Melbourne – A Great Maritime City

Greetings AllIt’s fair to say that in times past there has been a degree of negativity around Australia’s geographic remoteness, far from the centres of power and influence.  The phrase the ‘tyranny of distance’, first coined around 1960, came into common usage as the title of prominent historian Geoffrey Blainey’s popular 1967 book “The Tyranny of Distance: How Distance Shaped Australia’s History”. In essence, his thesis was that distance and isolation have been central to Australia’s history and in shaping its national identity.

It is clear mid-pandemic, that indeed distance is a factor which continues to shape our future – to our great benefit!  The ‘tide has turned’ so to speak.  COVID-19 has certainly demonstrated that there is tangible benefit in Australia’s ‘distance and isolation. Leaving aside the Ruby Princess debacle, the Greg Mortimer fiasco and other cruise ship ‘challenges’, the vast oceans surrounding us have served us well during the pandemic crisis.

These oceans led to our developing expertise in maritime trade, both coastal and international. They have served us well in the past and, post COVID-19, will do so in the future. Maritime trade will certainly play a key role in allowing Australia’s economy in due course to ‘snap-back’, ‘up-anchor’ and, most importantly, go ‘full steam ahead’. Maritime trade will be instrumental in resuscitating our stalled economy. Not for the first time in our maritime history, recent events clearly reveal that Australia’s prosperity is inextricably linked to trade by sea.

Maritime Capability

The pandemic has certainly highlighted the acute, urgent necessity of Australia developing a greater level of ‘self-sufficiency’ in relation to maritime skills than is currently the case. It is encouraging to see evidence that the reality of this dire maritime skills shortfall is gaining traction with government. One example of a shift in focus by government was an invitation from Australian Industry Standards (AIS) to the MMHN Skills, Education & Careers SAG, to make a submission on maritime skills industry training forecasting to inform AIS industry workforce projections. Two key objectives of the MMHN are firstly, the establishment of a Maritime Specialist Skills Centre in Docklands, and secondly fostering greater recognition that maritime education and careers are vital. Both MMHN objectives are critical to developing greater national ‘self-sufficiency’ on the oceans which links, of course, to Australia’s national prosperity. See the MMHN submission to AIS –

Coastal Shipping

In the halcyon days of Australian shipping, a vibrant industry provided coastal shipping services to move goods around our island nation. We were not then reliant entirely upon the services of foreign vessels.  Times have changed. The number of Australian-flagged vessels available for coastal shipping has dropped dramatically – and alarmingly. The majority of goods transported by sea to, and around, Australia is now provided by foreign vessels at the ‘end’ of their voyages around the globe. A recent informative paper by Rigby Cooke Lawyers entitled  “Can the ‘Blue Highway’ of Australian coastal shipping provide a viable option to remedy some of our supply chain issues?” challenges us to address this malaise. See
Also see  ABC IVIEW April 28 The 7.30 Report- an analysis of national ‘preparedness reshipping’.  If you have an interest in this exploring this concept of a ‘blue highway’ and maritime sector self-sufficiency’, consider joining the MMHN Maritime Commerce & Industry SAG. Email:


Understandably many of us are fixated on surviving COVID-19 but we should not forget the persisting plight of people in places so recently ravaged by bushfire and floods. Nor should we forget the critical role of the RAN ship HMAS Choules which arrived from the ocean, rescuing a thousand people under threat plus 113 dogs, three cats, one rabbit and a parakeet. As well as evacuating so many local people, HMAS Choules aided wildlife as well. From the ship RAN helicopters dropped food and water to wildlife in their scorched habitats. To acknowledge this work, and to symbolise the close bond between the Australian Defence Force and local communities forged during the 2019-2020 bushfires, the people of Mallacoota have installed a plaque in the heart of their town. More details on this vessel can be found here

Image from Royal Australian Navy ArchivesMaritime Archaeology NewsPerhaps you will recall from the inaugural MMHN Annual General Meeting last October that Steven Avery, CEO of Heritage Victoria, shared his passion for marine archaeology; a passion shared by many MMHN members. To the delight of many, April has been a big month in marine archaeology circles with news of a significant ‘discovery’ in Port Phillip Bay – the 39ft schooner Barbara, which was built in Tasmania in 1841 and wrecked off Rye in 1852. It was the identification and analysis of the wreck, rather than actual discovery) which proved to be the most exciting element. Shipbuilding was colonial Australia’s first manufacturing industry but very little is known, as yet, about the ways Australian-built vessels such as the Barbara engaged in coastal trade from the early 19th century. The Barbara will provide fascinating new insights into both shipbuilding and coastal trading. Unsurprisingly, for an island nation, early Australian shipbuilding and coastal activities by vessels such as the Barbara played a key role in our nation-building.
See The Age April 12, 2020 (p. 6) and

The Cerberus

1. Excellent RAN Cerberus News
The Navy brings news that the famous Cerberus will, hopefully, be appropriately acknowledged at last. It is pleasing to learn that the RAN have been contacted by Australia Post (AP) in relation to the 150th Anniversary (1871 – 2021) of the arrival into Victoria of HMVS Cerberus on Sunday, April 9, 1871.  Australia Post is investigating a commemorative stamp to mark the date. Rightly so. HMVS Cerberus was, and is, a significant maritime heritage asset which served with the Victorian Naval Forces, later the Commonwealth Naval Forces, and finally with the Royal Australian Navy between 1871 and 1924. The Cerberus also famous in relation to naval design. It is the name given to a class of vessel identified variously as ‘breastwork monitors’, ‘iron clads’ and ‘turret ships’. Following requests by several British dominions and colonies, Sir Edmund Reed was commissioned to design the Cerberus class warships specifically designed for coastal defence. Two ships were built: HMVS Cerberus which was operated by the colony of Victoria in Port Phillip Bay and HMS Magdala operating in Bombay Harbour, India. At the outbreak of WW1 in August 1914, the Victorian warship HMAS Cerberus assumed the important role of Port Guard Ship for the Port of Melbourne – as a base for the naval dock guards and small craft patrolling the harbour. In the later stages of the war, the ship became a store for ammunition and explosives.
In 1921, the Victorian Cerberus vessel was decommissioned and moved from Williamstown to Geelong where, for the next two years, it functioned as a submarine depot ship for the RAN’s flotilla of six J-class submarines. In April 1924, regrettably, the vessel was sold as scrap to the Melbourne Salvage Co Pty Ltd, for the sum of £409, and towed back to Williamstown where it was stripped of all valuable metals and useful fittings. In 1926, the hull was purchased by the Sandringham Municipal Council. On September 2, 1926, the hull of Cerberus was towed across Port Phillip Bay and sunk at Black Rock, where she remains as a breakwater.

Image from Royal Australian Navy Archives – Cerberus on Port Phillip Bay

2. Friends of the Cerberus (FotC) News
FotC reminds us of the somewhat melancholy saga that has unfolded over decades since the Cerberus was decommissioned – the slow submergence of this vessel which has served the City of Melbourne and this nation so well. The forthcoming book “Victorian Navy of the Colony of Victoria” by the President of FotC, John Rogers, will be made available to their members. Chapters of the book will appear in sequence in each FotC newsletter, except for the last chapter. The last chapter entitled ‘Cerberus, Heroes and Heritage Vandals’ will describe the 20-year campaign Save the Cerberus, identifying those instrumental in advancing the campaign to preserve the hull and also those responsible for proposing to fill Cerberus with concrete. FotC fear that, should plans by the City of Bayside succeed, the Cerberus will be filled with 4,000 tonnes of concrete. The Quarterdeck shown in the image below, reminding us of her former life, will not be visible to future generations.

Image from Gary Grimmer Cerberus at low tide, February 2020

Seafarers &  COVID-19

Seafaring life in times past was harsh and dangerous. Nothing has changed  – especially during the pandemic. Both seafarer support services, Mission to Seafarers (North Bank) and Stella Maris (CBD) report on the hard times today’s seafarers are facing. Along with stevedores, seafarers have been frontline key workers during this pandemic. While it is normal for seafarers s to work in risky and dangerous places, this has been complicated by the need for vigilance around sick passengers and shipmates. Crew members can find themselves trapped in dangerous circumstances and the stress of this must be great. Even if crew are clear of COVID-19, when in port crew are viewed as being both potential carriers of infection and also vulnerable to infection if permitted on-shore. They are confined to their ships by port authorities and shore leave is prohibited by shipping companies they are suffering health, safety and economic risks. Massive costs are incurred when ships are quarantined. Consequently, crew rotations are curtailed and the option of flying home to care for families in danger in far-away places has become virtually non-existent. Seafarers and dockworkers enable the transport of medical supplies and other essential cargo and their labour is critical to the global economy. During the pandemic maritime enthusiasts readily acknowledge these overlooked categories of ‘essential worker’.

We be three poor mariners
We spend our lives in jeopardy,
While others live at ease
Newly come from the seas:
   The Mariner’s Glee, Note the date 1609

Maritime Museum Review

While we are in pandemic lock-down mode, the MMHN Heritage/Museum Special Advisory Group suggests that this might be an opportunity for all to spend time reflecting on examples of Maritime Museums we may have encountered elsewhere – their collections, functions, funding and quality. This is an invitation to share with insights and critiques about Maritime Museums you have visited. What impressed you – and what, what did not? Your information will inform planning for Melbourne’s Maritime Centre of the future. Email:

A review of a maritime centre or Maritime Museum will be a regular feature in each MMHN Update.
Here is the first in the MMHN Series of Maritime Museum Reviews –
An example of excellent newish but rather conventional Museum housed in a very old and quite wonderful place: The Malta Maritime Museum

Image from Michael O’Brien – The Malta Maritime Museum

The web site for the museum states: “Having started from scratch in 1988, with not even one single artefact, today the museum boasts a unique collection of over 20,000 artefacts belonging to Malta’s Maritime past. This collection was acquired by the constant search for, identification, and acquisition, of artefacts related to the museum’s mission”.

This conventional artefact-rich collection is arranged in a broadly chronologically sequence.  Many more items are in storage than on display. It opened in 1992 in the formerly derelict Royal Navy Bakery building at Vittoriosa, adjacent to the dockyard and a yacht marina. The building was constructed between 1842 and 1845 to supply bread and biscuits to the Royal Navy fleet. The building itself is fascinating – three-storey, built of local limestone with turrets and a clock tower, intact but showing superficial war damage from bombing. A recent visitor commented “It’s a bit of a hotch-potch, not well documented and very poorly signed”. Displays are of uneven quality but well-lit with captions in both Maltese and English.  There is a reference library, a restoration laboratory and a workshop. A theatre for 180 and a cafeteria for 200 has been in planning stage for at least 15 years. Clearly funding is a perennial concern. Although it is publicly funded (through Heritage Malta) it is also a function venue, presumably to generate revenue, with some of the best display galleries funded by sponsors. There are indications that funding for capital works and operations is very tight. Note – The are NO floating exhibits (boats or ships) which avoids costly associated maintenance. This is a good static display 20th century style museum. It is rich in assets but in need of large cash injections. In 1993 a ‘Friends’ group formed to raise funds, purchase artefacts, assist in research projects and even clean exhibits.  There is little or no use of new technologies – sound, film, Wi-Fi enabled or computer aided exhibits or activities which would enable better ( modern) curatorial and display standards – a most important element in a museum today to attract young ‘modern’ visitors.


The Melbourne Maritime Centre eventual location, built-form design, scope of collections and, importantly, level of technological ‘interactivity’  is, of course, the focus of the MMHN Heritage/ Museum Special Advisory Group(SAG) which will continue to learn from other models to refine its thinking.  To join email

History at Work – literally – River Communities 

Congratulations to Historian, MMHN member and Founder of History@Work, Emma Russell for her wonderful “River Communities’ article – an engaging, comprehensive narrative with many evocative images of the Melbourne’s marvellous maritime heritage. This is a taster for you – but please do try to read the entire work!
Emma writes: “We did have our backs turned to the river for a while – “Over 1600 generations of communities have lived and worked along Birrarung Mar…..millennia-long communities of Wurundjeri were remarkably quickly disposed of through dispossession, disease and despair. They were replaced with a voracious community of people who had a completely different relationship to both the water and the land. The shape, depth, width, function, health and diversity of the river and its bank were to irrevocably change”. The port thrived, becoming the biggest in the southern hemisphere, and became a community unto its own. Governed by the Melbourne Harbour Trust and with a population almost entirely of stevedores, shipping merchants, sailors and a bevy of others that serviced, regulated, facilitated or sustained the shipping and maritime trades, thousands of people worked beyond the end of Flinders Street and along the Yarra River every day, while many also lived there. Hundreds and thousands of vessels from steam ships to tugs to submarines (during WW2) came and went loaded with flour, oil, wool, dried fruit, cars, agricultural machinery, timber and butter. For about fifteen years the Australian National Antarctic Research Expedition (ANARE) was sustained by the goods sheds and ships at North Wharf.” Emma reminds us that “There was no community alongside the city riverbank for nearly fifty years” which is astonishing. MMHN can only agree with Emma  “We did have our backs turned to the river for a while  “ – but not any longer! See

In Defence of the ‘Polly Woodside’

A less happy note in relation to the River and our maritime heritage. Sadly MMHN members report the inexplicable omission in the National Trust(NT)  submission to the Melbourne Water Draft 10-year Yarra River Strategic Plan of any reference at all to Melbourne’s beloved “Polly” (a National Trust property) which continues to float mired uncomfortably in the heritage-listed Duke & Orr’s Dry Dock, the sole remaining example of a Dry Dry Dock on the south bank Yarra! It is regrettable that in this otherwise valuable NT submission lost focus – we hope temporarily – on its important role in advocating and defending Melbourne’s remaining maritime heritage. Including the wonderful Polly Woodside. See:  For more on this vessel see
The MMHN Infrastructure SAG has a keen interest in the riverbanks, bridges and wharves i.e. maritime trade infrastructure. Noting the plight of the “Polly Woodside” this SAG is investigating possibly more appropriate and visible sites to which the Polly Woodside could possibly re-locate.

Docklands Heritage Fleet on Collins Wharf

Denied access to their teams of volunteers, the usual buzz of restoration, maintenance and operational activity on the Collins Wharf ships – Steam Tug Wattle, Tall Ship Enterprize and the Alma Doepel – has slowed. Enterprize’s rigging and sails are now stored for winter, but maintenance checks on engines and bilges are continuing as the vessel prepares for a resumption of operations in due course. The Alma Doepel project is still progressing towards completion of hull works by the end of 2020. Social distancing is being practised as four professional shipwrights continue to work on the 25 remaining planks and caulking. The heritage fleet’s Steam Tug Wattle reports that whilst the social distancing policy is in place, ‘essentials-only’ work maintenance cycle is taking place.

Image by Jeff Malley: Docklands Heritage Fleet on Collins Wharf


Plenty has been happening during the ‘hibernation” with the MMHN Board – including our first Zoom MMHN Board meeting. The MMHN Special Advisory Groups (SAGs) also met ‘virtually’ during the past month.

MMHN Funding News

Excellent news this week for the MMHN. MMHN now has official registration by the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) as from 23 October 2019, the date on which we held our registered means that MMH is a recognised charity on now on the Charity Register and is regulated by the ACNC. This allows MMHN to display the Registered Charity Tick and indicates our commitment to being transparent, accountable and well-run. A Registered Charity Tick it means the charity is listed on the Charity Register and is regulated by the ACNC.

MMHN is grateful for the assistance of four Monash University Business Law students who assisted with this ACNC application as a Workplace Integrated Learning unit project. MMHN is committed to providing such opportunities to for tertiary students in several Melbourne-based universities. This type of collaborative engagement with young people is mutually beneficial. MMHN gains their assistance with projects, the students develop expertise, and at the same time they acquire an understanding, we hope, that maritime heritage matters!

MMHN Advocacy

MMHN recent advocacy throughout the Network, government and relevant organisations, continues apace. Contacts this month include: Federation Square, Development Victoria, Dept. of Jobs, Precincts & Regional Development, Immigration Museum, Bay Steamers Maritime Museum Ltd, Australian Maritime Museum Council, OSSA, The Alma Doepel Project, The Enterprize Tall Ship,  Melbourne Showboat,  International Congress of Maritime Museums, Royal Historical Society of Victoria, Australian Charities & not-for-profits Commission, ASIC, Treasury Museum, Monash University, Melbourne University,  Victoria University, Australian Industry Standards, Kangan TAFE, City of Melbourne (Capital Works, Waterways Branch, Aboriginal Melbourne, Economic Development).
A reminder re MMHN Special Advisory Group (SAG) membership 
The new MMHN Special Advisory Group (SAG) focused on Tourism is now up and running.  If you interested, register to be kept ‘in the loop’ about one or more MMHN SAGs by emailing.

Finally – Something to anticipate receiving soon – an MMHN Maritime Quiz will arrive by email before too long to entertain, and who knows – possibly inform you!  

Do keep well

Dr Jackie Watts  OAM
Melbourne Maritime Heritage Network 
0400 305 323 or email


Melbourne Maritime Heritage NetworkThe membership form is available on