Maritime dream closer to reality
By Sean Car
Plans for a long-touted maritime museum and experience hub in Docklands are moving ahead after the state government and the City of Melbourne committed to a feasibility study and business case.
On August 18, City of Melbourne councillors unanimously voted in favour of a proposal to co-fund the works with the state government, which will explore a potential commercial maritime precinct at the Mission to Seafarers Victoria (MtSV) building on Flinders St.
It comes after the state government approached the City of Melbourne to discuss the council’s involvement in the future operations of the building, with a “possible capital investment” flagged by the state government should the city assume management responsibility.
Chair of the Melbourne Maritime Heritage Network (MMHN) Cr Jackie Watts, who has been central to amplifying maritime in Docklands within the council, said a museum would be a cultural and tourism asset to the city.
“Melbourne’s waterways and our maritime heritage are currently poorly understood as both cultural and economic assets,” she said.
“It’s important that we preserve our maritime history and acknowledge the role of trade by sea in driving Melbourne’s economic prosperity in the past and present day.”
In addition to the recently renovated and heritage-listed MtSV building, the North Wharf precinct will also be home to the new 3500 sqm Seafarers Park, which will open in conjunction with developer Riverlee’s redevelopment of the heritage goods shed in 2023.
In the wake of last year’s closure of Central Pier by Development Victoria (DV), the council’s annual plan 2020-21 pledged to “explore opportunities for water transport and tourism and a strategic feasibility study of the maritime heritage museum experience.”
As part of the council’s broader policy to “activate Docklands with a focus on Victoria Harbour,” there had been some speculation about the maritime museum being incorporated as part of a redeveloped Central Pier.
While the pier’s future use is yet to be determined by DV, it is expected to provide a maritime interface, with the northern side of Central Pier having been recently flagged for the berthing of heritage vessels.
The council management report on the MtSV redevelopment proposal on August 18 hinted at this, flagging a possible “linking role” between the renewed North Wharf precinct and tall ships Enterprize and Alma Doepel, as well as steam tug Wattle.
Established in the Port of Melbourne in 1857, MtSV has operated at North Wharf since 1917 and the building houses an archival collection of more than 10,000 items of maritime and social history.
Lord Mayor Sally Capp said the proposal would help the building realise its full potential.
“Let’s get excited!” she said. “The Mission to Seafarers is a gem and this is an opportunity for it to get a good polish in a new setting and to show how valuable it is to Melbourne. I am fully supporting this and the process ahead.”
“It’s a missed opportunity if we don’t make the most of Docklands’ connections to the water and its significance for traditional owners and the development of a modern city.”
“It would require community engagement with key stakeholders such as the Docklands community, waterways users and maritime precinct experts. We would need to assess funding as well as potential revenue from the museum and whether it would be suitable as a mixed commercial and community use space.”
According to the council report, the state government has indicated that a significant base build of $10 to $20 million would be required to undertake refurbishment and fit out of the MtSV building.
The proposal also recognises the importance of retaining the functional operations of the heritage building for the “core services” of MtSV, which continues to support the welfare of seafarers from around the world.
Addressing councillors on August 18, MtSV chairman Neil Edwards said the Mission’s board was “really pleased” that the state government and the city were looking at redevelopment options.
“This building was funded by donations to the MtSV 100 years ago and we’ve been its custodians ever since. We know the building well and we love it.”
“It’s an architectural treasure and it comprises an extraordinary collection of spaces at the heart of Melbourne’s maritime heritage precinct. The mission building and the work of MtSV in seafarers’ welfare are a living and integral part of that heritage.”
“We know there is much more to be done to bring the building to its fullest potential and we recognise that’s a challenge.”
Offshore and Specialist Ships Australia (OSSA) chairman Ross Brewer said the proposal would provide an outstanding entrance to a new maritime precinct for Melbourne.
“We have had a number of highly successful maritime exhibitions and events at this building. The problem is that the vast majority of Melbourne doesn’t know about it and doesn’t recognise maritime heritage in the manner in which it should,” he said.
“It should be featured. This development will put it right up the front. Other cities are green with envy with the opportunity that Melbourne has.” •