THE State Government has thrown a lifeline to the historic warship Cerberus.
It is to spend $80,000 to remove the ship's guns as time runs out for one of Victoria's most important maritime treasures.
Lifeline: The sunken wreck of the Cerberus
Picture: ROB LEESON
Lifting the four mighty weapons off the wreck at Black Rock is likely to be the first step in a preservation project costing $5.5 million.
"This is one small step for preserving Cerberus, but one giant leap for her having a future," Friends of Cerberus volunteer group secretary Peter Tully said.
Cerberus is only one storm from disaster.
It suffered major damage in a 1993 storm and is considered so vulnerable to the weather its rescue must take place now -- or never.
Announced by Planning Minister Mary Delahunty, the $80,000 grant is the first time Cerberus has been acknowledged in a tangible way.
Enthusiasts have fought for its preservation for decades.
"It's the best news we've ever had," Mr Tully said.
Cerberus was built in 1868 for the Victorian Navy.
Transferred to the Royal Australian Navy after Federation, the iron vessel guarded Port Phillip. It was scuttled as a breakwater at Black Rock in 1926.
"Protecting the things we love about Melbourne, especially unique heritage sites, is integral to maintaining our reputation as one of the world's most liveable cities," Ms Delahunty said.
Cerberus is a relic of international interest, but governments have never taken its preservation seriously until now. Ms Delahunty urges the Federal Government to get behind the plan to save a ship regarded as the best of only three surviving examples.
The first step is to winch the four guns, each weighing 18 tonnes, from the two turrets, relieving stress on the crumbling hull. The guns will be treated ashore to stem deterioration.
If more funding becomes available, Cerberus will be jacked up from the seabed and stabilised on piles before the guns are put in place.
The first armoured fighting ship built for Australia, Cerberus took up station in Port Phillip to deter potential enemies with her big guns, fitted in rotating turrets and capable of firing at least 5km.
Cerberus could partly submerge when in action, making it a small target.
Also see: Editorial