New Years’ Greetings for 2022!
Moving forward against the headwinds of the persistent pandemic storm is enough to challenge anyone’s buoyancy! However, given that maritime stakeholders are resilient and the MMHN Board is an optimistic enthusiastic crew, we have plans and projects aplenty. Who knows – with a federal election looming and a state Parliamentary Inquiry into Heritage Protection in progress, perhaps 2022 may see urgently needed new directions charted in relation to maritime heritage and the maritime industry in Australia.
Note in your diary:
First MMHN event for 2022
The Power of the Wind – past, present and future
When: 16 February, 5.30-7.30pm
An invitation email will follow in due course as we still face uncertainty about hosting the event ‘face to face’ or prudently via Zoom. Speakers:
- The Past: Bruce Gooley – researcher and presenter
- The Present: Dr Christiaan De Beukelaer, Senior Lecturer in Cultural Policy, Melbourne University, and George Shaw – Melbourne to Osaka Two-Hander Yacht Race
- The Future: Erin Coldham, Star of the South Off-Shore Wind Farm
(Click on the headings below for specific items, or scroll down for the full Update)
1. Undersea Cables and Specialist Shipping
2. State Parliamentary Inquiry into Heritage Protection
3. Osborne House, Geelong
4. Antarctic COVID News
5. Heritage Vessel News
6. Australian Flagged Shipping Fleet
7. National Port System
8. Maritime Trail on Yarra Northbank – Greenline
9. The Great White Fleet – Naval Anniversary to anticipate
10. American Fleet visits in 1908 and again in 1925
11. MMHN Museum of the Month
12. Central Pier Docklands
In reports of the recent volcanic eruption off Tonga, there has been reference to critical disruption of services enabled by undersea cables. This serves to remind us of the continued importance of specialist shipping – and the realisation that amid high-tech infrastructure, nineteenth-century technology is still with us.
WIRED Magazine described the work of submarine cable-fixing specialist ship the Pierre de Fermat operated by Orange Marine. Cables break because of sharks, earthquakes, ships, pirates (and as we now know, by volcanic eruption). The ship sails to the area of the reported cable disruption but locating the actual faulty cable is ‘high-tech’. The ship’s onboard giant nine-tonne remotely operated robot (bot) is lowered to the sea floor to a maximum depth of 2000m to retrieve the faulty or broken cable. The robot uses onboard cameras and claws that are controlled by the crew to grab the cable from its location – difficult. Cable breaks happen surprisingly frequently.
According to WIRED journalist Matt Burgess the actual cable maintenance and repair is ‘low-tech’ in fact a decidedly manual task of spooling and splicing to repair and reconnect cables. On the deck of the Pierre de Fermat, a work team feeds the cable up from the seabed and through the ship to an internal cabling room where another work team physically grabs and coils the cable around the outside of the cable room, enabling inspection of the internal fibres of the cable. Where necessary the damaged cable is physically cut using a Stanley knife blade (!) and spliced. Its data-carrying capability is then tested. Challenges include bad weather, and deep murky waters See https://www.wired.co.uk/article/subsea-internet-cable-ship-boat
Image – WIRED Magazine.
History Undersea cables for transmitting telegraph signals antedated the invention of the telephone; the first undersea telegraph cable was laid in 1850 between England and France. The Atlantic was spanned in 1858 between Ireland and Newfoundland, but the cable’s insulation failed and it had to be abandoned. The longest optical submarine telecommunications system was completed in late 2000, led by France Telecom and China Telecom, administered by Singtel, a telecommunications operator owned by the government of Singapore. The consortium was formed by 92 investors from the telecom industry. It was commissioned in March 2000 and is 39,000 kilometres (24,000mi) in length. Cables may remain operational longer than 25 years, but when obsolete, capacity fails to compete against newer more efficient cables. Obsolete cables may remain inactive on the sea bed or may be repositioned along other routes. However, a new recycling industry has developed around salvaging abandoned, redundant or damaged undersea cables. Specialist companies acquire the rights to pull up and salvage raw materials from cables.
Back to Tonga – The Tongan state-owned fibre-optic submarine cable connects Tonga to Fiji and was commissioned in August 2013, financed through grants from the World Bank Group and the Asian Development Bank. The cable is essential for internet services in Tonga. Prior to laying the cable, Tonga was reliant on satellite internet connections.
MMHN welcomes this Inquiry. We are only too aware that heritage listing does not guarantee heritage asset protection. In 2020, the Planning and Environment Committee of the Legislative Council established a Parliamentary Inquiry into the adequacy of the Planning and Environment Act 1987 and the Victorian Planning Framework. Heritage protection is a key area of investigation.
Among other matters, the Inquiry will examine the efficacy of heritage protection in Victoria. MMHN sees this inquiry as a welcome first step at State level at least in recognizing that legislative reform is needed. The dire situation of heritage preservation is obvious. The loss of heritage assets has irrefutable local, state and national cultural social and economic consequences. Contrary to popular perceptions, credible academic research data indicates that cultural tourism generates a level of economic benefit which exceeds that generated by the sporting event industry.
The MMHN Submission presented two case studies to substantiate the recommendations we made to the Inquiry:
- Central Pier, Docklands – heritage-listed and disastrously mis-managed by Development Victoria to the point of collapse.
- Point Nepean Quarantine Station, Portsea – heritage listed and disastrously mis-managed by Parks Victoria – now seriously dilapidated.
Many maritime stakeholders will be only too aware that there are, of course, numerous other examples of heritage asset neglect.
The MMHN submission to the Inquiry called for:
- Legislative reform to ensure appropriate state authorities are assigned responsibility for heritage assets – currently this does not happen.
- State authorities responsible for heritage assets be compelled to maintain and preserve heritage assets in perpetuity. Maintenance is not optional.
- The State government acknowledges that its role in contributing to the degeneration of public heritage assets and commit funding adequate for requisite maintenance.
- The State government opposes the current Federal government heritage policy approach which is in effect ‘cost-shifting’ by devolving responsibility for national heritage assets to the states.
MMHN recommends that you enjoy this excellent Navy media production supporting the submission regarding Osborne House by MMHN Board Member Cmdr Greg Yorke. The video link is now live on YouTube at https://youtu.be/ctrEmIZ8ZXc
Sadly, Antarctica is not sufficiently remote to avoid a global pandemic after all. COVID has reached Antarctica despite 16 of 25 researchers fully vaccinated with booster. The Belgian Princess Elizabeth Station contracted the Omicron variant, possibly when passing briefly through Cape Town.
- Aurora Australis Tank Test Model
OSSA announces progress on its wonderful maritime heritage project which not only involves restoring a significant heritage vessel, but also involves the marvelous Blunts Boat Yard in Williamstown. OSSA was awarded a grant from the Maritime Museums of Australia for the refurbishment of the tank test model. Work will commence in January 2022 and once completed, the model will feature in the OSSA/Seaworks joint Antarctic shipping display at Williamstown. To ensure the design was capable of meeting the harsh conditions of the Southern Ocean and the ice of the Antarctic, extensive tank-testing was conducted by Wartsila in Finland. In the mid-1980s, Wartsila were global leaders in vessel architecture pertaining to ice conditions and operated extensive testing facilities. A special model was designed for testing purposes. On winning the tender and following the successful testing of the model the ship was then built at Carrington Slipway in Newcastle and launched in September 1989. Hazel Hawke, the wife of then Prime Minister Bob Hawke launched and named the ship.
A reminder that the Aurora Australis was the first (and probably the last) ice-breaker to be built in Australia. P&O Australia won an international tender to construct the vessel and a 15-year contract to operate the ice breaking service, the Australian Antarctic Program. The test model having served its purpose, it was sent to Australia and has been in storage until now. Over time the model has severely deteriorated and requires extensive work to restore it to its testing condition and public display. Noting that Melbourne played such an extended and significant role in the Australian Antarctic Program, it is pleasing to know that we are to have this test model, a critically important element in the saga of the Aurora Australis, back in this city. The legendary Aurora Australis ended her charter with the Australian Antarctic division in March 2021.
Image: OSSA newsletter
- RAAF Search and Rescue Boat O2-06
Wonderful news recently from maritime enthusiast Harry Bowman that his ex-RAAF Search and Rescue Boat O2-06 is finally being returned home to the RAAF Museum at Point Cook. This ‘crash boat’ is one of 15 powerful boats specifically designed to ’rescue ‘crashed’ airmen. It is being loaded at 8.30am on 2 February on a very large truck and transported from Lakes Entrance Point Cook after a spell at Spotswood for re-painting in original WWII RAAF colours and minor repairs. It will be a long journey. The size of the load means the truck cannot travel through cities at night. The folks along the route in the towns of Bairnsdale, Sale and Officer are in for a thrill as the vessel passes through. David Gardner, Senior Air Force Curator, responsible for Air Force Heritage, is delighted with this acquisition. David is thrilled, as are we all, at this prospect of seeing the vessel settled and splendid at the Point Cook Museum later in 2022.
Note: Few are aware that during WWII the RAAF possessed approximately 2000 vessels – i.e.more than the RAN at the time!
- Polly Woodside – wonderful and a worry
MMHN Board members Ross Brewer and Jeff Malley, and Neil Thomas Chairman of Polly Woodside Volunteers Association (PWVA), share their concerns:
This iconic ship sits forlornly in her wet dock hidden by the Melbourne Exhibition Centre. Taken over by the National Trust (Victoria) as a gift from the owners (1cent) in 1968 Polly Woodside (Rona) was gradually restored over the next 30 years largely by donors and volunteers. In more recent times the ship has significantly deteriorated with a lack of funding to complete the rigging and maintain the hull. The Polly Woodside is in a sorry state and is slowly (some would say quickly) deteriorating. The Polly Woodside built in 1885 is a significant iron barque, typical of the type carrying cargoes and passengers around the world, including to Melbourne. Later as a coal lighter she serviced ships in the Port of Melbourne up to 1965.
The ‘Polly’ has been a major attraction to hundreds of thousands of visitors over the years but perhaps the lack of vision and neglect at promoting Melbourne’s maritime heritage has led to her being in a ‘mothballed’ state where she is in need of attention to survive. This should not be allowed to happen as she, along with the Mission to Seafarers, Central Pier, Station Pier and the Williamstown maritime precinct are iconic Melbourne maritime heritage sites. All must be restored and promoted to celebrate Melbourne’s early dependence and prosperity on maritime trade.
The Polly is a magnificent example of how shipping was a century ago and has a romance and tales that bring interest to young and old. The ship needs to have further maintenance to continue to preserve and ensure that generations to come will be able to have the same enjoyment as their parents had whilst walking the decks and hearing the tales from long ago.
There are small but dedicated groups (Polly Woodside Volunteers Association. and Friends of the Polly Woodside) who volunteer their time in trying to keep her ‘shipshape’ but their numbers are dwindling. We would love to hear of others who may be interested in volunteering. Please contact us at email@example.com and we will help to bring everyone together. But most of all we need action from the government and the National Trust to maintain the vessel and promote her to the public. Sadly, this is not happening.
Australia’s maritime capability is critical and according to Anthony Albanese, Leader of the ALP, it is a key public policy issue for us all to consider in the forthcoming federal election. It should not be regarded a party-political issue – it’s far too important for that. But it is heartening to see the ALP acknowledging the increasingly dire situation Maritime Sector in Australia which has been decimated over the past 20-30 years. A key element is the establishment of a Strategic Fleet. The media reports Albanese supports a greater Australian flag fleet.
This Albanese statement elicited strong support across the maritime sector. This island nation remains dependent on shipping – imports and exports. Maritime deficiencies are a disgrace that must be rectified as a matter of urgency. No matter who wins the election, policy reforms and action to implement measures to rectify Australia’s maritime deficiencies need to happen. The impact of the pandemic and consequent global supply chain issues has illustrated clearly that Australia needs the maritime capability to serve its needs in emergencies. This is not new news. The MIAL 2018 Skills Census data revealed the lack of ships led to a critical shortage of experienced Australian seafarers. MIAL are currently updating this survey and we have no doubt that results will show that seafarer shortages will have worsened. Covid has highlighted this lack of foresight by government and bureaucracies.
Our key issues of serious concern:
- Maritime Career Options. We are an island nation yet information about marine sector career options is almost non-existent around the nation. Schoolchildren and vocational educators are seldom aware of the potential of maritime industry careers. OSSA has developed a Schools Program in Victoria which they hope to take to every state, however they are dependent on volunteers and donations to make this happen.
- Maritime Education/Training. Apart from the Australian Maritime College (AMC) in Tasmania, there is little accredited formal training in the maritime sector. The government does not provide any subsidy for maritime training and there are no Australian ships on which to gain mandatory sea-time training. MMHN has been working very hard to persuade state bureaucrats and the Victorian TAFEs to facilitate and provide support for maritime training.
- Policy on Australian Flagged Fleet. Inexplicably the federal government has adopted a policy of inaction – over decades. From an economic as well as a strategic view point, the policy approach has failed this nation. It makes no sense at all. Australia is dependent on ocean transport. It is obviously imprudent, unwise and just plain stupid to erode – actually ignore, the need to be self-reliant in this key area of national capability. Australia should not have to rely solely on foreign ships and foreign crews to sustain our nation and our future.
MMHN strongly advocates a radical shift in the federal government policy approach. Supporting a program to grow Australia’s merchant fleet and associated opportunities to expand the national seafarer capability will ensure Australia’s future prosperity. The flag under which a ship sails determines the conditions the ship and its crew operate – and most importantly for Australia – who trains on it! Thousands of large commercial ships operate in Australian waters. But just 14 of them officially remain Australian ships
Image: MV Searoad Mersey II, which operates in the Bass Strait between mainland and Tasmanian ports. Wikimedia Commons
The Productivity Commission has eight months to examine the nation’s port system. (The Age,10 December 202021, p.6) The report, due August 2022, will examine ‘efficiency and dependability’ of ports and supply chains. An estimated $400 billion in goods flows through our ports. The immense importance of this to our economy can’t be overstated. The Productivity Commission is looking at identifying a way of ‘benchmarking’ port performance to better enable global comparisons. Considerations will include: IR, curfews, labour supply and skills, rail connections, container storage. The BIG question relates to whether and what government investment should occur. A World Bank Report ranks Australian Ports in the bottom quarter of port productivity.
Maritime trade flourished along the banks of the Yarra in the nineteenth century. Associated industries developed alongside. Much is written of this rich heritage from which ‘Marvellous Melbourne’ evolved – which is why the proposed City of Melbourne Greenline trail is so important to maritime stakeholders. Greenline aligns, to an extent, with the MMHN Northbank Trail Objective.
When the CoM Greenline Plan came before Council for endorsement recently, MMHN made a detailed submission to Council expressing our serious concern that Greenline did not adequately acknowledge the maritime heritage significance of the north bank. Indeed, the Greenline Plan did not reflect the fundamental importance of maritime trade on the entire river which defined this city. The MMHN submission stated: The Yarra was so central to the development of maritime trade and ultimately the prosperity of Melbourne. The CoM responded in reassuring detail: We recognise that the maritime history of Melbourne extends across a broad area of the city’s river and ports.
MMHN also recommended that the Greenline Plan should rightly encompass or encircle Victoria Harbour and that the Plan should recognise the waterways as a single entity with a continuous and significant maritime trade presence, not only along the north bank of the inner reaches of the Yarra, but also extending around into Victoria Harbour in such a way as to incorporate Harbour Esplanade and New Quay Promenade. Again, CoM responded positively: We will be looking at opportunities to connect with Victoria Harbour, realising benefits and supporting the continued development and enrichment of experiences in Docklands … It is intended that this initiative will enable the connection of the city and river with the Docklands, the Moonee Ponds Creek (and the former blue lake/swamp), and to Fishermen’s Bend, driving visitation and ease of movement for pedestrians.
MMHN urges the CoM to ensure the Greenline project is historically accurate, the only way to gain reputational credibility and this accuracy should be reflected in the naming of ‘precincts’ along the trail. CoM responded: the implementation plan is primarily for the purpose of informing the [project] delivery process and doesn’t seek to formalise the identity of these locations in any other way. How we refer to these areas may change over the course of the program delivery.
MMHN reminded the CoM that earlier Dockland Plans more appropriately named the end of Collins Wharf Sir John Coode Park – in reference to the engineer who designed this world-renowned civil engineering project which enabled the Port of Melbourne to prosper. Yet recent maps seem to name the area ‘Eco Park’. Such sites rich in maritime heritage deserve historical accuracy and respect. MMHN offered to assist the CoM to ensure that matters or areas of significant maritime heritage are properly acknowledged.
Image: CoM website
Closer engagement with the USA through AUKUS made news in 2021 (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AUKUS). MMHN wonders if, from the perspective of maritime heritage, AUKUS may trigger stronger interest from the federal government in commemorating the anniversary of an earlier – and sizeable – naval engagement with the US fleet in Port Phillip Bay. MMHN is aware of enthusiasm from the RAN and the CoM to commemorate this marvellous historical naval presence in Melbourne. Stay-tuned.
Public Records Office Victoria (PROV) writes: On the morning of 29 August 1908, sixteen white-hulled battleships carrying fourteen thousand sailors and marines of the United States’ Atlantic Fleet steamed through the Rip and into Port Phillip Bay. This became known as the ‘Great White Fleet’. It was ’a propaganda campaign of extraordinary proportions – a showcase of naval power beyond anything ever before attempted during peacetime. It was also a practical and strategic exercise, at once testing the battle-readiness of the US navy and demonstrating its ability to patrol and protect the US west coast and Pacific interests. Despite the fact that several ships were antiquated, their arrival had a powerful impact on Australia, politically independent for seven years but still reliant on British military muscle to guarantee its independence. Concern about this reliance was exacerbated by Britain’s decision to withdraw its Pacific naval presence, and the destruction of the Russian navy by the Japanese during the Russian-Japanese war of 1904-05. The symbolic victory of an Asian navy over a ‘European’ power, coupled with the fact that there was still no formal Australian navy, would have made the presence of the US battleships even more significant’. What is abundantly clear is that the Great White Fleet greatly impressed Melbourne and beyond. It received a tumultuous welcome! See https://prov.vic.gov.au/about-us/our-blog/great-white-fleet-105-years
In 1925 the US fleet again visited Australia en masse ‒ 56 ships and 11 battleships visited east coast ports. This was, and is still, the largest peacetime visit by a naval force in Australia’s history. The interest in and enthusiasm for the American ships and their crews displayed by the Australian population weren’t quite on the mammoth scale of 1908, but the visit was deemed remarkable and popular appreciation was evident.
This naval ‘exercise’ was less of a ‘demonstration of strength’ than a ‘test of capability’. The Americans, conscious that a conflict with Japan would require their fleet to deploy across the vast distances of the Pacific, used the Australian deployment to increase their understanding of the logistic requirements involved—while avoiding the increase in tensions with Japan that a similar expedition to the Philippines or East Asia would have inevitably created.
The Windermere Jetty Museum of Boats, Steam and Stories
This month our thoughts turn away from the sea to inland waterways. MMHN notes that Victoria has many inland waterways lakes, rivers dams with important heritage stories to tell, e.g., see Port of Echuca:https://www.portofechuca.org.au/about-the-port/history-of-the-port/
The Windermere Jetty Museum of Boats, Steam and Stories on Lake Windermere in England’s Lakes district was opened its doors in spring 2019 following a £20million development on the site of the former Windermere Steamboat Museum. It displays an internationally important collection of boats in a magnificent location overlooking Windermere, including Steam launches, sailing yachts, motor boats and record-breaking speed boats. The unique collection of historic steamboats and motorboats include the SL Dolly of 1850 – the oldest mechanically powered boat in the world, with its original engine still in running order. Importantly a conservation workshop is linked to a boatyard and slipway to enable further conservation of the collection. The stories shared at the museum are about boats and the people who sailed in them. The Windermere Jetty is the first contemporary building on Lake Windermere’s shore for over 50 years. Designed by architects Carmody Groarke, working with Arup, engineers who were involved in the design and construction of the Sydney Opera House. The museum hugs the lake shore with its black-oxidised copper clad walls and large cantilevered overhangs. Just as noteworthy is the energy efficiency and climate change resilience at the foundation of the design.
Image: Windermere Museum website
MMHN notes with a degree of envy this beautiful modern Museum at Windemere. Like the impressive maritime museum in Tianjin, China, it features Australian expertise. If only we can persuade Development Victoria and the state government to harness such Australian design expertise to create the Melbourne Maritime Experience Centre (MEC) on Central Pier in Victoria Harbour. This is a remarkable, but unrecognised, coastal location as well as an inland waterway. MMHN has the ’vision’ (see https://mmhn.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/MMHN-Opportunity-1-Maritime-Centre-Sept-2021.pdf) and Australia certainly has the expertise to create a new and iconic addition to the cultural offerings of Melbourne.
All that is now needed is the support of Development Victoria and other arms of the state government and we are working to that end. MMHN met with the CEO and Deputy CEO of Development Victoria prior to Christmas to make the MEC case.
Do keep well, everyone.
Until next month,
Dr Jackie Watts OAM
Melbourne Maritime Heritage Network