FEATURE | Offshore and Specialist Ships Australia seeks to preserve maritime history and build careers for the future

AUSTRALIA WEEK
Photo: OSSA official Facebook page

Offshore and Specialist Ships Australia (OSSA) was formed in 2017 when a small group of shipping enthusiasts got together to collect, preserve, and publicly display memorabilia associated with the specialist ships of Australia. This was at a time when the offshore oil and gas activity in Australia had dramatically fallen away and the shipping companies and their ships were looking to either close down or move overseas.

Rather than have the memorabilia shipped away or, even worse, destroyed, it was felt there was an urgent need to capture as much as possible and preserve this unique history.

When approached, the shipping companies were very generous and very quickly there had been quite a lot of memorabilia collected. This included ships models, photographs, paintings, documents and other various forms of memorabilia that had been sitting around in the offices for many years. The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) were also very supportive, donating a propeller from the first navigational aids vessel in Australia (Lady Loch, which was built in 1886).

Having had such success the next question was what to do with it. Everything (apart from the propeller!) had been sitting in one of the member’s dining rooms and it didn’t take long for his wife to say “enough was enough” and it had to go! This is where luck played a big part and it turned out that we were able to secure some space in the Mission to Seafarers building in Melbourne.

Photo: OSSA official Facebook page

As many would know the Mission to Seafarers building is unique in that it is still functioning as it was originally intended to 100 hundred years after construction. Certainly today the crew of the Mission are as busy as they have ever been with helping the seafarers’ welfare due to the ravages of Covid. It would be a fitting home for OSSA as many members had fond memories of attending dances, etc. in their earlier years and it provided an opportunity to give something back to the industry and the Mission itself.

So OSSA moved into the upstairs area of the building together with the small collection of artefacts that had been collected to this point. The group had also increased and were about 10 people at this stage who met regularly each week to develop plans for the future. It was soon decided that there was a need to have a name and to form an organisational structure hence Offshore and Specialist Ships Australia was born. Within a short time the business name was registered and a company formed as a charitable organisation. OSSA met at the Mission every Thursday morning through the year with a break between late December and late January.

The year 2018 saw OSSA develop its website (ossa.org.au) where their collection of photographs was able to be displayed together with further information on OSSA activities and where potential new members could sign up.

That year also saw significant growth in activity and membership which had grown to around 50 by year end. The scope of interest was also widened to include the specialist ships of the Antarctic, tugs, hydrographic, science, ferries etc. and the collection of memorabilia grew. OSSA held their first exhibition in April 2018 in the Mission to Seafarers. This was very successful and helped gain further recognition for OSSA.

Following a strategic plan meeting in early 2019 it was determined that OSSA should also play a part in widening recognition of the maritime industry and the value provided to the Australian economy. This would be done through further exhibitions, public talks, social media, approaches to governments (federal and state) and most importantly getting information to school children, particularly with the wonderful career opportunities the industry presented.

The “Anchor Clankers” get-together had been established some 20 years earlier. This provided an annual event for anyone that had worked in the offshore oil and gas industry to meet up, have a drink and share stories of the good times everyone had either at sea or in the office. OSSA took over the management of this event for the first time in 2019 and it would continue to be an active part of the social calendar going forward. Over 80 people attended the 2019 gathering.

At the OSSA’s 2019 exhibition “Specialist Ships made Australia – How?” (Photo: OSSA official Facebook page)

A major exhibition at the Docklands Library later in 2019 was a huge success with over 100 people attending the opening night. The exhibition (aptly titled “Specialist Ships Made Australia – How?”) focused on the Offshore Oil and Gas industry, the Royal Australian Navy and their specialist ships such as the hydrographic fleet and the ships that served the Antarctic. Several other smaller exhibitions at the Hastings Maritime Museum and Westernport Historical Society were also successfully held during the year.

Memberships continued to climb and by years end had reached 100. OSSA representatives were now appointed in each state as the interest grew. There were also several international members.

Early 2020 saw the rumblings of Covid approaching and little did we realise the devastation that would follow. Thankfully OSSA was able to hold a very successful Anchor Clankers event in March which for the first time also had a members and partner event following the main get together. All agreed this should be a continuing part of the event and that OSSA should try to alternate the event between states. A strategy meeting was also able to be held and a main objective was to further the vision to work with schools.

Lockdown! Everyone had to adapt quickly to the new arrangements. Thankfully OSSA had been experimenting with on-line meetings and was able to seamlessly continue their weekly meeting each Thursday. This actually proved to be very successful for OSSA as it enabled great focus to be put onto projects. During 2019 OSSA had worked with students from Monash University to raise the profile and use of social media so that going into lockdown, OSSA was well represented on Facebook, Instagram and Linkedin in addition to a continually improving website.

The OSSA school program was brought together over many months through the hard work of a number of members. The target was to have a well rounded program that would illustrate the great array of careers within the maritime industry but particularly sea going roles. Through an agreement with CEAV (Career Education Association of Victoria) the program would be presented to schools early in the 2021 school year. The final program can now be accessed through the OSSA website on this link.

Unfortunately, due to Covid, OSSA was unable to meet up at the Mission and plans to catalogue the collection and hold further exhibitions had to be put on hold. Nevertheless, the on-line meetings proved extremely successful and by year end the membership had doubled to 200.

To find out more about OSSA, its activities, and its projects to enhance maritime awareness across Australia and New Zealand, go to its website at www.offshorespecialistships.com or access its dedicated pages on Facebook and Instagram.

See all vessel reviews, features, and news stories as part of this month’s Australia Week here.