Monthly Archives: February 2018

View from my balcony

Victoria Harbour is 125!

Since 2008 I’ve lived in Melbourne Docklands, moving in July 2017 to an apartment looking over Victoria Harbour, formerly Victoria Dock. Just my sort of place.

It wasn’t always like this. Where I now live was once a marshy area to the north of a meandering Yarra river, then passable only by the smallest ships. The native Aboriginal occupants viewed this as a rich hunting ground, the blue lake, whilst to settlers it was the West Melbourne swamp.

After the 1850s Gold Rush it was obvious to all that something must be done to facilitate maritime traffic. As often now, good intentions didn’t translate into early action. Finally in 1877 the Melbourne Harbor [sic] Trust was formed. One of its first actions was to appoint Sir John Coode, the leading harbour engineer of his day, to advise them. He came up with a twofold plan: widening and straightening the river, then constructing docks to the immediate west of the city centre and next to the railway.

Sir John Coode's plan

Sir John Coode’s plan

Work on the Coode Canal, as it was named, began in 1880 and it finally opened in 1886. Work on the dock (redesigned as one large basin) began in 1889 and in 1892 the massive excavation (three million cubic yards) was filled with water.

West Melbourne Dock under construction

West Melbourne Dock under construction 1892

Then on 20th February 1893 – 125 years ago – the West Melbourne Dock, as it was initially known, received its first visitor, the SS Hubbuck, newly arrived from London.

SS Hubbuck

SS Hubbuck, built 1886, scrapped 1926

By 1908, Victoria Dock, as it was now named, was handling ninety per cent of Victoria’s imports. To increase the dock’s capacity, Central Pier was added in 1916-17. By the 1950s Melbourne was able to boast that its port was the most mechanised in the Commonwealth. But containerisation was on its way and the new down-river Swanson Dock with its massive container cranes opened in the late 1960s.

View from my balcony across Victoria Harbour

View from my balcony across Victoria Harbour

By the 1990s Victoria Dock was all but disused and the whole area in decay. The building of Etihad Stadium (opened 2000) kickstarted the redevelopment of the area and Docklands is now home to thousands of people and the workplace of thousands more.

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Original uncut pictures (State Library of Victoria): Coode plan, dock under construction, SS Hubbuck

Queen Mary 2 at Port Melbourne Feb 2018

Two Queens and me

As I write this, the magnificent Cunard flagship RMS Queen Mary 2 is docked at Port Melbourne giving her 2,500+ passengers a chance to sample our wonderful city and surroundings. Her time as the world’s largest passenger ship was short (being overtaken by Freedom of the Seas in 2006), but she still has a special place in my heart.


Between 1957 and 1959 my father worked in the British Embassy in Mexico City – it was a good life in a fine embassy house, two native maids (with whom I could apparently communicate in native Spanish) and a driver. On the outward trip we crossed the Atlantic on the Cunard RMS Media, a 250-passenger/cargo ship, then on by train from New York.

On the Queen Mary with my sister, 1959

On the Queen Mary with my sister, 1959

Two years later dad’s contract was over. Back then there were no ‘family friendly’ policies so for the homeward trip the British government put him on a plane so as to get him back to work asap, leaving my mum to cope with two small children for the four day train trip to NYC, then a transatlantic crossing on the Queen Mary.

This is a picture of me with my sister enjoying the crossing. Not so much fun for my mum though: with two small children and no husband to hand she had next no chance to enjoy the ship’s amenities. 1959 was notable as being the last year when more people crossed the Atlantic by sea than by air. By the mid 1960s the writing was on the wall and in 1967 the Queen Mary with withdrawn from service and sold to the city of Long Beach for use as a floating hotel and tourist attraction.


The end of the twentieth century saw cruise ships becoming more and more popular. In 1998 Carnival Corporation acquired Cunard with a view to re-establishing it as a premium brand. In 2000 they placed the order for what would become the  Queen Mary 2, a true ocean liner, not just a cruise ship. For several years she held the distinction of being the longest (1,132ft) and largest (148,528 GT) passenger ship ever built. The QM2 entered service in 2004.

Queen Mary 2 2004 shareholder tour brochure

Queen Mary 2 2004 shareholder tour brochure

At this time I was still living in the UK. My mother held a few shares in Carnival and received an invitation to visit the new ship and I was thrilled to be able to accompany her on a special shareholder open day at Southampton, 24 May 2004. The programme (cover above) is one of my treasured possessions.


By now I was living in Melbourne. I decided to turn my annual trip to visit family into the UK into a round-the-world trip, going on to the Software Industry Conference in Dallas, followed by a stopover in LA so I could finally achieve one of my great ambitions, revisiting the Queen Mary. I booked a three night stay and in special requests put ‘returning passenger’. When I checked in, I was given a room upgrade!

Queen Mary at Long Beach 2010

Queen Mary at Long Beach 2010

It was a wonderful experience, especially being able to explore parts of the ship that would have never been open to passengers during her revenue-earning days.


We get an ever-increasing number of cruise ships visiting Melbourne and I have taken many Sunday afternoon trips down to Port Melbourne (a short tram ride away) to see them sail out. I was thrilled when Queen Mary 2 made her first visit here in 2014. I was even more thrilled to see that her 2017 itinerary included a 4-night cruise from Melbourne to Kangaroo Island and back to Melbourne, both affordable and compatible with work. Needless to say, I booked immediately.

Queen Mary 2 at Port Melbourne Feb 2018

Queen Mary 2 at Port Melbourne Feb 2018

And even better, I got upgraded from a balcony cabin to a suite! At first I wondered why since I wasn’t a long-standing customer but I now think that it’s because they were short of single men.  Apart from the suite itself, this meant that I was now dining in the more exclusive Princes Grill restaurant. On my table of six my dining partner was a very pleasant retired woman …. from Twickenham, living not a mile from where I’d spent my first 50+ years! The cruise was a wonderful experience: the ship, the staff, the food and table companions who might have been chosen just for me.