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

Williamstown Vision | Background | Site Proposal

Site Proposal

Maritime Heritage Centre, not a Maritime Museum

There is a worldwide trend away from the traditional static glass-case museum towards a more interactive format, which relies on activity and the theatre of movement to attract the general public to participate, or be educated and entertained by exhibits.

While a museum aspect is still fundamental to any serious heritage institution, modern outdoor interactive precincts can also combine a range of related commercial and community attractions that provide a long-term sustainable viability to the overall development. The bottom line is to attract people to the site and provide enough variety that they return at different times for different reasons. Hence the scope and objectives in a number of areas should be considered:
  1. Heritage
  2. Education
  3. Tourism
  4. Community
  5. Museum
  6. Sustainability

1. Heritage

1.1 Vessel facilities
Melbourne has a number of historic vessels, including the tops'l schooner Enterprize, the steam tug Wattle, the three-masted schooner Alma Doepel and the world-famous barque Polly Woodside. These and similar vessels are supported by independent organisations which are usually community and volunteer-based. The centre could offer them a useful economy of scale, while they could provide the centre with a theatre of activity that would be a major part of the site's attraction.

Melbourne is also frequently visited by tall ships from other ports such as Windeward Bound, One and All, James Craig and the Young Endeavour. On an international scale, Melbourne hosted the 1988 bicentenary celebrations, when a large number of sailing ships and the First Fleet re-enactment vessels visited Melbourne, resulting in unprecedented visitation and public interest. We have also seen recent visits by sail training ships such as the Mexican Cuauhtemoc and Italian Amerigo Vespucci. Measures are being taken to have Melbourne (and hence Williamstown) approved as an official port for Sail Training International, which would greatly enhance the site's global visibility.

A suitable location is required to moor and maintain resident and visiting heritage vessels and provide public access when ships are open for inspection: Williamstown is the logical place for this.

1.2 Maritime livelihoods
Heritage crafts and skills were fundamental to life at sea and in ports. The site needs workshops and galleries to present demonstrations of maritime trades. As well as supporting heritage vessels they could also offer the training and apprenticeship necessary to ensure continuity of experience and knowledge in these age-old livelihoods.

At other major sites, 'heritage trading' is the practicing of traditional trades for exhibition, training and skills preservation, while also producing products for sale. It is essential for a viable maritime centre. Maritime trades demonstrate the wider context of industrial and social settlement in earler centuries, as well as being drawcards and modern interest areas in their own right, such as:
  • ship modelling
  • sail-making, canvasware
  • carpentry, wooden-boat building
  • wooden masts, spars, block making
  • ropemaking, tackle, rigging
  • caneware, basket-weaving
  • early printing techniques
  • glass blowing, lamp-making
  • clothing for themed events and costume hire
  • cooper for barrels, casks, storage containers
  • blacksmith, tinsmith, metal spinning
  • foundry for marine and household fittings
  • marine engines, engineering, maintenance
1.3 Maritime groups and volunteers
The foundations of successful maritime heritage vessels and sites world-wide are the volunteers. They act as guides, administrators, researchers; they maintain artefacts, restore and sail vessels and usually provide significant maritime experience. They are an invaluable resource, as they are motivated by enthusiasm and commitment.

Successful heritage sites provide their volunteers with facilities such as mess, meeting and storage rooms, as well as access to site libraries, images and documents. They also offer training to new volunteers in essential aspects of administration and safety. The volunteer facilities are also useful for meetings of maritime interest groups, which also can provide valuable advantages to a professional maritime site.

2. Education

The centre would be an ideal setting for education and the transfer of knowledge and experience. Education forms a fundamental part of the activities of large heritage operations. For example Sovereign Hill and the Enterprize report that at least 20 percent or more of their revenue is derived from education activities for primary and secondary schools, with SOSE (Studies of Society and Environment) streams being particularly relevant.

Maritime-associated education is also appropriate for all ages, not just schoolchildren. For instance:
  • TAFE courses through Victoria University, such as boat building
  • Adult education - night school and trade and apprentice training
  • Community boating education - safety, maintenance, sailing school, etc
  • Secondary and Tertiary research using centre resources
Cultural elements such as sea-shanties, music, art and story-telling are also an important part of maritime heritage, which must be practiced and experienced in order to ensure their preservation. They offer not only maritime culture but also education and entertainment.

3. Tourism

Local, interstate and international visitors are increasingly attending Victorian tourist attractions such Sovereign Hill, historic railways and air museums. It is clear that heritage themes are popular, but the presentation of maritime history is currently fragmented, with many representative groups around the state.

3.1 Cross-promotion
A maritime centre in Melbourne would provide a focus for cooperative cross-promotion of regional maritime museums and heritage groups, as well as other Melbourne museums such as the Museum of Victoria, the Immigration Museum and Scienceworks. The centre itself would be an ideal attraction, presenting traditional nineteenth and twentieth century activities in the context of maritime society and livelihoods, with broad appeal that would encourage multiple visits.

3.2 Entertainment
Sovereign Hill demonstrates the value of providing entertainment along with informational facilities, sustaining attention and involving visitors. Live theatre, open-air music, a cinema or auditorium to offer maritime films, lectures and audio-visual presentations, would all allow for information and entertainment to complement the site as a whole.

3.3 Cafes, Souvenir, Book and Craft Shops
Appropriately-themed outlets also offer the comforts and merchandising that tourists and visitors expect, and which are essential to a site's financial viability.

4. Community

The local community is extremely important to the viability of a maritime heritage site. Locals provide attendance, support, volunteers and publicity. In Williamstown there are several historical and maritime interest groups who have already contributed significantly to the Seaworks site with both labour and finance, taking it from a state of dereliction six years ago to a place that now provides functional facilities for visiting vessels and local events.

To continue and enhance community involvement, the site should provide:
  • Access - public access to the site (restricted only by safety and ticketed events), with emphasis on the foreshore trail and access for the non-ambulant
  • Regular markets - art, craft and trades with maritime themes
  • Public events - regattas, tall ships, boat shows, craft fairs, steam festivals, pirate festivals
  • Meeting room - to foster relationships with local organisations, clubs & societies
  • Library access - for historic and genealogical research

5. Museum

A museum today is a much broader concept than in the past. For preservation of heritage the site should offer the following resources:
5.1 Museum Displays
Interpretive displays: themed, interpretive static displays provide a wealth of information to people who are more interested in ambling around a well-designed display area.
Interactive displays: can provide a greater level of sustained interest than static displays, especially for children. Interactive displays are an essential part of any educational function of the site.
Temporary displays: are suitable for travelling exhibitions from other maritime museums, or for art and craft exhibitions.

5.2 Document and Image Collections
A professionally-run library should be available to anyone who requires its resources. Documents, images and artefacts should be catalogued for ongoing reference for educational and research activities. An appropriately managed research and photographic facility can generate significant funds.

5.3 Conservation Facilities
Professional preservation and restoration of heritage artefacts and documents is necessary. This includes their safe archiving and storage to prevent deterioration.

5.4 Research Facilitation
A large part of maritime heritage research is conducted by separate individuals and organisations. A museum should assist collaborative and coordinated research functions.

5.5 Presentations
Lectures and conferences are an essential part of effective exchange and dissemination of information amongst maritime heritage groups, educational institutions and researchers.

5.6 Publishing
Publishing encompasses the Internet, journals, books and videos, and is one of the most important functions of heritage research. A journal of events, activities, research, etc. should be produced at regular intervals to promote maritime heritage and the site itself.

6. Sustainability

All of the above items are closely inter-related and dependent upon each other. An overall function would be a central location where all of the activities are facilitated, such as reception and administration offices. Publicity and sponsorship would be important but the major emphasis of the administration must be financial viability: making the site pay for itself.

A maritime heritage centre, with a backdrop of tall ships and heritage elements, would be extremely attractive for functions such as weddings, promotional launches, photo sessions, and parties, and market fees should be charged accordingly.

The maritime industry must also be involved, and should see the site as the venue of choice for corporate functions, product launches and seasonal events.

Outlets for maritime-related businesses would also find the site extremely attractive due to its relevance and high visibility, which would provide a major source of income. Potential revenue-generating commercial tenants (with a maritime or heritage flavour) could include:
  • Cinema, entertainment centre
  • Maritime adventure travel agent
  • Tavern and brewery
  • Restaurants, bistros
  • Maritime clothing boutique
  • Book shop, marine bric-a-brac
  • Art gallery, photo studio
  • Post office, philatelic outlet
  • Toys, hobbies, ship models
  • Heritage vessel booking office
  • Marine insurance brokers
  • Shipping and customs agents
  • Slipway of 600 ton capacity
  • Marine fuel supply depot
  • Ferry landings, terminal
  • Marina facilities
  • Boat repairs
  • Yacht brokers
  • Ship chandlery
  • Marine engineers

The Way Forward

Members of MHAV include professionals - educators, mariners, surveyors and engineers - who regularly visit maritime centres around the world to gain further understanding of global trends in the presentation of maritime heritage and the ingredients necessary for sustainable community participation.

We have been vitally involved in consideration of the benefits and difficulties involved in creating a viable maritime heritage centre at Williamstown for at least the last seven years. In this time we have collated a great deal of relevant information, which includes the results of a detailed survey of similar sites and a large collection of photographs, brochures, visitor books and reports and references.

If you are interested in the future of maritime heritage in Victoria, please consider becoming a member of the MHAV, and helping develop and implement these proposals.

Williamstown Vision | Background | Site Proposal