Polly Woodside is a Belfast-built, three-masted, iron-hulled barque, preserved in Melbourne, Australia, and forming the central feature of the South Wharf precinct. The ship was originally built in Belfast by William J. Woodside and was launched in 1885. Polly Woodside is typical of thousands of smaller iron barques built in the last days of sail, intended for deep water trade around the world and designed to be operated as economically as possible.
A number of half-hearted efforts were made in the mid 20th century to preserve Australia's sailing heritage, at the same time as it rapidly disappeared from Australian ports. In 1934, the Shiplover's Society of Victoria arranged for the coal hulk Shandon (a 1,400 ton former barque) to be partially re-rigged and refitted as a static display, to celebrate the centenary of European settlement. However, by the early 1960s, Rona was the last of her kind still afloat in Australia. A few others lay full of water, abandoned and forgotten – the James Craig in Recherche Bay, Tasmania; the Santiago in the Port River, near Adelaide. The Polly Woodside's restoration owes much to the efforts of Karl Kortum, former director of the San Francisco Maritime Museum, who inspired Dr. Graeme Robertson of the National Trust of Australia (Victoria) to put up a proposal to save the ship in 1962. In the context of the time, this proposal was quite risky but showed extraordinary vision. The National Trust of Australia relied entirely on volunteer labour, and it had no experience in restoring a sailing ship, even for static display. The restoration of the Rona/Polly Woodside would be a massive task. A long campaign led to the National Trust of Australia purchasing her from Howard Smith Industries for one cent in 1968.
An estimated 60,000 hours of painstaking voluntary labour saw the ship refurbished close to its original state. The project received strong support from businesses, unions, former crewmembers and several Captains. The first Master of Restoration, Captain G.H.Heyen was a master in sail. Polly Woodside's chief rigger for 27 years of restoration was Tor Lindqvist, a former able seaman and sailmaker on Lawhill, Passat and Viking. In 1978 she was opened under her original name to the public, and is now permanently moored at the old Duke and Orr's Dry Dock on the Yarra River near Melbourne. Now landlocked by a nearby roadbridge, she cannot take to sea like the restored barque James Craig, of Sydney.
In 1988 the World Ship Trust awarded their seventh maritime heritage award to Polly Woodside, for "supreme achievement in the preservation of maritime heritage" — a first for a restored merchant ship. In March 2007, Polly Woodside was added to the Victorian Heritage Register.
Polly Woodside was closed to the public on 30 April 2006 to allow for the major redevelopment of the lower Yarra River's southern bank. The $1.4 billion redevelopment, announced by the Victorian Government in February 2006, included construction works for the new Melbourne Convention Centre immediately next to the Polly Woodside. The ship was temporarily relocated approximately 50 metres away to a mooring on the adjacent Yarra River on 26 August 2008 – its first move in 33 years – for a $13 million operational refurbishment and restoration of its dry dock home, board walk, and adjacent former wharf sheds. Between this time and May 2009 the water within the Duke and Orr's Dry Dock was pumped out and a gated dam wall built at the entrance. The bottom of the dry dock was excavated and permanent keel supports built into the concrete base for Polly Woodside to sit upon, allowing the ship to be periodically dry docked for repairs. On 19 May 2009 the dam wall gates were opened allowing water to flow into the dry dock and Polly Woodside was returned to the Duke and Orr's Dry Dock. Polly Woodside was reopened to the public on 23 December 2010.