Victoria Branch

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Victorian Branch History  

The first “gathering” of then UK members of the WSS residing in Melbourne was organized by Doug Robertson in November 1957 and was held at factory offices in Queensberry Street, North Melbourne where Doug was working part time. He was joined by Ron Sherlock, Tom Stevens, probably Peter Williams and others. The group decided to form a branch and the first subsequent meeting was held on 20 January 1958, in Room 10 at the Victorian Railways Institute in Flinders Street. Little information is available on meetings over the first years.

Ralph Varns joined the Branch soon after arriving from South Africa in 1963 and his photo offers were introduced in 1968. Notices of meetings with some shipping news existed by 1967 and in May 1969 a multi page numbered monthly Newsletter was introduced. Doug Robertson personally edited and issued all these early publications.

No record of the branch would be complete without paying tribute to it's founder and dedicated servant Douglas Keith Robertson. Doug almost single handedly produced, duplicated and distributed notices and newsletters to members, arranged and ran meetings and finances, and was intimately involved in near all aspects of branch activity until his untimely and sudden passing in January 1984. He encouraged anyone who showed interest in matters maritime, including several young and in some cases school age people who are still with us today. Doug loved people and was friend to all.

Numerous people have contributed to the Branch over the years and a number have been recognized by the presentation of long service medallions.

A Constitution was adopted at the November 1962 AGM and “Rules for the Conduct and Administration of the Branch” were adopted at the March 1969 AGM and referred to in the April 1969 Newsletter. The branch was incorporated as “World Ship Society (Victoria) Incorporated” in April 1985 in accordance with the new act of 1981. Some changes to the incorporation were made in August 2000.

Early meetings were held in small rooms at the Victorian Railways Institute, in the Flinders Street station building. Over time moves were made and with a few exceptions meetings were held in order at:

  • Training Ship at Albert Park Lake
  • back to the VRI
  • the Melbourne Harbor Trust theatrette in Market Street
  • the Melbourne Naval Centre (Tavistock House) at 383 Flinders Lane
  • at three venues at the Polly Woodside Melbourne Maritime Museum
  • the Mission to Seafarers
  • the present Port Education Centre

Apart from formalities and general discussion on maritime subjects, the main entertainment at near 500 monthly meetings has covered a wide range of subjects. But ships naturally have featured strongly ranging from Confederate raider CSS Alabama and Loch Ard, to the loss of the Bismarck, the Repulse and the Prince of Wales, to Enterprize and Alma Dopel.At least 30 ships all told. In addition some 30 audio visual shows, often called “tape-slide” shows, detailing ports or groups of ports throughout the world have been seen. These include the Port of Melbourne shows, originally produced by Robin Clark and Bill Barber in 1974 and later updated twice by Bill. Around 20 shipping company presentations have been made. Salvage has been a favourite subject as have the personal life experiences of seafarers.We have also heard from divers and others regarding historic and other shipwrecks, especially in Victoria. Presentations from members on their travels at sea or in ports have ranged across the globe, from Bass Strait to Trintan da Cunha to Norway and the Baltic. In addition members have enjoyed book nights, a book launch, quizzes, show and tells and swap nights. We have all enjoyed it, learnt a lot and been taken down memory lane many times.

The detail above is a shortened version of an article by long time member Lindsay Rex which appeared in the November 2007 Newsletter which celebrated the 50th Anniversary of the Branch. This Anniversary Edition can be read online by clicking on the image above. A 2.4Mb PDF copy can be downloaded from that page.