A pier for naval gazing

Published on by John

Picture in the past: A pier for naval gazing

Royal Australian Navy destroyers, HMAS Vampire and HMAS Vendetta, at Cunningham Pier in 1962.

TALK of a new Yarra Street Pier as a destination for cruise ships has been one of City Hall's pet projects in recent times.

The pier is being touted not only as a destination for cruise ships but for naval vessels, which were once a common sight in Geelong.

In the November 1962 picture, right, two Royal Australian Navy destroyers, HMAS Vampire and HMAS Vendetta, can be seen tied up at Cunningham Pier, where they stayed for four days.

The Geelong Advertiser reported that the two ships had made a short trip from Melbourne with about 200 wives and children of the crew aboard, and the fleet of buses was there to take them back home.

"During their short voyage these ships carried out various exercises which included a call to battle stations, rigging of a jack stay and the firing of a torpedo," the newspaper said.

"This was partly to demonstrate to the wives the scope of their husbands' activities and provide some essential practice for the men."


Geelong has had long connections with the Royal Australian Navy and - before Federation, when the individual colonies had their own navies - with the earlier Victorian Navy.

Most of the duties of the earlier navy were concentrated on the defence of Port Phillip Bay, and with this in mind the Victorian Navy took possession of the iron-clad monitor Cerberus in 1871. Four months after arriving on station, it visited Geelong.

According to the Geelong Advertiser, the Cerberus was the subject of much enthusiasm when her smoke was first sighted near Point Henry.

"Speedily the beach was thronged and the wharves covered with an influx of spectators," the paper said.

"Every one who could muster a telescope or an opera glass stood gazing on the dark indefinite object moving on the verge of the horizon.

"The principal crowd was congregated on the Moorabool wharf, where a number of boats were ready for hire, and awaiting passengers.

"On reaching her about three miles from the harbour, the passengers by the tug welcomed their grim visitor with a succession of lusty cheers, which was at once responded to by the ladies and gentlemen and crew of the Nelson on board the Cerberus."

The enthusiasm shown that day was still in evidence, if to a lesser extent, for what was probably the last naval vessel to visit our shores.

In June 1995 the submarine Ovens made its way into Corio Bay, berthing at Cunningham Pier.

The Ovens was open to the public over the weekend, and thousands of children and adults queued along Cunningham Pier waiting for a look below deck.

Cunningham Pier has since been sold privately, and the city is looking for a new publicly owned Yarra Street Pier to attract cruise ships and the occasional naval vessel.

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