A belated Happy New Year to all!

A belated Happy New Year to all!

By Jackie Watts - Chair

Fortunately, Victoria seems to have averted yet another debilitating COVID lockdown episode during January.

With interstate and overseas travel curtailed, and “intra-state” tourism booming, more Victorians spending time around coastal Victoria may result in a heightened appreciation for Victoria’s rich and diverse maritime heritage in the wider public of piers, bridges and wharves above and below, many of which are very close indeed to folks living in Docklands.

Speaking of “below”, Central Pier comes to mind. Be alert and alarmed. Just prior to Christmas, two acutely alarming and disappointing actions by Development Victoria (DV) occurred in relation to the iconic heritage-protected pier. It is, once again, a failure by the responsible state authority. DV quietly issued a media release appearing only on the DV website and only a week before the Christmas break, on December 15. The media release signalled their intention to demolish even more of Central Pier. MMHN found this news appalling. It indicated a disturbing disregard for due public process by those charged with maintaining this heritage-protected infrastructure.

On a hopeful and somewhat puzzling note, Heritage Victoria advised that they have not yet actually received a permit to demolish application from DV. This permit process is a fundamental step for work on any heritage protected structure. It is to an extent reassuring to note that, even with an application for a permit to demolish, the process would require the applicant to substantiate the application by providing “proof” (i.e. expert reports) on the actual extent of public risk, proof of its state of decay, proof that remediation measures were not possible, and finally that even if demolition was deemed to be warranted, then DV would be required to provide “evidence” of their “intentions” for the structure post demolition. Why would DV begin a tender process without following due process or having a permit to demolish? This is precisely the way much of our built-form maritime heritage is lost – by the bureaucracy. Inexplicable and unacceptable on many levels. Seedevelopment.vic.gov.au/news/western-tip-of-central-pier-to-be-removed

Docklands residents will have noticed work happening beneath Collins Wharf (aka North Wharf) near the heritage ships. We can only hope DV have not seriously neglected maintenance of this Victoria Harbour wharf too.

On a more positive note there has been progress during January on the Mission to Seafarers Project and the Melbourne Maritime Heritage Precinct Project. Stakeholder consultations are underway and a report on feasibility, support and costs for a maritime precinct focussed on the Mission to Seafarers premises is due soon. Key stakeholders identified by the steering committee were invited to respond to a detailed set of questions by the end of January. Community input may also be added via the City of Melbourne Participate Melbourne website or directly by email to Biruu: [email protected]

Not very far from Docklands, adjacent to the Royal Botanical Gardens, is a key example of Melbourne maritime heritage infrastructure – the Melbourne Observatory that played a critical role in 19th century shipping. Docklands residents may wish to have a look at this – the community is calling for it be World Heritage-listed. A primary function of Melbourne Observatory was to maintain “standard time”. Its precursor, the Williamstown Observatory (1853) was established specifically to provide accurate time at 1pm each day as a service to ships. It dropped one “time ball” each day from Flagstaff poles erected at Gellibrand’s Point, Williamstown, and another at Flagstaff Gardens.

Ships at anchor used hand telescopes to observe one of the two “time balls” and at the fall of the ball, they could adjust their chronometers and sextants. Precise time measurement enabled accurate navigation at sea. By providing an accurate measure of local time at a known longitude, ships could adjust for any errors that may have crept into their instruments and their calculations after long voyages.

Time at the Melbourne Observatory was determined by using a transit telescope to observe the movement of “clock stars” i.e. those stars with accurately known positions. Nightly observations ensured that the “master clock” in the observatory remained in alignment with of the “clock stars” across the field of view of the telescope. What began as a maritime service at Williamstown then at Melbourne was followed a “time ball” at the Telegraph Office in Melbourne, linked in 1870 by a telegraph wire between the observatory and the city. Melbourne’s watchmakers and citizens used this to check their timepieces; it later achieved wider application and was adopted throughout the colony. The observatory “time ball” came to control clocks at the railway stations at Spencer St and Flinders St, the Post Office clock, Parliament, Customs House and several banks.

In addition to time-setting, the observatory was the source of all weather forecasting, weight setting and measurement standard setting for Victoria and the southern hemisphere, compiling meteorological observations and tide data. It’s well worth a look: collections.museumsvictoria.com.au/articles/1632

Given their familiarity with shipping, Docklands residents are probably more aware than many that the shipping industry pollutes the environment in various largely obscure ways. e.g. through paint and anti-fouling treatments, and of course, we are only too aware of catastrophic oil spills. Generally, though, shipping pollution seems somehow to be “under the popular radar”. Recent research on emissions free maritime propulsion indicates that that shipping pollution should factor more closely into environmental policy thinking. Maritime heritage enthusiasts are familiar with “transitions” in relation to ship propulsion. Oar to sail to steam to oil to electricity to nuclear. Are we now heading back towards wind propulsion? Will stringent environmental controls and targets entail a radical shift in ship propulsion as well as cars? Will we see the emergence of “sail cargo” ships in Docklands?

MMHN member Christiaan De Beukelaer (University of Melbourne) recently sailed aboard the vessel Avontur, a two-masted schooner built in 1920, crossing the Atlantic to Germany with a crew of 15, completing a six-month cargo voyage trans-Atlantic round-trip via the Canaries, the Caribbean, Mexico, and the Azores relying almost entirely on wind propulsion to carry significant tonnage of cargo. So – will it be a case of back to the future – a new transition in shipping propulsion? See unctad.org/news/sail-cargo-charting-new-path-emission-free-shipping

Early notice of MMHN seminar event at Docklands Library – given that uncertainty persists in relation to COVID, with considerable optimism, MMHN announces its 2021 seminar: “Port Phillip: Looking in, looking out. Aboriginal and colonial perspective” February 22 at Docklands Library at 5.30pm. Do come along – in fact - why not joint MMHN now? Email [email protected]

Docklands voters turn green and sexy

Docklands voters turn green and sexy

August 3rd, 2022 - Docklands News
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