From the eye of the needle to the edge of the shelf, the notorious waters of Bass Strait both separate and join the island state of Tasmania to mainland Australia. This stretch of water has always provided explorers, settlers, boat builders, fishermen, yachtsmen and entrepreneurs with challenges.
Through objects, images and interactive displays, the Bass Strait Maritime Centre explores the themes of the natural history of Bass Strait and its islands, European exploration, settlement, early shipbuilders and entrepreneurs, shipwrecks, the impact of steam, the creation of the port city of Devonport and Naval history.
A simulated experience ‘Take the Helm of the SS Woniora’ gives visitors a chance to test their skills and bring a 1910’s steamer into the Mersey River or through the heads of Port Phillip Bay – without getting wet! There are a range of scenarios to choose from, all giving insight into the challenges faced by navigators a century ago.
For those wishing to try the real thing and don’t mind getting a little wet, the 1936 former crayfishing ketch ‘Julie Burgess’ provides the real experience with public sailings Wednesdays and Sundays taking visitors out the mouth of the Mersey River into Bass Strait on a two hour sail.
The Centre re-opened in 2013 after a redevelopment which included a new extension to the heritage listed former Harbour Master’s residence which was built c. 1920. The Centre and pilot station is situated in Joshua Slocum Park, a significant landmark near Devonport’s river foreshore. The collection features fine detailed models from the days of sail and steam to modern drive on drive off vehicular and passenger ships, ships bells and information about the restoration of the ketch ‘Julie Burgess’, a working tall ship active in the Mersey River.
The two most significant models in the collection are the ‘Princess of Tasmania’ and the ‘Empress of Australia’ which are the original builder’s models. They are the only two of the roll on/roll off ferries which have provided a regular service across Bass Strait between Devonport and Melbourne that were built in Australia.
The Centre includes a Gift shop with a variety of maritime themed gifts and souvenirs. Snacks, small meals and great coffee is served in the “Bass Strait Diner” open 10:00 am to 3:00 pm.