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Maritime is gaining recognition

By Dr Jackie Watts - Chair, Melbourne Maritime Heritage Network

Melbourne Maritime Heritage Network (MMHN) sincerely thanks Docklands’ iconic Magnet Gallery for enabling the eagerly anticipated Ferries of Melbourne: Past, Present, Future – Good, Better, Best? forum to go ahead in its COVID-safe location on June 23.

The program effectively encapsulated the MMHN “ferry agenda”. First, Bruce Gooley, well-known U3A presenter, researcher and writer on maritime heritage, comprehensively described and illustrated Melbourne’s energetic, colourful, successful and safe ferry “scene” in days gone by.

Second, MMHN board member, maritime lawyer Assoc. Prof. Dr David Goodwin (VU), led an expert panel discussion to unpack the current ferry situation. Panelists included ferry operator Matt McDonald (CEO Searoad Ferries), ferry regulator Gareth Johnson (Transport Safety Victoria), ferry infrastructure Jamie Gillingham (Development Victoria), and waterways management Adam Buchholtz (City of Melbourne), while joining us by Zoom was safety and licensing Brad Roberts (Australian Maritime Safety Authority).

The audience presented provocative, well-informed questions to the panel, asking in essence: How can we enable an expansion of Melbourne’s ferry services? What is getting in the way? How can these impediments be overcome? Issues raised included infrastructure (deficit and neglect), zealous regulation and constraint – and frustrating state government “amnesia” around recognising waterways as a public asset. An important contribution to MMHN on relation to ferries came from participants in the MMHN interns program – three Monash University Business Masters students, Khushboo Majmundar, Ashik Shajahan and Srikar Vishnu, conducted an investigation into the current state of our ferries. Access to this research and a recording of the Ferries Forum in due course on: mmhn.org.au.

Regrettably ferry operator, Murray Rance (Little Group/Port Phillip Ferries) was unable to join the Expert Panel, but his Channel 7 interview is illuminating and optimistic. See: https://fb.watch/6iV3ed1odx/

MMHN recognises that Docklands is a key element in Melbourne’s rich maritime heritage. We advocate at EVERY opportunity that the multiple authorities governing Docklands should also demonstrate their recognition of this and recognise that Docklands is a unique waterways Precinct. These authorities include: Development Victoria, Parks Victoria, Melbourne Water, Tourism Victoria, City of Melbourne. This is a “no brainer” to many of us. Docklands cannot thrive unless there is a radical re-focus by those managing Docklands. Momentum is gathering. There is obvious benefit in activating this under-developed and under-valued public asset – our waterways. More needs to be done – urgently. Waterways infrastructure investment and urban planning has to prioritise waterways activation. The state government should be backing ferry expansion NOW as valuable public transport and tourism options. MMHN invites all Docklands residents to contact us – share your ideas, proposals, and views on expanding the ferry network. Email [email protected] The future recovery and prosperity of Docklands is NOT just about land-based real estate, it’s about optimising the unique location – and that is ALL about the water. The economic and social benefits recognising this are obvious.

This month MMHN made two submissions of interest to Docklands residents to the City of Melbourne – both support waterways activation. The first submission was to the Draft Economic Development Strategy 2031 (DEDS). MMHN found that although key priorities were identified in the DEDS, it argued that the City of Melbourne should recognise, build upon and optimise the value of all existing assets, both physical and cultural, but there are deficiencies in the economic equation in relation to waterways. We argued that the key priorities, as outlined in the DEDS, failed to adequately recognise the economic value of particular “assets” within Melbourne – our multifaceted maritime heritage, the maritime industry and waterways. Such assets are, if properly understood, recognised and addressed, capable of contributing much to the economy and more generally to the “brand” of Melbourne.

Our second submission to the City of Melbourne proposed an opportunity to activate the Docklands at minimal cost by relocating the vessel, Steve Irwin. Due to degeneration of the wharf, the vessel must leave Williamstown. In collaboration with Offshore & Specialist Ships Australia (OSSA), MMHN proposed that the Steve Irwin be towed to, and berthed (permanently or for an agreed term) somewhere in Docklands at a location with public transport access with no financial requirement of the council except berth or mooring support (to be negotiated). MMHN argued that the presence of the vessel would enliven the maritime precinct: The appeal of the vessel is irrefutable and Docklands residents will fondly recall the vessel in Victoria Harbour. Financially, it would bring activation throughout Docklands in a number of ways. MMHN encourages residents of Docklands to make their views known. Email [email protected]

Congratulations are in order!

In the 2021 Queen’s Birthday Honours awards this month MMHN board member Dr Liz Rushen was awarded an AM (Community History and Heritage Preservation) and Dr Peter Harris (Alma Doepel) was awarded an OAM (Maritime Heritage Preservation). Maritime heritage is gaining recognition – one activist at a time. We sincerely congratulate them both for the important work they do for us all •

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