by KATE WILLIAMS
THIRTY years since the first attempt to salvage the rotting hulk of HMVS Cerberus was made, Bayside Council has moved to preserve the vessel. Councillors voted at a general committee meeting last week to contribute $12,500 towards a study of the ship, which serves as a breakwater at Half Moon Bay in Black Rock. The study will also examine the seabed beneath the ship. The decision was made after a Heritage Victoria report recommended further testing was needed to determine the exact cost of preserving the armoured turret ship. The report stated that the cost of building a structure to prop up the decks, turrets and cannon could be more than $2.4 million. Heritage Victoria will contribute $12,500 and Parks Victoria $25,000 towards the technical study. The Cerberus has been the subject of a ongoing heritage battle since the 1970s. Named after the three-headed dog in Greek mythology that guarded the entrance to the "lower-world", the Cerberus was the flagship of the Victorian Navy from 1896 to 1901. It became part of the Royal Australian Navy in 1911. The ship was bought in 1926 by the former Sandringham Council. It was scuttled in Half Moon Bay to make a breakwater. During spirited debate at last week's committee meeting, Cr Graeme Disney said the vessel, which was slowly crumbling and sinking into the seabed, had to be preserved. He said while $12,500 seemed like a lot, it was no comparison to the amount of money the council would have to spend on clean-up costs. He said the council would have to foot the clean up bill if the ship disintegrated. Cr Disney said no government would fund work to preserve the vessel until the technical study was completed. Cr Nick Eden agreed, saying the wreck was a safety hazard. But Cr Alex del Porto said he could not support funding the study, as he did not believe government money would be forthcoming. He said the council had repeatedly asked for government funding, but to no avail.
Cr Michael Heffernan agreed, saying the State Government should fix the problem If the state thinks it's important then let them support it he said. Cr. Simon Russell was critical of the former Sandringham Council's decision to buy HMVS Cerberus and scuttle it for a breakwater. "It's probably the worst dollar they ever spent," he said. "If it does break up, we're going to cop $2 million plus. "At the end of the day, the price will, keep on going up for the clean up." Cr. Gary Andrews said he would support part funding the study, if it would prevent the council from being legally liable. "Ithink we need to secure ourselves legally," he said.
Local kids considered diving off HMVS Cerberus risky business in the 1950s, as rumour had it the wreck was inhabited by giant stingrays. But the prospect of bemg swallowed , by a creature of the deep did not deter Graeme Disney. The Bayside, councillor and local historian spent the summers of his youth swimming out to the wreck and diving off it. Cr. Disney took boat-loads of children out to the Cerberus, where they played pirates. Cr Disney is a passionate about saving the historically significant wreck. "It's an icon for Blackrock and the whole of the Bayside area," he said. He became involved in the fight to save the wreck when a plan to remove and restore the ship was mooted in the early 1980's. Cr Disney said he was opposed to the huge amount of money required to remove the wreck, which was part of the area's culture. He said he wanted to see the wreck preserved for locals and tourists to enjoy.