Sunday, June 28, 2009

Port Julia and Port Vincent streets names for the ketches

Hi. I got back on Saturday from my usual couple of days or three each month in Adelaide which is a three hour drive away. Each time I make the journey I like to stop for a break in one or other of the pretty enroute places, usually on the coast so I can enjoy a sea view up close; even a beach walk or a stroll out on a historic jetty such as Ardrossan's where I chatted yesterday with a couple of squidders - that's guys catching squid!

But I also enjoyed a first-time look at Port Julia - no "town" now, only holiday homes and the historic Red Shed by the jetty, previously an active warehousing and loading centre for the grain brokers, up until 1968 when Port Julia ceased to be a port. Then I drove by the picturesque gravel road down the coast to Port Vincent. The main road these days runs some way inland. I realised that both places name streets in tribute to the ketch trade; Lady Doris, Adonis, Esther, Osprey .. and so on. See my list further down on this page.

While in the city I caught up with some new movies - not a subject for this blog right now, though one, the AFI Award winning Samson and Delilah (dir. Warwick Thornton) is set in a fictionalised remote aboriginal community and then in Alice Springs, and therefore about as far from a sea and ships setting as is possible to get!

But wait - a slim connection comes from the on-special DVD of an audiobook I bought at the ABC Shop. Philip Pullman's The Subtle Knife is the second book of his fantasy trilogy His Dark Materials. The first book, Northern Lights, was filmed handsomely as The Golden Compass, but alas with no guarantee of a sequel. These matters are driven by box office. Anyway, having listened to the CDs on the drive home (oh, I'd read the book, and I liked the BBC4 dramatised condensation of the story) I was moved to have another look at The Golden Compass from my DVD shelf. This was far better than doing serious chores after being away for three days.

I noticed more than before just how visually attractive are the sailing vessel scenes in this movie - the ships on screen are composites of real ones plus computer generated elements such as paddle wheels. And I took in, at this viewing, the end-credit to "captain and crew of the schooner Noorderlicht (Northern Lights)". If I'm not mistaken, the other ship in the film, that of Lord Faa the "Gyptian"(gypsy) leader, is based on a Thames barge design, and thus we might claim a smidge of resonance with good old Captain Cook's Endeavour. O.K., I'm pushing my luck. 'Nuff said for now.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Names of some ketch trade vessels in South Australia

In 1955 Don Lucas started his apprenticeship in sailmaking. There were then 20 vessels left in the ketch trade fleet (not all of them were actually ketches - that is, main mast for'rad, mizzen mast aft) but oldtimers remembered when there had been about 80. They plied the waters from Kangaroo Island - at 100 miles long, Australia second largest after Tasmania - to the two gulfs which split the South Austalian land mass, Gulf Saint Vincent and Spencer Gulf. Grain was loaded from jetties or from bullock drays on beaches, and lightered to waiting windjammers ten times the tonnage of the ketches, until the last such voyage by big square-riggers (Pamir and Passat were the final two) from Port Victoria in 1949, bound for the other side of the world

Don Lucas is one of a dozen interviewees in Gerry Kerr's 75 minute film The Trading Ketches of South Australia.

Today one ketch alone survives as a working vessel - much restored and re-modelled as a multipurpose ship for school student education, charter, adventure trips, shark and whale and dolphin watching, diving expeditions. She's the Falie, bought by the S.A. State government to be restored for the 1986 150 year anniversary of the State's proclamation, and key to the local historical re-enactments of 1986. Ever since then, Falie has earned her keep as a handsome and versatile ship, noted by Chris Frizell as the largest of the fleet - even when the fleet numbered more than one(!) The Nelsebee and Annie Watt survive at Port Adelaide but are in rather poor condition and await the will and resources to allow restoration. Reliance is said to be "falling apart" and her remains are somewhere up the River Murray.

Another ship is well-preserved and at Warnambool in Victoria. Is it the Reginald M? Darn! I'll need to watch the DVD again, but I just lent it to a friend. Need to get back on that one.

Here are names of ketch trade ships spoken about in Gerry Kerr's film:

Adonis, Amphibious (now THERE'S a name for a ship), Annie Watt, Capella, Crest of the Wave, Esther, Evalita, Falie, Free Selector, Gerard, Hawk, Hawthorn, Heatherbell, Hecla, Lady Doris, Leillateah, Lurline, Karatta, Mary, Morara, Nelcebee, Osprey, Reginald M, Reliance, Storm Bird, Tickera, Victor.

Monday, June 22, 2009

His Majesty's revenue cruiser Wolf

Excise work off the Cornish Coast 1811-1820

This information was provided by Frederick Walker formerly The Naval Architect, Greenwich, England.

Fred was at school with me in Glasgow in the early 1950s, and later went from his studies in shipbuilding to be appointed as the youngest ever shipyard manager, in Aberdeen, and a highly distinguished career which has taken him all over the world and its oceans and especially its shipbuilding ports, as well as many scholarly centres of maritime history.It was he, for example, who supervised the launch of the sailing vessel The New Endeavour, bicentenniel gift of the U.K. government to Australia. He is a world expert on the recoverability and restorability of significant historic ships. He's also a talented illustrator of the ships he loves.

His Majesty's revenue cruiser Wolf - formerly Roebuck - was an 82 ton cutter built in 1802 by Richeson of Cowes. Armed with 3-pounder guns and six carronades she became a government excise ship and served from 1811 to 1820 in anti-smuggling efforts along the long cove-rich Cornish coast. "His Majesty" was of course King George the Third, whose 60 year reign ended in 1820. Master of Wolf was Captain David Williams, whose great great granddaughter, Joan, married ... Fred Walker! Fellow Scot Fred revealed his larrikin streak by telling me that having an exciseman (tax collector) in the family tree might be thought of as a bit of a disgrace!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Trading Ketches of South Australia

The Trading Ketches of South Australia: an Oral History on Film, by Garry Kerr, Portland, Victoria, 2005

Well, that's the title of Garry Kerr's film which I came away with - in DVD format - as my tangible souvenir of last Wednesday's trip to The Maritime Museum at Port Victoria, South Australia. What a splendid documentary compilation it is, part rostrum photography of surviving still images, part movie footage, plus on-camera interviews with those who remember the ketch trade firsthand.

We're talking about a time span of a hundred and fifty years from the founding of S.A. as a British colony in 1836 right up to the re-enactments in 1986 of loading of wheat bags from bullock drays onto the ketch Falie (restored as a multi-purpose working vessel). I was present at the event on Normanville beach.

Anyway, I'm going to watch the DVD again and take some more notes. Will add to these comments then. His film is a great companion piece to Garry Kerr's other title The Last Cape Horners, of which I made previous mention. Port Victoria played a key role as a windjammer port and it was also, of course, one of the towns at which the trading ketches routinely called.

Not all the small sailing craft were strictly masted or rigged as ketches, but the word ketch became something of a generic term for the vessels plying the trade around the towns of the two gulfs, Spencer Gulf and Gulf Saint Vincent.

Here's something Garry Kerr doesn't tell us. The French navigator Nicholas Baudin named what we know as Spencer Gulf "Golfe Bonaparte", while Gulf Saint Vincent to him was "Golfe Josephine" - so you can guess that if the Napoleonic Wars had had another outcome, a few things would definitely be different - at the very least the naming of our South Aussie gulfs after Napoleon and his Josephine.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Stan the Man at Port Victoria S.A.

What a pleasant and informative day. Retiree and ex-geography teacher Stan Squires, for the Maritime Museum at South Australia's "last of the windjammer towns" Port Victoria, gave our 30-strong group a heap of great background to the extraordinary days of the "so-called"grain races. Steel hulled sailing ships - most of 'em 2000-4000 tonners - plied commercially between Europe and Port Victoria from the 1920s until the last such voyage in 1949.

Wind-driven multi-mast ships since then are, rather, the wonderful sail training tall ships, or else the rarely built replicas of historic vessels (like Australia's New Endeavour).

Here's a thing! One of my companions, Graham May from Yorketown, told me of spending a magic couple of hours aboard Viking, as a teenager, immediately prior to her setting out on that last 1949 season voyage; and another well-known local man John Edwardes from Edithburgh, pointed to the famous 1933 photograph of no less than 14 sailing ships, - the big windjammers as well as the smaller craft for lightering (loading) - at anchor off "Port Vic", and named three of the ketches on which John himself worked from 1956 into the 1960s. He (a man of many skills) was a "lumper", hand-loading the bags of grain into the boats at Edithburgh Jetty.

I asked John if he was related to the Gerry Edwardes who was one of the last grain agents at Port Victoria, and who features in the film The Last of the Cape Horners, but he thought not although the surname spelling is the same. One thing about the Yorke Peninsula is that if you dig back enough in time, you probably ARE related.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Port Victoria Maritime Museum, South Australia

Yesterday, Monday 15 June, I visited the Local History and Maritime Museum at ... no, NOT Port Victoria, but further north on the same stretch of coast, here on Yorke Peninsula, at Wallaroo. Wallaroo's an old copper mining town whose name is said to be from the local Narungga aboriginal language and first meant "wallaby piss". Oh, well.

Back to the maritime museum. I enjoyed the unexpected museum visit, much of it drawing attention to the famous "grain races" of the 1930s and 1940s between the Baltic port of Aaland and this little part of South Australia. (I was in Wallaroo because it has the nearest hospital this side of Adelaide with CT-scan facilities, and today I heard the happy result that my head is not full of alien blobs after all.) So, driving home all the way down the Italy-shaped peninsula I was thinking of Port Victoria, only a few kilometres to my right as variously signposted. Thinks, "Must go soon: they have a dinky little museum there, all about this stuff."

Whaddya know? Today, the 16th, after a concert rehearsal - another story, oh, and I'm just the back row of the chorus sort-of-thing, no big deal - I am walking on the beach, only other sign of life a sooty tern or two, and the mobile phone surprises me 'cos I really thought it was out of signal range. Friend announces, "Tomorrow some of us are going to the Port Vic Museum. Want to go?" Now THAT is ... what's it called? ... synchronicity. Anyway, a coincidence.

Tell you more after tomorrow's visit.

Right now I am blown away by the reminiscencies in the movie The Last Cape Horners: the end of the great sailing ship era. Garry Kerr's film was released as a DVD in 2006. Lots of the material is direct interview with those who in their late years recall voyages under sail from the 1930s and 1940s - voyages under near-impossible conditions, in ships at the end of their working lives, undermaintained and desperately undermanned, for example 34 crew in place of a full complement of around 80! And some of the short-handed crews were young blokes with no knowledge of the sea, signing on in Melbourne in a shipping agent's office to replace equally young Swedes or Finns who had jumped ship once they made it to Australia. Tell you more about that, too.