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North Wharf News - March 2014

06 Mar 2014

The Victorian Missions to Seamen was established in 1857 and today is located on North Wharf Docklands. 

In the mission’s archive, dating back to the early 1920s, there is Report and Financial Statements for 1947 (p6).  

A short paragraph in the report helps us understand the plight of caring for seafarers’ wellbeing in the mid-20th century. At that time, everything that arrived in or departed from Melbourne did so via the wharves at Docklands, and the mission’s chaplain remarked at the time:

“… the subject of ships and shipping still stands in the first rank of those problems inextricably linked with the well-being of the whole set-up of Australian industrial and economic life. Ships are vitally necessary to this country; and not only to the country as a whole, but also to nearly every private firm and primary producer … This means that YOU bring men and youngsters thousands of miles away from their homes. This, in turn, means that you cannot escape some share in responsibility for their welfare ...”

For those that read the report of 1947 and for those reflecting on this statement today, what meaning does it have unless you can relate to the plight of a seafarer?  Whatever your reaction to those words, it was a call for industry and community support to care for often-exploited workers.  

For the Mission to Seafarers, as one of Australia’s oldest charitable institutions, those words today represent the passion and core of the “cause”–  that is to care for those who otherwise are invisible to most of us, living and working in isolated and often dangerous circumstances at sea.  There are 1.4 million seafarers responsible for 95 per cent of world trade and 60,000 of these visit the Port of Melbourne annually to bring our daily needs and transport the produce of our many businesses.  

In the early 1920s our now heritage building situated on North Wharf at 717 Flinders St was built to provide a home away from home for seafarers.  The building today continues to welcome crew daily and provides a place for community, friendship and connectivity – vital factors in our human experience.  

In the late 1980s The Harbour Authority, which owned the Mission building, put pressures on the mission to vacate that “old deteriorating building” in favour of a brand new office at the new World Trade Centre.  A report from the World Trade Centre at this time, suggested the building would be demolished and turned into a car park.  

Reverend Michael Chin was the chaplain at that time and following a recent visit to the mission he said it was a tough battle, but he and three fellow chaplains fought hard to stay at the North Wharf location and consequently we are still here, doing the same valuable work and ironically the issue of tenure is an ongoing battle.

In 2007 the mission responded again to an ultimatum to come up with the money to restore the building or take an offer to vacate.   If you have an interest in helping the mission to finally secure the site for historical, humanitarian or personal reasons we would welcome your support.   

In 2017 the Mission to Seafarers hopes to celebrate the centenary year of the building complex, this is a $7million vision, to restore the building, take ownership of the title and ultimately secure the tenure.  Contact the mission and make a donation on the website,  “Like” Mission to Seafarers Victoria on Facebook,  visit 717 Flinders St on Fridays for a curry lunch, to help with fundraising you can also sign up as a Crew 717 Social Club Member.  

Since 1857, people have rallied to support seafarers and the work of the mission - please consider how you can help.  All donations are tax deductible.

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