It is approaching three months now since Crew Member and 'Friend' Ken Charman passed away 23 Aug '04 becoming our first casualty on the eve of what was to be the most fruitful period to date in our ongoing campaign to save the Cerberus. Ken was not 'navy' and he didn't possess a particular passion for ship wrecks but he did have an acute appreciation of finality. Rumour has it that he still had the first 'ten bob' he ever earned (no doubt from the many bottle drives we shared as preschoolers) maintaining that once spent it was gone forever. "You might earn more money but you will never earn that 'first' ten shillings again, it is unique". Such was his attitude to the Cerberus, we could sit by and let it disintegrate, then build a replica and try to pass that off as an historic ship. But the fact is, it would never be the Cerberus, it would always be just a copy. Given the opportunity, as we have been, it is better to preserve the real thing on piles at Half Moon Bay than build a modern 'lookalike' from scratch which could only represent, but never be evidence of, the history to which it is supposed to be relevant. People such as Ken Charman know the value of icons. They know that the likes of HMVS Cerberus are a once in a life time opportunity to show the world that our forefathers also made contributions worthy of this generationís consideration, and this icon of our maritime heritage is a rare 'in your face' example of it.
During the period since Ken's funeral the Cerberus has been nominated for inclusion on the National Heritage List (jointly by Friends of the Cerberus and the National Trust), Friends of the Cerberus' first Annual General Meeting was held, a federal election won and lost, the Victorian State Government provided funding for Stage One of the Preservation Plan (a result of intense lobbying by Friends of the Cerberus) and momentum has continued to build for further action from both the State and Commonwealth Governments. A quiet air of confidence is about since the Minister's announcement of this first ever tangible support for 'actual' preservation work on the Cerberus. With federal pollys now squarely in the sites of Cerberus' big guns the heat will certainly be on when the contractor begins work to remove them, hopefully within months.
With recent successes we should be prepared for the inevitable interest that will now emanate from the accompanying publicity. Exposure begets more exposure and so 'the beast' is self perpetuating as witnessed by the 'feeding frenzy' over media access to stage one works. In all this we will encounter a lot of 'fair weather friends' and need to be mindful of those who have been on board for the long term. Other organizations with a special interest in the project such as the Heritage Council, Heritage Victoria and The National Trust can also be expected to seek greater control of proceedings as things progress. It is only natural that Friends of the Cerberus will not be the sole arbiters of the preservation process through to its conclusion but we can and should still play a significant part. When ever possible we should pay tribute to and be inclusive of those who have assisted to date in making the campaign a successful one. Although others may also have their agendas we need to ensure that these friends of the Cerberus are not forgotten. In particular, businesses and individuals that have offered their time and expertise freely in support of our efforts need to be recognized at every opportunity.
Rank and file crew members must now hold the line and continue the grass roots promotion that has been so effective while our appointed negotiators press the advantage through appropriate channels from the bridge. In its current incarnation the campaign appears to have attracted a degree of bipartisan support from politicians and too date there has been very little of the opposition encountered by earlier efforts to 'Save the Cerberus'. It is difficult to tell whether this is due to an enlightened public with a greater respect for our heritage than past generations or just apathy on the part of our opponents who may still not take the present effort that seriously. Here's to enlightenment and apathy, may they 'live long and prosper' in the bosom of their respective hosts.
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