Finally made redundant in 1993, Lady McKell was auctioned off for further service in Hong Kong. This plan never eventuated and she was all but abandoned in Rozelle Bay until sold to Captain Leigh Doeg in 1998.
Leigh had from his early years been in love with heritage ships and boats. From the age of eighteen he volunteered in the restoration of the Polly Woodside. In 1979 Leigh acquired the Sydney Steam Tug Wattle and delivered her to Melbourne. Founding Bay Steamer Maritime Museum, he brought together a dedicated team of enthusiasts to restore the Wattle back to steam.
Wattle entered service as a hospitality vessel, licensed to carry 65 passengers in 1985. For the next twelve years Leigh successfully managed her operation and crewed on board, gaining his Masters certificate in 1989. During her hay Day Wattle conducted over 180 cruises annually bringing fun, wonder and excitement to tens of thousands.
Leigh’s vision for Lady McKell was a “Wattle on Steroids”!
Lady McKell arrived in Melbourne on route from Sydney, on Friday 28 August 1998. Over the next 15 months she was dramatically transformed from a bedraggled utilitarian commuter ferry into a luxury hospitality cruise ship designed for entertaining in superb style.
The ships rebuild involved dry docking for hull repairs, removal of the aft wheel house and the complete guttering of the passenger saloons. Once rusted superstructure and decks were renewed, a modern well equipped galley and bar were installed. All new modern amenities were fitted during the refurbishment. Traditional rich timber panelling complimented by plush red
carpets and polished brass dictated the ship’s image and position in the marketplace.
Befitting her new identity the transformed vessel was renamed Victoria Star and entered Melbourne service on Friday, 3rd December 1999. Today she entertains over 20,000 guests annually.