Gayle Beveridge is a past winner of the Boroondara Literary Awards and her work has appeared in Award Winning Australian Writing. Gayle is passionate about family, writing, photography, and with Victoria’s beautiful Bass Coast which she now calls home.
Published August 26th 2021
Step aboard these historic vessels of the sea
Imagine being able to step back in time aboard a historic ship. It's not a pipe dream, you can do this in Melbourne. Both the 1885 Polly Woodside and the WWII Ship the HMAS Castlemaine are floating museums open to the public. But beyond that, you can set to sea under full sail on a replica of The Enterprize or steam out on the Steam Tug Wattle.
The Polly Woodside - Image by English Wikipedia user Mfunnell, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
1. The Enterprize is a two-masted, timber schooner. She is a replica of a ship built in Hobart in 1930, and was herself built in the 1990s largely from materials salvaged from other historic vessels and sites. Although primarily a coastal trader, the original Enterprize brought the first permanent white settlers to Melbourne in 1835. It was that trip, in its endeavours to find a suitable place for settlement, that the ship entered Port Phillip Bay, subsequently came upon the Yarra River and eventually docked at what is now Williamstown. Click here for a more comprehensive history of the original ship which was wrecked in 1847 and for details of the building of the replica.
The Enterprize replica - Image by Edoddridge, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
The replica Enterprize moors in Williamstown and the great news is the public can book tickets to sail aboard this tall ship. On offer are one hour daytime sails, which usually occur on the third Sunday of the month, and one and half hour evening sails, which run on some Saturdays during daylight savings. See www.enterprize.org.au/sailing for times, pricing and to make bookings and click here for everything you might want to know about the ship and its operations.
Melbourne Enterprize Tallship - www.flickr.com photos jojof, CC BY 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons
2. The Steam Tug Wattle set to sea in 1933, embarking on a career as a navy vessel which continued until 1969. She was built on Cockatoo Island to maintain employment amongst the shipbuilders there while endeavouring to attract private industry. In 1979, she came to Melbourne and commenced life as a commercial pleasure steamer. Restoration works took place between 2007 and 2015, after which she returned to the waters of Port Phillip Bay. Click here for comprehensive details of the tug's history and restoration.
The Stream Tug Wattle undergoing restoration in 2013 - Saberwyn, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
These days, the Steam Tug Wattle offers excursions and High Tea Cruises to the public and provides special event charters. Excursions encompass the Yarra and Melbourne docks, Williamstown, Hobsons Bay and Port Phillip. High tea cruises run for 45 minutes and, in normal times, depart Docklands on Wednesdays and Williamstown on Sundays. Click here for more details and to make contact.
3. HMAS Castlemaine is a restored Bathurst Class Corvette, a WWII minesweeping ship moored at Gem Pier in Williamstown. During WWII, the ship worked primarily in the East Timor and Papua New Guinea areas. Her duties included landing stores and troops, embarking refugees, escorting merchant shipping, and minesweeping. In all, she did 117,000 miles of war service. Click here for more comprehensive details of the HMAS Castlemaine's war service.
HMAS Castlemaine in Port Moresby in the 1940's - Image in the Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Visitors can board and explore the ship at Gem Pier in Williamstown. See the engines running, view the guns up close, check out the restored equipment and even ring the bells and try out the voice pipes. The ship also houses exhibitions which are changed regularly and guided tours are usually available. Click here to check out their website which has a wealth of information about the ship, her missions and her crew along with details of visiting times and pricing.
HMAS Castlemaine - Image by User Bukvoed, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
4. The Polly Woodside is a three-masted cargo vessel, a barque, built in Belfast in 1885 and now docked at South Wharf in Melbourne. The ship first travelled to Australia in 1900, when she was purchased by New Zealand and renamed the Rona. In 1923 the Rona became a coal hulk and except for a period in WWII, continued in that task until the 1960s when plans were afoot to scuttle her. Saved by the Australian National Trust, she was restored. Her original name was reinstated and she took her place as a floating museum at the Duke's dry-dock in 1978, where she remains to this day. Click here for a more detailed history of the Polly Woodside.
The Rona (previously called the Polly Woodside and renamed in 1923) from State Library of Queensland Collection_ 1_169067 - Image in the Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
The ship is decked out as it would have been in its heyday. There is a history gallery with interactive exhibits at the wharf where there are also picnic facilities. Guided tours are available and special events are often hosted. The Polly Woodside opening hours are seasonal and it is sometimes closed to the public. Click here for details of when to visit and pricing.
The Polly Woodside - Image by Koichi Oda, CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons