Home Australia | OceaniaAustralia Lady and the ramp at Jervis Bay Maritime Museum

Lady and the ramp at Jervis Bay Maritime Museum

by Bernard O'Shea
The Lady Denman in the Jervis Bay Maritime Museum's Long Gallery.

She’s in a dry dock but you’ll feel waves of nostalgia when you board the Lady Denman ferry in her home town, Huskisson, on Jervis Bay.


It’s easy to ‘sail’ past Jervis Bay Maritime Museum in your car as you whizz down Woollamia Road towards Huskisson. It’s an isolated building, set back some 150 metres from the road into the bush. The signage isn’t prominent – at first glance it looks like a nondescript storage facility on the outskirts of the town. Maybe you’ve driven the 180 kilometres from Sydney or 210km from Canberra to get here. You want coffee, fish and chips, or a steak: Huskisson’s cafe society is just ahead. There are beautiful beaches to be discovered. You drive on.

Museums? Bah! They can wait for a rainy day.

Excitement mounts as you turn left into Tomerang Street – you’re here at last! Down at the wharf overlooking Currambene Creek and Jervis Bay, boats are waiting to take you out on whale-watching tours, dolphin-spotting tours and scenic cruises. You’re so seduced by the tantalising options ahead that you forget what you’ve just behind.

A few days later, you’re driving out. You’ve had a great time. You’ve forest bathed in the national parks and sea bathed at Murrays Beach, Hyams Beach and Greenpatch. Rainbow Lorikeets sang on your balcony and a Crimson Rosella perched on your head and didn’t even do a pooh! Then you notice that building again. Oops, you forgot about the museum. Oh well, next time.

In my half-dozen previous visits to Jervis Bay the museum has always been a next time thing. Now, however, its time has come…

Good grounds for a visit

The view of the museum from the road is deceiving: it’s a side angle. It’s what you don’t see that counts and it’s much more impressive than you’d expect. The Jervis Bay Maritime Museum complex is wide and looks onto an enormous pond and – beyond it – Currambene Creek. One wing is for the museum, another wing houses an Aboriginal Arts and Crafts Shop (selling items made on site) and the Jervis Bay Tourism office. Dotted around the pond – which is actually a tidal fish reserve maintained by the museum in conjunction with the Department of Fisheries – are boathouses, a large shady pavilion, and quaint wooden historic buildings, including a tiny chapel.

There are two great gardens to explore – one dedicated to wildflowers, the other a habitat garden for frogs and other local wildlife. A path from the museum takes you out to a 1.4 kilometre-long mangrove boardwalk leading to a scenic  outlook over Currambene Creek. The mangrove scenery is fantastic: to fully appreciate it, and to see a lot more than would normally meet your eye, do it on a tour with Djiriba Waagura, a local Aboriginal group whose tours start from the museum grounds.

The Jervis Bay Maritime Musuem set between forest and a fish pond.

The Jervis Bay Maritime Museum is in an idyllic setting.

The belle of the hall

The Jervis Bay Maritime Museum’s main attractions, undoubtedly, are the Lady Denman, a beautiful double-decker wooden ferry on display indoors, and the other craft mounted around the gardens. Lady Denman was built in Jervis Bay and launched in 1911, on December 5 to be precise (my birthday too, although I’m considerably younger!). She plied Sydney Harbour for 67 years until 1979.

Lady D had four sisters – Lady Chelmsford, Lady Edeline, Lady Ferguson and Lady Scott – but alas she is now the only surviving wooden Sydney Harbour ferry. Simple she may look compared to the giant ships of our day, but she has so much charm and elegance, and it’s fun to step back in time as you go up the ramp to explore her.

Getting her from Sydney back to her birthplace was no mean feat – she’s 33.7 metres long, has a beam of 7.6 metres, and weighs 96 tons. Capable of carrying 500 passengers, she towers over you in the confines of the museum’s Long Gallery, which can be hired for functions. She was installed in the museum in 2000 and has been restored to her mid-1960s appearance: very elegant.

The Crest undergoing restoration at Jervis Bay Maritime Museum

Crest was built in 1911 at Currambene Creek.


Another beautiful craft that is being lovingly restored is the Crest, a small fishing boat that was built in the same shipyard as Lady Denman in Currambene Creek in 1911 and donated to the museum 76 years later.

Latest attraction at Jervis Bay Maritime Museum

The museum has a significant collection of scientific navigation instruments and surveyors’ instruments, and displays on famous navigators and explorers. If you haven’t been there for a while, though, in late October 2020 the museum unveiled a new permanent exhibition. Entitled Munggura-Nggul (‘Home-Belong’ in the local Dhurga language), it outlines the history of the Indigenous people who have occupied the Jervis Bay area for more than 5000 years. The exhibition also looks at the stories of early settlers, the development of the local whaling, fishing and boatbuilding industries, and the role of the navy in the area.

Yes, there is a lot more to the museum than meets the eye on Woollamia Road. The Lady Denman ferry won’t be going anywhere, but you really ought to catch it. TTW

Photographs © Zora Regulic and Bernard O’Shea. Bernard O’Shea visited Jervis Bay as guest of Shoalhaven Tourism.

See also

Hot on the tails of humpbacks in Jervis Bay
The beaches at Jervis Bay
Tickled pink by Shoalhaven wineries

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