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Shipping for specialists

29 Oct 2019

Shipping for specialists Image

Some of the first specialist ships to take the journey from Australia to the Antarctic left from the Yarra River in the 1950s, just outside the Mission to Seafarers.

“The ships that went down there had to be ice strengthened to get through the ice, they had to be able to survive in the heavy seas, scientists were going on expeditions so the ships needed their own laboratories,” said Ross Brewer, chairman of Offshore and Specialist Ships Australia (OSSA).

For the past two years OSSA, a group dedicated to saving the history of ships just like those that went to the Antarctic, have done a lot of work from inside the Mission to Seafarers.

Those two years will be showcased on November 6 when it hosts an exhibition at the Library at the Dock – Offshore and Specialist Ships made Australia – How?

“We started out in 2017 to try and receive some of the memorabilia that was being tossed aside. As some companies in Melbourne started to wind down they were letting go of shipping, photos, basically everything,” said Mr Brewer.

“We all worked in the shipping industry, so we were all mad keen enthusiast people who didn’t want to see this stuff disappear.”

The group began with three members – Mr Brewer and two others. At the time of writing, they had just signed up their 101st member.

It has members and representatives in every state of the country, and many will be present when the exhibition is opened by the Lord Mayor Sally Capp.

And its memorabilia collection grew quickly, too. Before long it had outgrown the space it was occupying at one of the member’s homes, and the Mission to Seafarers offered it space.

The crew is often busy sorting through rooms of memorabilia – framing photos, matching ship names and dates to photos, and maintaining old sentimental parts of ships – like a ship’s bell.

For Mr Brewer and many of the other members, it’s a career’s continuation into retirement.

“I went to sea for two years as a deck apprentice when I was 16 in 1962,” he said.

“I worked for P&O all my life and ended up as a managing director. I got to play with ships every day of my life, it was fantastic.”

“We were based in Melbourne, but we had offices basically all around the world – all through Asia, London, South America, literally everywhere.”

Mr Brewer said he’s even been to Antarctica a few times himself. But the exhibition will cover much more than just the southern ice.

“The exhibition is going to be threefold,” said Mr Brewer.

“There’s offshore oil and gas which is celebrating 50 years since the first oil came out of the Bass Strait.”

“Another side is the Antarctic, and the third is the Navy. We’ll have an exhibition of the small, non-fighting ships because people don’t know that the navy have ships that go around and map all the coast of Australia.”

Mr Brewer, who is also a member of the Melbourne Maritime Heritage Network (MMHN), said one of OSSA’s main goals was to promote Docklands as a maritime precinct.

“We would love to have a maritime museum here in Docklands.”

Offshore and Specialist Ships made Australia – How? Will be open at the Library at the Dock from November 6 – 28.

The Lord Mayor Sally Capp will open the exhibition at 6pm on November 7.

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