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Goolwa, South Australia – 30 odd degrees and rising. Six of us from the museum were heading toward this wonderful town, having flown in from Sydney. After a detour to Port Adelaide to see the hull of the composite construction clipper ship City of Adelaide, we drove south.

Goolwa is at the bottom end of the Murray, just over the big sand dunes that create a barrier from the Southern Ocean. It was the setting for the 2015 conference for the Australian Maritime Museums Council (AMMC) and then the South Australian Wooden Boat Festival. The museum was represented by Kevin Sumption, Peter Rout, Daina Fletcher, Kieran Hosty, Sharon Babbage and myself. Between us we made a number of presentations, sat on workshop panels or chaired sessions relating to our particular areas at the museum. Equally important, we all talked and listened to the other museums to hear from them and see how we might help in the future.

The two-day conference brought together institutions from the main cities and the many diverse regional centres, representing coastal and inland Australia, which often are places specialising in the particular aspects of their region. In keeping with Goolwa’s location, where the river meets to the sea, the theme was ‘Connections’, and throughout the two days we explored this with presentations, workshops and many questions from the floor about connections to heritage, volunteers, audiences, networks, management plans, new ideas and developments. Social connections were made over lunch, dinner and a fabulous breakfast hosted by Armfield Slipway.

There was also some admin at the AGM, where they outlined a revised structure independent of Museums Australia. We also discussed plans to hold the conference every two years, with special workshops on the alternate year, as a better way for AMMC to form connections between its members.

The annual dinner at the end of the first day was held at the Goolwa Aquatic Centre and featured raconteur Ian Doyle telling a seamless set of amusing stories while still managing to take us through a documentary he had done on the MV Tacoma and the Haldane family, and another on the legendary outback postman Tom Kruse. Before dinner, an Australian Register of Historic Vessels (ARHV) awards ceremony highlighted vessels recently listed from some of the museums that were present. Day two finished with a ride on the paddle steamers Marion and Oscar W out on the waters off Goolwa while the sailing fleet held its twilight race, then we joined in a barbecue dinner to open the festival.

View of the South Australian Wooden Boat Festival from Hindmarsh Bridge.

View of the South Australian Wooden Boat Festival from Hindmarsh Bridge.

The weekend was time for me to get involved with the festival. On paper it might seem an unassuming location, but this is a festival full of action. It’s exciting and instructive, with two days of boats, parades, races, demonstrations, music and stories all topped off with wonderful South Australian food from the Fleurieu Peninsula, and a boutique brewery on site as well. In my role as ARHV curator I visited many boats – some already listed, so I could catch up with the owners and see how the vessel was going, and many new ones, to invite them to nominate for inclusion on the register.

There was a diverse range of historic vessels with depth to their stories and provenance. I also sat in with MC Peter Gubbins while he made announcements over the PA and pointed out highlights as vessels went by in parades or other events, and helped him out by commentating on one of the races for the historic fleet of 21-Foot Restricted Class yachts. I later gave an overview of the ARHV and progress at museum. On Saturday evening everyone was treated to 15 minutes of spectacular fireworks set off from Hindmarsh Bridge.

the historic steam locomotive Duke of Edinburgh.

The historic steam locomotive Duke of Edinburgh.

Sunday brought more events. The historic steam locomotive Duke of Edinburgh was running the Cockle Train, taking passengers from the wharf at Goolwa down to Victor Harbour and return. This added a whole new dimension to the festival, drawing crowds every time it came in, and of course a nice way to complement the paddle steamers on the water.

There were speedboat events and more sailing, including another heat of the 21s. I was able to crew as forward hand aboard one of them, Marcelle – my own design, built there in 2010. Before the race I also spent some time with the Ngarrindjeri community who were holding craft workshops in their tent, talking to Auntie Ellen Trevorrow and others about the work we have done with Aboriginal watercraft and sharing things we both knew about resins and materials from our different regions.

During the afternoon the festival wound down with presentations for the best boats, winners of the races, and a final run of the paddle steamers. Despite the hot weather it was a wonderful, lively event in a classic, heritage setting.

Paddle steamers at the South Australian Wooden Boat Festival.

Paddle steamers at the South Australian Wooden Boat Festival.

On Monday I undertook further work at South Australian Museum on behalf of the ARHV. I first met with Mark Pharaoh, Senior Collections Manager, Mawson Centre, Australian Polar Collection, and History of Science Collection at the Science Centre, adjacent to the museum and university. He had three intriguing craft with connections to Australian Arctic and Antarctic exploration, in particular through explorer John Rymill. One was an Inuit sea kayak, and the other two were collapsible boats.

Following on from this I spent time with Dr Keryn Walshe from the South Australian Museum (SAM). Her extensive work with Indigenous collections and archaeology includes the many canoe trees of the region and the existence of watercraft, in particular the possibilities on the Fleurieu Peninsula. We identified two more craft – a pair of rafts – in the SAM collection to consider for the ARHV and I went to the museum to see them.

MV Krait

Former fishing boat, Krait.

That afternoon I spent two hours with 92-year-old World War II veteran Moss Berryman at his retirement village home. He is the only surviving member of the crew that took the former Japanese fishing boat Krait on the famous Operation Jaywick raid on Singapore Harbour in 1943. One of my current projects involves preparing plans of Krait to determine its 1943 configuration, and we went through what he could recall about MV Krait during his time board it. At the same time he told me stories of their preparation and training, and how close they came to being unmasked by a Japanese patrol vessel as they were leaving Indonesian waters on the return journey. It is an inspiring tale.

David Payne, Curator Historic Vessels


David Payne

David Payne is Curator of Historic Vessels at Australian National Maritime Museum, and through the Australian Register of Historic Vessels he works closely with heritage boat owners throughout Australia researching and advising on their craft and their social connections. David has also been a yacht designer and documented many of the museum’s vessels with extensive drawings. He has had a wide sailing experience, from Lasers and 12-foot skiffs through to long ocean passages. Since 2012 he has been able to work closely with Aboriginal communities on a number of Indigenous canoe building and watercraft projects.

Posted in: Vessels