highways and railways for ‘door-to-door’ delivery of cargo.

On the committee’s recommendation, an advisory committee and ‘watchdog body’ were appointed to oversee the introduction and operation of containerisation. Despite some exporter resistance and inevitable dockside job losses, in early 1969 container ships began to regularly arrive in Australia.

Loading bales of wool onto a ship in Queensland, ca1910, State Library of Queensland, D3-8-87.

Responding to the committee’s report in October 1968, Senator Justin O’Byrne described containerisation as ‘the biggest revolution in sea transport since the conversion from sail to steam’. He further noted the report ‘indicates the vast potential the Senate has for collecting and collating up to the minute reliable information and making it readily available’.

Lance Cunningham, Centerline - Mette Maersk, 27 February 2012 (CC-BY-NC-SA-2.0)

Without the humble shipping container, globalisation would not be possible. Today, 99 per cent of Australia’s international trade is carried by sea, contributing to the 10 billion tonnes of cargo delivered across the world by container ships each year.

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