Bringing the waterways threads together
Melbourne councillor Jackie Watts has searched out the many and various threads that define Docklands’ waterways and has knitted them into a coherent policy document that just might lead to its salvation.
Cr Watts stepped up last year to help Docklands’ three heritage vessels present a co-ordinated proposal to make a permanent home for themselves in Victoria Harbour.
The complexities and contingencies that emerged led to a wider examination of our waterways – including heritage, transport, berthing, tourism, infrastructure, access, education and governance.
“What I found was layers of intersecting issues and opportunities and it took me a lot of time, meetings and research to nut it all out and bring it all together in a single document,” Cr Watts said.
The result is an 8000-word document which outlines all the players, the context and the opportunities to progress the local waterways.
In particular, Cr Watts wants to see a maritime heritage museum established in Docklands. She chairs the City of Melbourne’s “Knowledge City” portfolio, which covers education and museums.
“There is general acknowledgement among stakeholders that an opportunity exists to establish a Docklands museum as a permanent tourism attraction in Docklands,” Cr Watts said.
“The absence of a Docklands museum should be understood to be an undeveloped cultural asset. The point of ‘differentiation’ for this proposed museum is the specific focus on commerce or trade, stevedoring and specialist shipping.”
Her document looks beyond Docklands to other maritime-related entities and attempts to pull them all together under a banner of a “Maritime Heritage Docklands Network”.
Cr Watts primary objective is to: “Sustain and celebrate Melbourne’s Maritime Docklands Heritage Network – a comprehensive approach to exploiting the as yet undeveloped cultural assets and creating new maritime assets.”
Cr Watts goes on to warn that action needs to be taken urgently or the momentum may be lost.
“Melbourne has effectively turned its back on its rich maritime heritage,” she said. “There is an urgent need for state and local government to properly acknowledge that trade by sea was, and is still, crucial in underpinning economic prosperity.”
“Unless responsible authorities progress a comprehensive plan to both recognise and exploit the cultural assets held within the Melbourne Maritime Docklands Network, the return on investment to date will not occur,” she said.
“The original vision for Docklands will dissipate. Inaction now carries the risk of the Docklands Precinct becoming just a sterile real estate development, which fails to capitalise upon the wonderful waterfront location,” Cr Watts said.
“In developing Melbourne’s Maritime Docklands Heritage Network, there is an opportunity not only to optimise the value of our rich, nationally significant cultural assets but also to activate the Docklands precinct benefitting tourism, the community and the wider public.”
In June, Cr Watts negotiated a late addition to the City of Melbourne’s new budget to: “Advocate to Development Victoria to ensure that Melbourne’s maritime heritage is considered as part of the development of Harbour Esplanade and Victoria Harbour. Goal 8 - A city planning for growth - shall involve researching the appetite of Development Victoria, other government departments and agencies, significant stakeholders, and any potential models, for the establishment of a Maritime Commercial Heritage Museum at Docklands.”
She says her research clearly shows that such an “appetite” exists and that a clear pathway for implementation is opening up.
“Now the time has come for everyone, all of the many enthusiastic stakeholder groups, both levels of government and all relevant agencies to work together to ensure we make the most of this opportunity for future generations,” she told Docklands News. “As is the case for other comparable museums around the world, corporate, government and philanthropic funding will support the project.”
Cr Watts points out that the comprehensive background research is hers alone and has no official status within the City of Melbourne. She is happy to share the report with interested locals or other stakeholders and would welcome their input. Email her at [email protected] for a copy.