Within these pages we hear great deal of the Royal Australian Naval College but this is the first occasion we have been privileged to receive information on the rival but very different skill sets offered by the Australian Maritime College situated outside Launceston in Tasmania.
Thirty-five years ago a number of seafaring students celebrated their academic achievements at the Australian Maritime College and left with little fanfare to begin their professional lives. They were the first of our graduates and many of them are still working in the maritime industry, both in Australia and overseas. The AMC was opened in 1980 to provide maritime education and training for Australia’s merchant navy and fishing industry. The opening was the culmination of two decades of work by people who were convinced that Australia needed a centralised, modern institution to provide such training.
The 1960s were a time of technological advancement in the shipping industry. Increasing automation and port development along with improved vessel design meant a considerable change in seafarers’ workloads. Maritime industries in the US and the UK were quick to adapt to the changes but Australia began to fall behind, especially in the emerging area of short specialist courses. By the early 1970s people were finally starting to take seriously the need for improved maritime training in Australia. In 1972, the Labor Government was elected on a platform that included the development of home-grown seafarer training.
In 1975, during the height of a Bass electorate by-election campaign after the resignation of Lance Barnard, the Prime Minister Gough Whitlam announced that the college would be built in Launceston, Tasmania. This decision remained in place, although Labor lost the seat. When Whitlam’s Government fell later that year it led to inevitable delays. The Maritime College Act was passed in 1978 establishing the AMC as an autonomous tertiary institution, fully-funded by the Commonwealth Government to provide maritime education and training for the whole country.
By March 1978, work was well underway on the college. Captain Dan Waters had been appointed foundation principal and plans were progressing for building construction and the purchase of a training vessel. The AMC council met officially for the first time late in the year with Tom Swanson at the helm. At the beginning of 1979 senior academic staff began arriving in Launceston with their families to take up their new positions and begin constructing courses and syllabi.
With almost thirty million spent on establishing the college it was officially opened in May 1980 by then Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser at a ceremony at the Beauty Point campus. The main building at the Newnham campus, the Swanson building, was completed for the start of the 1981 school year. It featured a 60-metre towing tank in the basement. Today, that towing tank has been extended to 100 metres and is the largest and only commercially operating facility of its type in Australasia. It is used to investigate the behaviour of ships’ hulls and other marine structures in different conditions and to find ways to reduce fuel costs and environmental damage.
The Newnham campus also featured a ship operations building with training simulators and the Survival Centre, which was designed to meet international standards. These state-of-the-art facilities have been upgraded over the years and continue to offer a hands-on training environment in which students and maritime industry professionals can hone their skills. That year the college’s first 115 students could choose between the following courses: Diploma of Applied Science (Nautical Science), Diploma of Engineering (Marine), Certificate of Technology in Fisheries Operations, or Associate Diploma in Radio Communications.
AMC’s commercial arm, AMC Search, was established in 1984 to commercialise the resources of the college and provide training and consultancy services to the maritime industry. In 1985 it took on 14 contracts and by 1989 it was working on more than 60. One of its early major contracts was with the Royal Australian Navy, helping to assess new ways of minesweeping. It has also held the Department of Defence’s Pacific Patrol Boat contract for more than twenty years, providing training for the crews of 22 patrol boats from 12 Pacific nations.
For the first few years AMC was very much a seafarer training college. Most of the students taking diploma courses were cadets from shipping companies. In the tradition of British colleges, cadets were required to wear a uniform, start the day with a flag raising ceremony, and had compulsory sailing on weekend, but this quickly went out of fashion. The AMC is now a different place to the one those original young men and women experienced. In 1997, its operation was extended to Singapore through distance education and, in 2007, three distinct national centres emerged – Maritime Engineering and Hydrodynamics, Ports and Shipping and Marine Conservation and Resource Sustainability. Maritime and Logistics Management was introduced as a section of Ports and Shipping and it now offers Australia’s premier MBA for the international business and maritime logistics industries.
All of the centres are supported by a world-class suite of teaching and research facilities and an industry-focussed faculty that comes from all over the globe. The hydrodynamic testing facilities include the model test basin, towing tank and cavitation research laboratory. These are used by government and industry bodies to conduct physical experiments on ships, defence vessels, wave energy converters, sonar equipment and semi-submersibles, among other cutting-edge research projects. The Centre for Maritime Simulations bridges the gap between theory and practice with its suite of training simulators including a full-scale ship’s bridge, tug simulator, dynamic positioning unit and operations bridges. This facility is used for investigation into port development, ship manoeuvring, and improving safety and efficiency. Seafaring students have access to a fleet of training vessels, including the Bluefin, and the Emergency Response Centre to undertake hands-on training that prepares them for work out at sea.
In January 2008, AMC was formally established as an institute of the University of Tasmania in accordance with the Commonwealth Government’s Maritime Legislation Amendment Act, following the repeal of the Maritime College Act 1978. The vision and purpose of the integration was to strengthen the provision of maritime training, education and research on a national and international scale. It has allowed AMC to build upon its reputation through increased opportunities for teaching and research collaboration. Chief among them is the collaboration with the University’s Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies (IMAS) on significant research projects such as the Antarctic Gateway Partnership.
The synergies between some AMC and IMAS offerings led to the 2014 creation of IMAS Launceston, which was formed from the aquaculture, marine conservation and fisheries management activities conducted through what was previously known as the National Centre for Marine Conservation and Resource Sustainability at AMC. This consolidation of resources has bolstered the capacity of the University and its specialist marine and maritime-focused institutes to pursue an agenda of global excellence; something which in turn attracts the very best researchers and international students.
Since its inception, AMC has attracted students from around the globe. In its first year there were two full-time overseas students, from Fiji and New Zealand. Today it has alumni in more than 50 countries around the world. AMC is one of the seven founding members of the International Association of Maritime Universities, an organisation globally recognised as a centre for excellence with members spanning five continents.
Sharing expertise and partnering with other international maritime universities has always been a key priority. This dates back to 1985, when the International Maritime Organisation asked the college to assist South East Asian and Pacific countries to raise the standards of their maritime training. AMC helped to set up fisheries studies and refrigeration courses in various countries and designed short course programs for maritime and fishing industry personnel. It also provided a teaching experience program for staff of the maritime colleges in the region. Since then, AMC has fostered partnerships with institutions throughout Australasia, Europe, Africa, the Middle East and the Americas to share teaching resources, encourage exchange programs, and collaborate on research projects.
While AMC’s range of courses, facilities and student numbers have changed over the years, its mission to provide maritime education, training and research for Australia and the world has remained. AMC strives to have an international impact through its vision ‘to inspire and shape the maritime world’ by providing innovative training and education and leading-edge research programs.