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August 09 Edition Cover

Maritime – November 2020

04 Nov 2020

Maritime – November 2020 Image

It’s time to activate Docklands

By Jackie Watts

It’s great to see universal agreement during the City of Melbourne elections that activation of Docklands is long overdue.

Elections are always a good time to focus attention on neglected community projects and assets. It’s pleasing to note, too, that the media picked up on several maritime/waterways issues advocated by the Melbourne Maritime Heritage Network (MMHN), e.g. a ferry hub in Victoria Harbour, the Northbank Birrarung‒ Bolte Bridge trail, water-based creative technologies, illumination of the bridges, and the Yarra swimming pool. Clearly the focus on Docklands and waterways is currently strong.

We await the council election results to see which councillors carry the momentum in relation to waterways activation. The impetus must be maintained, especially activation for transport and tourism. Although “special occasion” boat hire is available to us all, Melbourne water taxis (from Southgate Promenade and NewQuay) have been operating for 20 years, but water transport has to yet become – pardon the pun – “mainstream”!

Not so very long ago, water transportation provided us with all manner of essential services – trade, transport and entertainment. And, predictably, the water and weather took a heavy toll on ships. Maintenance was essential and this meant dry and wet docks which once lined the Yarra. Now they have all gone except the splendid heritage-listed Duke’s and Orr’s graving dry dock built in 1868 (where the Polly Woodside currently sits at Southbank).

Between the dock and the Convention Centre, the fascinating dry docks pump house, with the engine room visible through tall glass walls and explanatory signage is still on site. Add to this, the University of Melbourne archives hold the collection of the Duke’s and Orr’s Amalgamated Dry Docks Ltd documents – a fascinating record of the engineering, maintenance and repair side of the maritime industry in Melbourne.

Archivist Georgina Ward describes this dock as having served thousands of ships, including those affected by the battles of war time, docked, cleaned, painted and repaired, until its closure in 1975. Noting that in 1904 an immense and costly reconstruction was completed using a selection of species including red gum, blue gum, grey box and ironbark ... for replacing the old sheathing around the dock as well as the floor and massive mitre gates. It is the last timber-walled dry dock in Australia, and of its size, possibly one of the last in the world. Its longevity is said to be in part due to the walls of the dock being of Australian eucalyptus timber, renowned for its strength and durability. See lib.unimelb.edu.au/collections/ archives/.

Water, weather and COVID continue to take their toll, but spring is here, lockdown is loosening, and it’s heartening to see local waterway operators “pivoting”, re-booting their businesses and the benefits of food and “fresh” air on the water. It’s great to see GoBoat offering BYO picnic boat hire and a showboat offering “burgers and beers by the Pier”.

This link between food and the water was picked up in a whimsical work by Mark Seabrook titled The Catch which won equal second prize at the 2020 Mission to Seafarers Maritime Art Awards and Exhibition. Look closely at what is caught in The Catch! This international competition that has been host- ed at the heritage-listed Mission building for eighteen years, it is a highlight in the life of Docklands. This year the 2020 competition, exhibition and sale went virtual. Actually, you can still “attend” until November 15 and perhaps be tempted to purchase one of the works.

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