Aim: to facilitate the establishment and ongoing development
of a state maritime heritage centre at Williamstown

Williamstown Vision | Background | Site Proposal


1. MHAV Participation

MHAV was set up in 2002 to represent the maritime groups and individuals in Victoria who were concerned at the lack of any political focus on the establishment of a state maritime heritage centre, such as the world-renowned museums that have become major education, historic, tourist and community resources for other Australian states.

As well as its hundreds of individual members, MHAV also represents around thirty Victorian interest groups, including heritage vessels, static and in operation, museums, scientific and historic societies, sailing clubs, cruise businesses, ship societies, writers and publishers, master mariners, marine professionals and port organisations.

Each of those entities in turn represents up to hundreds of people, so it is clear that MHAV is closely linked into the activities and aspirations of the Victorian maritime world. In representing our members, MHAV aims to expand public and political awareness of maritime heritage, promote the preservation of a range of historic vessels, support collections of maritime documents, images and artefacts, and celebrate maritime livelihoods, social contexts and experiences.

To further our aims, a major objective of MHAV since 2002 has been to support the establishment of a state centre dedicated to maritime heritage at Williamstown. We believe that the spacious PMA site represents perhaps Victoria's final chance to establish such an entity on the water close to Melbourne.

MHAV is convinced that the Williamstown site also represents a superb opportunity for Victoria to create a vibrant maritime heritage centre; one which would become a unique local attraction and a tourist destination of international significance.

2. Maritime Heritage and Victoria

Victoria's maritime past was fundamental to Australian development, and it is essential that measures are taken now to ensure that artefacts and records related to our maritime history are preserved for the future. This heritage also embraces the pre-colonisation era, as indigenous people had their own maritime culture and were capable of navigating to islands and across Bass Strait.
Victoria's history has fascinating maritime aspects, including:
  • early exploration and settlement
  • coastal trading and regional ports
  • production on the river highways
  • extraordinary days of gold rush shipping
  • dredging and re-routing of the River Yarra
  • research and expeditions in the Antarctic
  • waves of immigrant arrivals over two centuries
  • precautions against sea invasions by the French and Russians
  • the Victorian navy and the naval history of two world wars
  • the essential ports of Melbourne, Williamstown and Geelong
Melbourne - the largest port in the southern hemisphere throughout most of the last two centuries and still the largest general cargo port in Australia - is unique among the states in having no central site to commemorate its maritime history. Many local organisations have expressed their strong support for a higher profile for maritime heritage in Victoria, including community groups and those operating historic ocean, river, and private sailing vessels, static museum ships, and regional and thematic museums.

Unfortunately, the National Trust announced in April 2008 that it was not now proceeding with the new maritime museum it had announced when the Polly Woodside Melbourne Maritime Museum site was closed down in 2006. So for the foreseeable future, the Melbourne Maritime Museum's significant maritime collections will remain out of view and the unique library hidden away, while the world-famous barque Polly Woodside is now inaccessible to school groups, families, visitors and tourists.

The success of the volunteer-organised boat shows at Williamstown since 2004, and the welcome given visiting tall ships such as James Craig, indicates there is an unmet local enthusiasm for maritime heritage. International experience shows that well-planned maritime centres can become viable tourist and visitor drawcards. Other Australian states have invested heavily in the preservation and presentation of their maritime heritage, and derived substantial social and economic benefit as a result.

3. Why Williamstown?

The Williamstown ex-PMA site has been recognised for a long time as a potential maritime heritage area. Its benefits include:
  • easy access for a large population base, with interstate and international transport links.
  • a north-facing waterfront aspect with spectacular views of the Melbourne skyline.
  • proximity to the modern commercial port, adjoining yacht clubs and marine businesses.
  • its own site maritime history, with infrastructure including piers, slipways and sheds.
  • deep water access for visiting tall ships and other heritage vessels.
  • ferries to the city and attractions such as Scienceworks and the Polly Woodside.
  • proximity to other heritage sites like Point Gellibrand and the Alfred Graving Dock

4. Chronology of Proposals and Developments at the Williamstown Site

Suggestions for development of the site have been taking place since a 1985 thesis by E. Werps entitled 'State Maritime Museum, Williamstown'. Formal proposals began in the late 1990s, and from 2004 to the present the site has been used for well-received locally-organised maritime events:

  • 1998 - Connell Wagner for Parks Victoria, Williamstown Foreshore Strategic Plan
  • 1998 - Williamstown Seaport Inc. established
  • 1998 - Williamstown Seaport: Participation Confirmation Request
  • 2000 - Parks Victoria: Creation of a Nationally Significant Maritime Precinct
  • 2002 - Miles Allen: Draft Proposal for Port Hobson - Williamstown Maritime Precinct
  • 2002 - Friends of Melbourne Maritime Museum (FOMMM) formed
  • 2002 - FOMMM incorporated as Maritime Heritage Association of Victoria (MHAV)
  • 2002 - Williamstown Seaport: Proposal for the PMA Workshops Site
  • 2002 - V. Mawbey/Hobsons Bay Times: $35m Plan for Seaport
  • 2002 - F. Tomazin, The Age: $35m Maritime Heritage Plan to Attract the Jetty Set
  • 2003 - Melbourne Heritage Seaport - Business Plan
  • 2003 - Parks Victoria: Williamstown Foreshore Strategic Plan #8 - Seaport group agreement terminated
  • 2003 - MHAV propose concept of 'Williamstown maritime heritage precinct as a maritime Sovereign Hill'
  • 2003 - MHAV and Griffin Architects: Design and Costing Analysis for Williamstown Maritime Heritage Precinct
  • 2004 - Two-day Williamstown Heritage Boat Show organised by Shenandoah Society
  • 2004 - Premier Steve Bracks endorses the idea of a maritime heritage precinct on the site
  • 2004 - Peter McIntyre OAM: Design for Williamstown maritime heritage precinct
  • 2004 - MHAV and the Shenandoah Society form the Williamstown Maritime Trust
  • 2004 - Williamstown Maritime Trust: The Proposal
  • 2004 - Williamstown Maritime Trust becomes Williamstown Maritime Association
  • 2005 - Two-day Maritime Heritage Festival
  • 2005 - Williamstown Maritime Association: Vision Statement
  • 2005 - W. Turner: A Focussed Future For Our Maritime Past (paper and summary)
  • 2006 - First visit of barque James Craig to Melbourne since 1921
  • 2006 - Two-day Boat Festival
  • 2007 - Seaworks Foundation Ltd registered.
  • 2007 - Two-day Colonial Navy Boat Show
  • 2008 - Second visit of barque James Craig
  • 2008 - Seaworks Foundation Ltd issues 2008 Strategic Statement
  • 2008 - Parks Victoria and Seaworks Foundation request input for a Strategic Development Plan, due for release Nov 2008
  • 2010 - August 27 2010, lease between Parks Victoria and Seaworks is finally signed, and Strategic Development Plan released.
There is almost universal agreement that the site at Williamstown would be ideal for a maritime heritage centre, however issues such as the sources of funding, the ongoing viability, the extent of development and the responsible developing organisation have never been agreed upon by all interested parties. The MHAV has long considered the ongoing viability of a maritime heritage site in the light of similar world-wide developments.

Williamstown Vision | Background | Site Proposal