Western Port Oberon Association Inc

The project first saw the light of day way back in late 1998 when Max Bryant identified the need for a project that would generate funds to go back in to community projects for young people of the region. He was concerned with the distinct lack of support for young people during their early endeavours of finding employment. Sadly many just gave up and eventually got so disillusioned drifted on to the welfare system. Max Bryant identified that there was a need for a project that would not only raise capital for community projects but also assist with on the job training and coaching in support of these young people. So consequently he developed what is widely known today as the submarine project. His immediate action was to run the proposal past his local member of parliament. At the time Peter Reith was the Federal Member for Flinders. Peter Reith saw the merit and very quickly gave the project his stamp of approval. On his suggestion Mr Bryant approached a number of people and in 1999 the Western Port Oberon Association was born. Under the rules of the Association all the assets are owned by the members of Western Port Oberon Association.

Being a fourth generation local, Max Bryant had many ancestors who were local mariners so he was well aware of the districts strong maritime connection. He had identified that the ideal project for the Western Port region and in particular Hastings, was a maritime museum due to the town’s maritime history. With the former Flinders Naval Depot now HMAS Cerberus just down the road at Crib Point.

The project needed to highlight the community connection with Cerberus. During extensive market research he became aware of the fascination the public had with submarines. Seen as the ultimate stealth fighter he reached the conclusion the main attraction had to be a submarine.

At the time in sourcing a name for the project, which later would change, there were a number of options brought forward. To recognise the Navy the title became The Hastings Cerberus Naval Memorial Centre project. By this stage the membership of the Western Port Oberon Association (WPOA) was steadily increasing as enthusiasm for the project grew.

Western Port Oberon Association Inc established a base of operations for the project and set up a small maritime museum in the former Mitre 10 building on Marine Parade in Hastings. On October 17th 2003 HRH The Princess Royal made a hugely successful visit to Hastings as a guest of the Western Port Oberon Association. As the formal sponsor of the submarine, and commissioned the submarine in to the RAN in 1978 Princess Anne agreed to continue her association by becoming the patron of the project.

With the sale of the building in Hastings in 2007 the headquarters moved from the Hastings premises to the present location at 120 The Esplanade Crib Point. A multi storey heritage listed building the former administration building for the now demolished BP Refinery. Western Port Oberon Association built a new museum which was unveiled by the then Minister for Veteran Affairs Bruce Billson. WPOA now added a quality line of clothing available to the public through their merchandise sales department. During this time the project underwent name change, to become the Western Port Maritime Memorial Centre. Later in 2011 WPOA decided that the project had grown to such an extent it was no longer a regional project but belonged to the entire state of Victoria thus the final name change to the Victorian Maritime Centre project

Membership was still growing steadily with full membership, concession member and a affiliate membership. With a large number of affiliate members gave a total membership of over 500. Only full members have voting rights at WPOA meetings. Members now enjoyed a quarterly newsletter and an active social calendar of events. WPOA members today still actively man the museum on weekends and are open for special tours during the week by appointment. "Guest Speakers also available".

Recently the vessel exhibition was boosted considerably by the donation of the former Port Phillip pilot ship and Launceston maritime college training vessel Wyuna. Donated by Perth business woman Gillian Swaby. The Wyuna is said to be a smaller version of the Queen’s yacht Britannia. With the inclusion of this Wyuna brings the value of Western Port Oberon Association members assets to several million dollars.

The Hunt For Otama

As the RAN was disposing of the ageing fleet of Oberon Class submarines Max Bryant contacted the Navy Disposal Department. HMAS Otama was the last of Australia’s six Oberon class submarines and still in service. Constructed on the Clyde in Scotland the boat was the last one built of this class and was also the last of this class worldwide to be decommissioned. With the new Collins class boats coming on line, HMAS Otama was, after an illustrious service career decommissioned in December 2000 .Max prepared a detailed submission that went to the RAN for evaluation. They would eventually make their recommendation back to the Disposals Department. Out of a number of submissions it finally came down to City of Geelong and WPOA. The Parliamentary Secretary for the Minister of Defence Dr Brendan Nelson stated that, in all his years in politics he had never seen such a detailed quality submission. Hence the Western Port bid was successful.

During this period Max Bryant was successful in his submission for a grant of $500,000.00 under the Centenary of Federation program. This grant allowed WPOA to purchase the submarine at $55,000 and meet the towage fee from HMAS Sterling in the west to Western Port a cost of $306,000. Prior to departure an EPA approval was required so all tanks were cleaned at a further cost of $40,000. The cost of insurance for the run across southern Australia was $96,000 so the initial funding was all but exhausted by the time HMAS Otama arrived in Western Port.

On the 30th of April 2002, Otama entered Western Port Bay after a 13 day tow from HMAS Sterling in Western Australia by the ocean tug Southern Salvor. The journey had not been without its drama with Otama launching itself of the top of waves as the tow moved through the Great Australian Bight

In Australia in the past, a few sections of submarines have been on display. Until rather recently, there has never been a complete boat on public view. Then HMAS Onslow located at the Australian National Maritime Museum in Sydney was opened to the public.  Then later in the West, HMAS Ovens was acquired by the Fremantle Maritime Museum and is now on public exhibition. HMAS Ovens was located on the former American Navy WWII submarine slipway. The slipway site was situated amongst many old wharf sheds well off the normal recognised Fremantle tourism trail. Initially Ovens was open two days a week which was later increased to three days. Then when the display proved to be so popular it was increased to five days a week. In eight months the boat had over 55,000 visitors. So successful is the submarine display that the WA government has now relocated their entire maritime museum in to a new 24 million dollars facility alongside the submarine.

Western Port Oberon Association intends to display the submarine Otama as a land based facility. Submarines by their design generically have a problem with limited access not only with entry but between compartments within the submarine as well. Otama is to be sited high and dry alongside the Victorian Maritime Centre Interpretation building. Openings are to be cut in to the side of the hull fore and aft of the submarine. These access openings with then connect with pedestrian tunnels which will run between the submarine and the building.

With over seven million visitors to the Mornington Peninsula annually there is no doubt that many will take the time to stop over in Western Port to visit the Victorian Maritime Centre. Take an exciting tour through the submarine and witness the action stations experience. See all the naval memorabilia on display in the purpose built Interpretation building.

Project Planning

The original site selected for the project was on the open space of the Hastings foreshore. When selecting a location the overwhelming factor was which site would provide the greatest financial benefit to the community, this was paramount in developing the master plan. At the initial meetings the Department of Sustainability and Environment (DSE) indicated that they would support locating the project at Hastings. To accommodate the project Mornington Peninsula Shire Council (MPSC) had to develop a Southern Precinct Foreshore Development Plan for the area. DSE orchestrated the formation of a three person panel to hear submissions from all stakeholders who may be affected by the proposed development. The panel hearing took place approximately three years after the submarines arrival in Western Port. During the hearing DSE representatives notified the hearing that the submarine project did to fit the states criteria for the Safe Boating Precinct under their Coastal Management Plan act and therefore should not proceed in this location. Having spent a considerable sum on a planning application on the advice of DSE and MPSC the Association was none too pleased at the outcome.

The planners of the project were then directed towards two other possible sites, one at Crib Point and another at Stony Point. The Association was strongly advised by MPSC to take up the Crib Point option as they saw it as a much quicker and simpler planning option.  By this time the submarine had been languishing on its mooring for four years. WPOA again submitted a planning application, this time for the Crib Point site. Later it was disclosed that the Port Of Hastings as the manager of the crown land site had invited Boral to make a planning application to MPSC for a bitumen storage facility on the site. This development reduced the project footprint to a mere thirty metre diameter strip of land. A world class tourism facility located adjacent to smelly potentially toxic bitumen storage facility was inconceivable. When the then state Minister for Tourism visited and stated the he could not see why a tourism facility and a bitumen plant could not coexist on the same piece of land one has to question their sincerity. With the reduction of the land available it soon became apparent that the site footprint was no longer large enough to accommodate the project so the proposal was abandoned.

Once again faced without a location for the project Western Port Oberon Association wrote back to DSE to see if the Stony Point site was still available. After numerous requests unfortunately a response was not forthcoming. In desperation WPOA wrote to the Minister for Tourism who replied promptly mid October stating that DSE is to establish an “Agency Group” to meet with the relevant public agencies to consider the WPOA proposal. Meeting were convened with this group and neither MPSC and WPOA were notified as to the outcome of the discussions. Not being made aware of the details of this Agency Group, what qualifies them for such a position and WPOA not being invited to attend created some concerns about the transparency of the process.

The turning point came when local state member Neale Burgess arranged a meeting for amongst other port folios Minister for Regional Development Denis Napthine. At the time BlueScope had just announced a major reduction in their workforce with more to come. As the largest employer in the region community moral had hit rock bottom. It was identified the business community was in decline with 26 empty shops. Then the front page of the local newspaper carried Government support for sub project, at last we might be on the move. Then our local member arranged for the Minister for Tourism Louise Asher to visit. After visiting Otama she met with MPSC WPT and WPCCI and prominent business people. Her conclusion was that the key to the business community’s viability was the submarine project and need to be up and running asap. The Minister for Environment Ryan Smith issued a Consent of Use for a site on the seaward side of the Western Port Marina sea wall. At last after all the years of hard work we had a site for the project.