The Secret In The Bay
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And above all, watch with glittering eyes, the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. (Roald Dahl)
Western Port Bay has a rich maritime history. Before European settlement, the Boon wurrung people indigenous to the area crossed the bay in canoes in search of food resources. In 1798, George Bass entered Western Port in a small 8.7m whale boat with six crew. He named the bay Western Port because at the time, it was the western-most port in the colony of NSW, of which Victoria was once a part.
Following its discovery, the area became a hub of maritime activity. Sealing and fishing flourished as did pastoral activities. While sealing was prohibited in 1891, other industries developed over time.
In 1911, 1517 hectares of land near Crib Point was developed as the Flinders Naval Depot and ten years later, it officially became HMAS Cerebrus. It still operates today as the Australian Navy’s premier training establishment.
But Western Port Bay holds other lesser-known naval secrets.
She is a beauty, the HMAS Otama, an Oberon Class Submarine launched in 1978 By Princess Anne in Glasgow. At 90 meters and weighing 2040 tonnes, she is anchored just north of the Crib Point Jetty. She was in service until late 2000, and eventually sold to the Western Port Oberon Association in 2001, who planned to bring her ashore as part of their Maritime Museum.
However, permission to do so was denied. The Association tried to sell her on eBay in 2008, a fate unbefitting for such a glorious lady. This too failed and she now sits alone, a majestic sentinel awaiting her fate, whatever this may be.
Despite her rusty outer shell, she is fully operational. In her heyday, she was a specialist vessel engaged in surveillance and intelligence gathering, carrying a crew of 64. Her main armaments are six 21inch torpedo tubes. She has no need of them now as she slumbers in the shallow waters of the bay.
The Otama can be seen as a lonely spec from the shore. A much better option is to visit the lonely lady by boat. Wildlife Coast Cruises operates Twilight Cruises on Western Port Bay. The cruise journeys across the bay from Cowes on Phillip Island, visiting the HMAS Otama at sunset.
She is quite the sight to behold as the setting sun dances across her body in a spectacular display of crimsons and reds. Her name, Otama, comes from the Aboriginal world meaning dolphin, fitting for a lady who brings so much joy to those who see her, much like her namesake.
Maybe one day, someone will realise her significance and give her the kind of life she deserves. Be sure to visit her before that happens.