Of all Victoria Harbour’s diverse residents, the majestic Alma Doepel is likely to be its eldest and most elegant. This year, she celebrated her 100th anniversary of arriving on Melburnian shores after setting sail from Hobart back in 1916 carrying jam and timber.
A century on, she is the last surviving wooden cargo ship built in Australia, the last existing ship of a fleet of 500, and one of only two remaining examples of authentic maritime heritage in Docklands. It is for these reasons, plus a love of tall ships, that a team of staff and volunteers dedicate their time to helping restore her.
We met one of the team behind this 6-year long restoration, Board member and Restoration Director, Peter Harris, to talk ships, youth development, and why saving the Alma Doepel is so important.
“I first got involved with the Alma Doepel project 33 years ago. There have since been two restoration phases, and I have never looked back – I even retired six years ago to work on the project full time. Not only is she an important part of Victoria Harbour, but she is a key figure of Melbourne’s maritime history and one we should celebrate.
“We believe that tall ship events are defining moments in the history of any maritime port. Melbourne was one of the great ports in the world, and still is from a container shipping point of view. Restoring the Alma Doepel has provided us with an opportunity to build a community around this ship in Docklands, extend this into the marine science agenda, and also promote Victoria’s waterways.”
A key part of the Alma Doepel’s legacy is building on its history via is its youth development program – one that they take great pride in, regularly bringing students on board as part of their school projects to learn about volunteering. When the ship is operating, young Victorians also get the chance to join voyages. Each month the ship takes 36 trainees out to sea for 3 day or 9 day voyages, in two dormitories of 18 boys and 18 girls, together with 9 volunteer crew and four professional crew.
Peter says: “I’ve never seen a trainee get off that ship without a big smile on their face. I’ve seen some come back 30 years later as adults, and want their children to have that experience. In fact, several university studies have shown that youth development programs on sail training ships have a positive effect on young people’s behaviour, helping their confidence at a key stage in their lives.”
Young people and adults from all ages and backgrounds come on board to volunteer their time to restore the Alma Doepel, and a total of 47,000 hours have been put in to this refit of the ship so far. Residents of Victoria Harbour are lucky enough to have the opportunity to do some community good right on their doorstep. And the best part? By putting in your time to help out on the ship, you get the chance to join a voyage as volunteer crew.
If you’re interested in finding out more about the Alma Doepel, why not stop by to see her in all her beauty the next time you’re in Victoria Harbour? Tours run between 10am-4pm on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, and this also serves as a great induction for wannabe volunteers.
If you’d like to take a 360 degree tour of the ship, become a member, donate to the project, or volunteer, you can visit the Alma Doepel website for more information.