Fremantle has lost two cherished replica ships.
Endeavour and Duyfken are now at the Australian National Maritime Museum in Sydney. Without doubt, the West Australian community is the poorer for having lost these two great icons of the shipbuilders’ craft.
There is a third replica ship which is languishing at Leystad in The Netherlands. Her topmasts have not been stepped for years. Willem Vos, the great shipwright who crafted the magnificent vessel, is at his wit’s end and turning the ship into a seabird habitat has been talked about.
The challenge of raising money to build a replica ship is minor compared with the cost of keeping a ship afloat, but the Batavia Replica deserves a better fate.
There is an opportunity to give the Batavia Replica a second life in Western Australia, particularly as the 400th anniversary of Batavia running aground on the Abrolhos Islands few hours before dawn on 4 June 1629 is now only six years away.
It is time that Western Australia grabbed onto the Batavia story as its own. Elly Spillekom, the great replica enthusiast, has said that something should be done to bring the Batavia replica to WA. I agree with her.
When I took the crew of Duyfken at the end of our hugely successful summer exhibition tour of The Netherlands to Stockholm after our ship was securely stowed in Rotterdam in 2002, we saw something amazing. The Swedes raised the intact remains of the Royal ship Vasa and they have placed the ship inside one of the greatest maritime museums in the world. The ship is in a room, almost like she was built yesterday. Around the ship are galleries telling the story of Vasa. It is a stunning museum but, importantly, one cannot walk the boards of Vasa.
In the South of England is HMS Victory. She is also away from the sea but in need of constant maintenance. The bonus, however, is that visitors can board the ship and see what life was like and even see where Admiral Nelson fell.
It is not a great challenge to move Batavia on a ship carrier from the nearby port of Antwerp or Rotterdam to Western Australia. She could be placed near the foreshore at Geraldton or near E-Shed on Victoria Quay where the ill-fated plans to build a film studio came to grief. A museum could be built around her. Western Australia could own the Batavia story. The Museum should open in 2029 and King Willem Alexander of The Netherlands should be invited to open it. He laid the keel of Duyfken during the Vlamingh Tercentenary Celebrations and he welcomed Duyfken to Texel in The Netherlands in 2002.
Why put Batavia in an indoor museum? The answer is simple. With Duyfken we knew that the elements are extremely damaging to a ship and when she sits in water, she needs consant maintenance. Placing a ship on the hard-standing in an enclosed environment has the advantage of preventing deterioration. It also means that the ship can be placed in a theatrical setting. Anyone who has visited the Batavia Gallery at the Shipwrecks Museum can see that the chunk of Batavia is now saved and the dimly lit room shows the piece off in a dramatic way.
Western Australia’s Batavia Museum would tell the story of Batavia, one of the greatest global shipwreck and mutiny stories. The Batavia would be fully equipped just as she was moments before she hit the reef. Maybe the ship should also float on some sort of suspension in the building so she moves as the visitors walk across her decks. The building should be dark, just a moonlit scene. Yes, people would come from all over the world to Geraldton or Fremantle to see that museum!
Does Western Australia have the ambition to do something like this? It could create a whole new tourism industry in Geraldton. What a fitting end-use for the amazing Willem Vos replica. It wouldn’t be cheap, but what an investment in the future it would be.
* By Graeme Cocks, author of Through Darkest Seas the untold story of how Duyfken, Australia’s first ship, was recreated and sailed into history … again
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