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“A really special precinct”: Maritime trail edges closer

179_Maritime-Precinct2.jpg
179_Maritime-Precinct.jpg
David Schout

Plans for a trail to celebrate Melbourne’s maritime history has received “significant support” from key stakeholders and the community.

A joint state and local government study investigated options for a heritage trail along the Yarra River, which would both connect existing maritime properties as well as recognising Aboriginal maritime heritage.

Of the 270 respondents, which included those with seafaring connections, a “considerable number” were in favour of a maritime trail precinct. 

The trail could be built into the City of Melbourne’s $300 million Greenline project.

Establishing a maritime precinct as a “trail” was favoured over using an individual location, and it was found that the heritage-listed Mission to Seafarers (MtS) building at North Wharf could play a pivotal role as the trail’s “headquarters”.

Cr Rohan Leppert said it was a part of Melbourne’s history that deserved better recognition.

“This is a really special precinct,” he said at a September 21 Future Melbourne Committee meeting.

“We are sitting on something so magical that is under-realised in terms of its tourism and economic potential. But it’s just that layer of history, that Melbourne can tell a maritime story that is known to many but could be known to so many more. It’s not just a post-colonial heritage — it goes back tens of thousands of years. And it is something that government could do a lot more to interpret and celebrate.”

A maritime trail could include, from east to west, Sandridge Bridge, Enterprize Park, Seaworks, Batman Park, Polly Woodside Park (plus ship/museum), across Seafarers Bridge into Seafarers Rest Park, Mission to Seafarers, refurbished crane and Goods Shed.

The trail could then continue along Australia Wharf, then to North Wharf and Victoria Harbour where the current heritage fleet (Alma Doepel, Enterprize and steam tug Wattle) is berthed.

Cr Leppert said the “precinct as a trail” concept had a “lot of legs”.

The Melbourne Maritime Heritage Network (MMHN) has for more than two years advocated the creation of a waterways maritime trail, with both the Mission to Seafarers and soon-to-be-built Seafarers Rest Park at its heart.

“[We’re] pleased the study recognises the opportunity to elevate the status of maritime heritage by creating a heritage precinct aligned with the Greenline project through Seafarers Rest Park, and the adjacent MtS building,” MMHN director Martin Dixon said.

However, Mr Dixon said the proposed precinct should be extended.

 

We’d like to make the point that, in our minds, this heritage precinct extends from Birrarung Marr right along the river and should really incorporate all of the Victoria Harbour precinct, right around to Ron Barassi Snr Park.

 

Future of the Mission

The second aspect of the study focused on the future of the heritage-listed Mission to Seafarers building on Flinders St.

The report found that the state government-owned building, built in 1917, required “significant capital investment by the Victorian Government to ensure its longer-term functionality, operational excellence, compliance and amenity”.

However, the council resolved to work with the government to determine the best future use of the building, and advocate for funding to upgrade it.

Cr Leppert spelled out the situation as it stood. 

“There’s been a lot of difficulty in finding a future use of the Seafarers building that can ensure its upkeep is looked after. We know that, and we’re not in a position unfortunately to weigh in and provide that support here and now. But I do hope a whole-of-government approach, that carefully considers the future of the building, and that can clearly have a plan in place that includes the Victorian Government contributing to funding the upkeep of that building will see [the Mission to Seafarers] be the centrepiece of this precinct as a trail concept that we might be developing going forward.”

The report also found that the Mission was not of significant size to accommodate a maritime heritage museum.

Ross Brewer, chairman of Offshore & Specialist Ships Australia (OSSA) located at the Mission, said while the building was “tired” and “needed doing up”, it should remain an iconic part of the city. 

“This building is iconic — Melbourne has a real treasure here,” he said.

“Through its door, there would be tens of thousands of seafarers that would have passed through there over the 100-plus years of operation. The combination of the building and the seafarers is something that Melbourne has to have a lot of pride in, and this paper goes a long way to supporting this development well into the future.”

The building includes a consecrated chapel, courtyard, domed room, hall and other multifunctional smaller spaces •

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