Category Archives: Shipping

Ships, ferries, harbours and rivers

Twickenham Ferry

Last week a Melbourne Maritime Heritage Network meeting discussed Melbourne’s Ferries – Past, Present and Future. Upstream of the city all the ferries across the Yarra – one of which I will return to – have been replaced by bridges. Downstream, the river is subject to a fairly low speed limit, reflecting the use of the river by small leisure craft, container ships accessing the docks as well as the need to protect of the river banks. Geography means that for most destinations, unlike Sydney, other forms of transport are quicker or cheaper.

Bellarine Express and Geelong Flyer ferries passing in Victoria Harbour

Bellarine Express and Geelong Flyer ferries passing in Victoria Harbour

Apart from the tourist ferries from the CBD to Williamstown, we do have two ferries running from here in Docklands to Portarlington and Geelong, both services starting in the last few years. Portarlington  in particular lends itself to a ferry service – it’s not served by rail and the ferry is probably quicker than driving. Will we see more ferries? Not without suitable mooring facilities, the meeting was told.

But back to Ferries past. When the first settlers came here they brought a lot of their former place names with them. So as a one-time resident of Twickenham, now living in Docklands, I can easily visit Richmond, Hampton, Sunbury but no Twickenham. We do though have a Twickenham Crescent in Burnley. Why? Let the Australasian, 4 June 1904 explain:

TWICKENHAM FERRY

Extract from 1889 David Syme woodcut: Twickenham Ferry on the Yarra

Extract from 1889 David Syme woodcut: Twickenham Ferry on the Yarra

One of the prettiest reaches on the Yarra, within easy distance from Melbourne, is that portion lying between Burnley and Toorak, about 4 1/2 miles up from Prince’s bridge. Here a ferry conveys passengers across the river, starting at the bottom of Grange-road, Toorak, across to Burnley. The ferry dates back to 1880, when Jesse Harrow, a veteran waterman, founded it.Unlike its English namesake on the River Thames, where the ferryboat is manned by a “jolly young waterman,” Twickenham Ferry on the Yarra is worked by means of a suspended rope, stretched across the river*, with a sheave wheel and regulating lines at each end, so that it can be raised or lowered, according to the height of the water.

Twickenham Ferry postcard c.1907

Twickenham Ferry postcard c.1907

On the Burnley side of the river, partly hewn out of the bank, is constructed a most picturesque old dwelling, containing four rooms and a shop. Here the widow of the late Jesse Barrow, together with her son and daughter reside, and retail refreshments, ranging from soft drinks and kola beer to apples, pears, and lollies, to the thirsty oarsmen. The ferry hours during the weekdays are from 7 in the morning till 10 at night, and on Sundays from 8 till 9, the fare being one penny each way.

“There are a good many ‘dead heads,’ though,” added the ferryman; “you see sometimes, men looking for work, want to cross the river, and, of course, promise to pay when they return, and again sometimes a lady finds she has left her purse at home, or has no change; then we have to trust to their honesty. So it’s not all profit, in addition, we have to pay £5 a year for a license.”

Thirty years later the ferry service was no more:

FAREWELL TO TWICKENHAM FERRY

Not least perhaps among the many functions which his Grace the Duke of Gloucester will perform will be the official opening of the Centenary Bridge at Grange Road, well on the way to completion. Another step in the path of progress no doubt; but progress, no matter how desirable in practical ways, is not always a source of unalloyed gratification. At least, so thinks Mr. Barrow, the picturesque boatman of Twickenham Ferry, who, with the opening of the bridge, will find his occupation, like Othello’s, gone. Incidentally another, perhaps one of the last of those links that bind us to Melbourne’s pioneer days, will be broken.

Mr. Barrow, who has lived in or near his present habitation, Twickenham Ferry, just by Burnley, throughout his life, is the son of Jesse Barrow, who came to Australia from England in 1861….

None of the many regular or casual voyagers carried in his little craft during nearly half a century ever made an un-interesting trip with Mr. Barrow. Short though the transit might be, there was always time for some interesting reminiscence that gave additional interest or charm to an already charming spot. The strong structure that makes his service “no longer necessary” will be stolidly silent where he was eloquent, retaining its frigid parvenu dignity somewhat in-appropriately in the midst of rustic beauty. But though Mr. Barrow’s services will be no longer required, we in Melbourne know, they will not be forgotten

Argus 15 Sept 1934

Two nights at Swan Hill

Map (source Echuca Discovery Centre)

Map (source Echuca Discovery Centre)

With memories of my March Echuca mini-break fading, I decided it was time for another short break travelling by train. This trip was to Swan Hill, about 155km NW of Echuca and, like Echuca, on the south bank of the River Murray which separates Victoria and New South Wales.

The Echuca and Swan Hill lines share the same track as far as Bendigo (164km/100mi from Melbourne), after which the line to Swan Hill branches off for the 183km/114mi run to Swan Hill.

Swan Hill lift bridge

Swan Hill lift bridge

The railway reached Swan Hill in 1890, subsequently being extended for a further 42km, now freight-only, to Piangil. No prizes for speed – the journey takes 4:42, an average speed of 74kph/46mph – but the leisurely pace is made up for by the affordable comfort of travelling first class – the return fare was just A$108/£60. I stayed at the Jane Eliza motel across from the station and was very comfortable there.

PS Pyap

PS Pyap

What to do? There are a number of attractions in the area if you have a car, but if on foot there’s really just one, the Pioneer Settlement. It claims to be Australia’s first open-air museum and opened in 1963.

The train arrived at 1227 giving me time to check in at the motel and then get down to the Settlement for the river cruise.

Swan Hill Settlement village by night

Village by night

It’s a good job that the tickets cover admission for two days since I spent the rest of the afternoon and the whole of the next day there, and I’m still not sure whether I saw everything. You can find lots of information on the Settlement’s history, buildings and contents in Heritage Victoria’s report recommending that it be added to the state register. Not everyone wants this.

Highlights for me:

The PS Pyap cruise: In contrast to Echuca, there’s just this one paddle steamer offering a one-hour cruise each afternoon. Shades of George Washington’s axe, she was built in 1896 but has been re-hulled, re-decked and her engine replaced with a Gardiner diesel.

PS Gem at Swan Hill

PS Gem

Wandering round the now-static PS Gem, the largest paddle steamer to trade on the Murray. She was built in 1876. In 1882 she was sawn in half by hand, and the two parts were pulled apart by bullocks to allow an extra one third to be built in between the two parts. In more recent times several cruise ships have been cut and stretched, though without the use of bullocks!

Swan Hill D3 locomotive and 1924 Dodge Tourer

D3 locomotive and 1924 Dodge Tourer

A ride in the Settlement’s 1924 Dodge Tourer (included in ticket price, as is the carriage ride)

Seeing the Castlemaine-built D3 locomotive – like many of our exhibits at the Newport Railway Museum in need of some TLC.
Victorian Railways Dd fleet ran to 261 locos from nine builders including Baldwin in the USA and Beyer Peacock, Manchester

Swan Hill blacksmith at work

Blacksmith at work

More than a few exhibits, especially the traction engines, were a reminder of Britain being the workshop of the world.

Watching a blacksmith at work is always compelling

Visiting all the Settlement buildings – I went to the laser light show so was also able to see them after dark.


Swan Hill Giant Murray Cod

Giant Murray Cod

I did say that the Settlement was Swan Hill’s one real attraction but I’ll end with mentioning Swan Hill’s contribution to Australia’s fixation with giant things, the Giant Murray Cod.

With this trip done, I’ve just one more Victorian rail line to ride: the line to Bairnsdale. Watch this space!

Three nights in Echuca

Map (source Discovery Centre)

Map (source Discovery Centre)

No cruise this year! Well not the cruise I’d planned anyway, on the Queen Mary 2 from Fremantle to Sydney. But needing a break, I decided to revisit Echuca, famous for hosting the largest paddle steamer fleet in the world and, of course, took a couple of boat trips.

As a tourist from UK I’d visited Echuca  in 1989 on a day trip but not since so a revisit was well overdue.

Echuca railway station

Echuca railway station

This time round I went by train – another of my ambitions, not a particularly ambitious one, is to ride every rail track in Victoria. Only Bairnsdale and Swan Hill left! Echuca has a fine railway station but it now gets but one train per weekday, two a day at weekends.

PS Alexander Arbuthnot passes the new under-construction Echuca-Moama bridge

PS Alexander Arbuthnot (1916) passes the new under-construction Echuca-Moama bridge

Echuca was first settled by Europeans in the 1850s and by the 1870s was Australia’s largest inland port, being the point of shortest distance between the Murray River and Melbourne. Across the river, on the New South Wales side, is Moama. The first bridge was constructed in 1878. A new bridge is now under construction.

Echuca wharf

Echuca wharf

The railway arrived in 1864, about the same time as the wharf was constructed. Until the 1890s depression the town flourished, but during the first half of the twentieth century the expansion of the rail networks on both sides of the river meant there was less need to for paddle steamers to bring cargo to Echuca. 1944 saw the removal of 80% of the wharf, cut up to provide firewood for Melbourne.

PS Pevensey (aka Philadelphia in 'All the Rivers Run')

PS Pevensey (1910) (aka Philadelphia in ‘All the Rivers Run’)

From here on the story might have been one of progressive decay, but from the 1960s the importance of Echuca’s heritage and its tourist potential was realised.

Today tourism is Echuca’s largest earner, given a boost by the TV series, ‘All the Rivers Run’ (I bought and am now watching the DVDs).

Holden Museum, Echuca

Holden Museum, Echuca

Apart from the wharf and multiple paddle steamer trips, there’s an excellent and free Discovery Centre, numerous preserved buildings in the port area and elsewhere, an excellent museum, the National Holden Motor Museum and more.

Next year, if plans work out, I’ll be back in Echuca, taking UK friends to see the sights. If you have the chance, do so too.

 

2020 cruise – back on the Queen Elizabeth

2020’s cruise was my fifth and longest so far: seven nights from Melbourne to Adelaide, Kangaroo Island and Hobart, then home. After last year’s Queen Elizabeth cruise to Brisbane I was really looking forward to being back on board.

No upgrade this year! After two out of two Cunard upgrades it would have been a bit much to expect another one. A couple of days before departure my heart leapt on seeing an email titled ATTN: Anthony Bryer – Upgrade Notice but it was merely notifying me that I’d been moved from a cabin on Deck 8 to a very similar one (grade BB to grade BA) on Deck 6. It suited me well – deck plans

Queen Elizabeth Britannia restaurant

Queen Elizabeth Britannia restaurant

With no upgrade, boarding meant joining an unnecessarily long queue (it would have been a lot shorter had people not been allowed to join it until their allotted time) and each night turning up promptly for dinner in the Britannia Room at 5.45p.m. (I chose early dining) rather than any time dining. As on previous cruises, I was very fortunate in my table companions, especially 93-year old Patricia, still enjoying life to the full. Excellent food and top-notch service.

Not surprisingly soon after sailing we were told that we would skip Kangaroo Island because of the bushfires, with an extra day at sea being substituted. All us passengers felt for the people of eastern Kangaroo Island who weren’t in the immediate fire zone but lost out on thousands of money-spending cruise visitors – we were one of several cruise ships whose planned visits were cancelled.

But the extra sea day was fine by me: there’s never enough time to do everything on the daily entertainments programme. On this cruise one of the guest lecturers was Dr Richard Harris, a key member of the Thailand cave rescue diver team. Unfortunately due to a programme clash I had to miss his main talk, but his Q&A session gave us all an insight into the massive responsibility he and his colleagues had shouldered, knowing that it could all have ended in tragedy. His recognition as joint Australian of the Year last weekend was all too well deserved.

Afternoon tea in the Queens Room

Afternoon tea in the Queens Room

For the first time, I joined the solo traveller group – ‘solo’ not be confused with ‘single’, since some solos may well have left partners at home. On sea days social host Cordelia did a brilliant job organising coffee mornings, a couple of lunches and reserved tables at afternoon tea. Like my dinner table, good company, much enjoyed.

Finally the other first-time experience was to go on the behind the scenes tour, not cheap but a great experience. I’d love to post some pics but it was strictly no cameras, no phones. The tour included going backstage in the theatre, meeting a couple of the ‘Top Hat’ cast, the medical centre, winch room, massive food stores, print shop, galley and, the high spot, meeting the captain on the bridge.

All in all, a brilliant cruise. Coming soon, my day in Port Adelaide.

2019 – Good memories

Another year ends and the 20s are about to begin. I can look back on 2019 with almost unalloyed satisfaction. High spots of the year:

  • A two-night mini break by rail to Warrnambool.
  • Seeing our church continue to grow, with the opening of a new service in Docklands.
  • Being headhunted to help with our church ‘mums and bubs’ midweek meeting creche. For some reason this old single guy seems to be quite good at looking after little people!
  • A four-night cruise, Melbourne-Sydney-Brisbane, on Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth, made even more special by being upgraded to a suite. No upgrade for my 2020 cruise though!
  • Visiting Brisbane for the first time.
  • Through the year working as a volunteer with Habitat for Humanity, building homes in Yea.
  • Visiting friends and family in the UK – when I emigrated I promised to go back and visit them each year, a promise I had to break in 2018 following surgery, and taking a first-time stopover in Singapore on the way home, something I will do again
  • Through the year working as a volunteer guide at the Newport Railway Museum, also joining the works team.
  • Taking a winter holiday in Port Hedland – seeing big boys toys close up.
  • I only got to see one musical but it was a superb one, ‘Come from away’, the remarkable true story of thousands passengers and the small town in Newfoundland that welcomed them in the aftermath of 9/11
  • And continuing to run my software business, which celebrated its 30th birthday in April and once again reached my annual sales target (just).

Port Hedland winter holiday

With my annual visit to family in the UK trip being earlier this year, a space was left for a short winter break. Seeking somewhere warm, I decided on Port Hedland. Half my Australian friends looked blank when I told them of my plans: “where?”; a few in the know responded with “why would you want to go there? The only things to see are ships and trains”. Quite so, and that’s why I went there! In August the temperature gets up to about 30C, falling to the mid-teens overnight. The record summer high is 49C!

Winning Universe ore carrier

Winning Universe ore carrier

Port Hedland is up on the north coast of Western Australia, almost as far from Melbourne as you can go on the Australian mainland – about 2,000mi/3,200km as the crow flies. To get there took me a four-hour flight to Perth, then a further two-hour flight to Port Hedland. Port Hedland is the port from which most of Australia’s iron ore is exported, currently around 1.5m tonnes a day.

On day one (Sunday) I was made very welcome at St Matthew’s Church, then spent the rest of the day getting my bearings. I stayed at the Hospitality Inn motel, just across the road from the beach where I enjoyed peaceful early morning and evening strolls.

Mariners waiting for the launch

Waiting for the Mission’s launch

Day two was taken up with the first two of four tours. If you’re visiting Port Hedland do take these tours or you’ll miss out on a lot of things you wouldn’t otherwise see.

In morning I joined the Mission to Seafarers harbour tour. After a talk on the port and the work of the mission we all went aboard the Mission’s launch for its trip round the harbour collecting seafarers who had been given shore leave – in most cases their berths don’t allow landside access. Back at the Seafarers Centre they have access to food, recreational activities, a shuttle bus to the local shops and, most prized of all, free wi-fi.

Port Hedland salt stacks

Port Hedland salt stacks

After lunch I was back on another minibus for the Eco Salt tour – the giant salt stacks on the outskirts of Port Hedland are the final stage of the salt production process. It starts with seawater being drawn into the first of eight concentration ponds, 7800ha in total. As the water evaporates under the hot sun, the remaining water is moved from pond to pond as it gets saltier and saltier.

For day three, realising that I wasn’t going to see much without a car, I went back to the airport to hire one. In contrast to some of the ‘phantom damage’ car hire ripoffs seen in UK, Avis’s policy shows a refreshing appreciation of driving in the Pilbara:
Please note our Fair Wear and Tear Guidelines are below. If there is damage to the vehicle that falls within these guidelines, we do not consider this chargeable damage.
– Stone Chips 25mm diameter without denting
– Scratches less than 25mm that have not penetrated the paint
– Dents less than 25mm in diameter and 2mm deep without paint cracking or flaking
– Wheel scuffs without cracking or gouging
– Minor scruffs that can be polished out
– Scuff/scrape marks under lower bumper

Day four, Wednesday, was largely filled with my last two tours. The first, run by the Seafarers Centre took us into Fortescue Metals Group (FMG) facility. Kudos to FMG for allowing the Centre to operate this tour as a way of raising funds. It was a enthralling experience to drive past the massive trains, loaders, conveyors and then along the quayside next to a ship about to be loaded.

Sunset

Sunset from Finucane Island

After lunch, taken in a 1930s US stainless steel dining railway carriage, my last tour: the Twilight Industry tour. This tour looked in on all the mining company sites from public roads finishing up with a drink watching the sun go down – which it does very quickly in the tropics. This and the Eco Salt tour only started this year, so I chose the right time to visit.

My trip to Port Hedland was all but over. I wish I’d stayed a little longer, but I went not knowing what to expect. Perhaps at some point I’ll go back, but there’s a lot of Australia I’ve yet to visit once.

Singapore Stopover Part 2

Singapore Maritime Gallery

Singapore Maritime Gallery

After a good sleep and late start I headed off on the Red Line to Marina South Pier so as to visit the Maritime Gallery, a small museum telling Singapore’s maritime story from the 13th century to today. There was lots to hold my attention so I ended up spending the rest of the morning there.

Singapore Flyer

The Singapore Flyer

Then back one stop for a second, daytime, trip to Marina Bay for lunch, much less interesting than day one’s hawker stalls. I didn’t have enough time to visit the adjacent Science Museum and Gardens by the Bay – next year perhaps.
Instead I took a leisurely stroll (too hot to rush!) to the Singapore Flyer, and a chance to see Singapore from above – it was the world’s highest ferris wheel when opened (2008: 165m/541ft). Needless to say I enjoyed this very much.
It’s interesting to note how ferris wheels fell out of favour – the Wiener Riesenrad, Vienna, was the world’s tallest from 1920-1985 – only to be rediscovered in recent years: I can see the (poorly situated) Melbourne Star from my window.

Pasir Ris Park

Pasir Ris Park

Back at the hotel I took a needed shower and change and headed east to Pasir Ris to meet up with Kate and see where she lives. Pre-visit my expectation was that Singapore would be wall to wall high-rises, but not here. The norm seemed to be blocks of around twelve storeys set in secure compounds containing various resort-style amenties  – pools, picnic areas, tennis courts etc – as compensation for a very small (by my standards) apartment. And, again not what I expected, a large park nearby.

Dinner over, we went our separate ways. The next morning I was back on a plane, looking forward (not) to the Melbourne winter. It was my first stopover, but won’t be my last. I enjoyed the change of scene and had none of the usual jetlag on my return home.

Queen Elizabeth mini cruise 2019

Main staircase

Main staircase

This year I went somewhere new (to me), Brisbane, getting there in style on Cunard’s MS Queen Elizabeth. She’s one of eleven Vista-class ships, built by Fincantieri in 2010 and accommodates 2000+ passengers .
On the outside QE may look like many other cruise ships, but inside her decor reflects her Cunard ownership: top class Art Deco throughout the main public areas – I’m not known for my life of fine art, but I couldn’t help but enjoy such wonderful design and craftsmanship.

Queen Elizabeth at Circular Quay

Queen Elizabeth at Circular Quay

The cruise was just four nights: we left a cold wet Melbourne on Saturday afternoon, then spent Sunday at sea, docking at Circular Quay, Sydney on Monday.
After a good relaxing day with a friend – riding Sydney Harbour ferries! – it was back on board for another two nights and a day at sea before arriving at Brisbane on Wednesday morning.

Afternoon Tea

Afternoon Tea

This was only my second Cunard cruise and again I was upgraded to a suite! This meant dining in the more exclusive Princess Grill restaurant instead of the main dining hall. In my younger days I would have been scared stiff at having to dine with a group of ‘strangers’ but now I see it as something to look forward to – the chance to meet up with people I wouldn’t otherwise have encountered, meeting them over several evenings. My dining companions were very good company.
I did sample the famed afternoon white glove tea once, but you can only eat so much!

Music for our pleasure

Music for our pleasure

Filling the two sea days was no problem. As is the tradition, the captain conducted a well-attended Sunday morning service. An ad-hoc Christian Fellowship meeting was held on Tuesday morning which gave me a chance to meet another group of people. The QE has a large theatre used for stage shows in the evening; during the day it hosted a series of lectures. I went to two on whales and dolphins, and one on Captain Cook’s voyage mapping Australia’s east coast. Various types of music were offered around the ship. Much else to do as well, but not enough time. In no time we’d arrived in Brisbane and it was time to say goodbye … until next year’s cruise!

The Blue Lake

David Sornig

David Sornig, author

Ten days ago I had the pleasure of attending the official launch of David Sornig’s new book, Blue Lake. The lake, also known less flatteringly as the West Melbourne Swamp, was situated just north of where I live in Melbourne’s Docklands. In pre-settlement times it was a meeting place and rich hunting ground for Aboriginals, but over time it became a dumping ground and a place to situate noxious trades, then between the wars it then became the home of the notorious Dudley Flats, a shanty town where the lowest of the the low lived. It’s now been taken over by the dockland and urban freeways.

David Sornig tells the story through three residents: Elsie Williams, a singer of Afro-Caribbean descent, once billed as “the Coloured Nightingale”; Lauder Rogge, a German-born sailor who, though a naturalised Australian, was interned during World War I; and Jack Peacock, a stunt rider, horse trader and scrap dealer who made a good living on Dudley Flats.

I’m currently about one third through the book and it’s proving an interesting read.

Random memories of living in Mexico City

Not many people know that I spent two years living in Mexico City, 1957-59. I was three when I went and five when I returned so my memories of this period are very vague. Looking back I now wish I’d pumped my parents for information but it’s now too late. Here’s a summary of the little that that I do know and remember:

  • We went to Mexico because my dad was posted to the British Embassy as Labour Attache, one of six diplomats working under Sir Andrew Noble, Ambassador.
  • We went as a family (dad, mum, my younger sister and me) on the Cunard RMS Media, sailing from Liverpool to New York, then getting the train from NYC to Mexico. The Media (not that I remember it) was an interesting ship, the first built for Cunard after WWII. She entered service in 1947 and was a combination 250-passenger/cargo ship.
  • My dad was not a total stranger to diplomatic life as he’d worked in the British Embassy in Venezula in the late 1940s (he and my mum met through a penpal club – the immediate postwar version of internet dating!), but for my mum, coming from a working class background, it was an enormous challenge, but one she rose to. Not only was she expected to accompany my dad to diplomatic functions, but was expected to host them too.
  • Our home in Mexico City

    Our home in Mexico City

    We lived in two embassy-provided houses. I don’t remember the first, but would instantly recognise the second if taken there – looking from the road, at the right hand size there was a steeply dropping drive down to a double garage. To the left of this was the house, entered from the street by walking across a ‘bridge’ – the principal entertaining rooms were at first floor level. At the bottom of the garden, over the fence, was some sort of stream or small river.

  • We also had an embassy car (a Ford Consul or Zephyr Mk.1) and driver, Augustus. It was in Mexico that  my mum learned to drive.
  • My sister and me with our maids

    My sister and me with our maids

    We were assigned two Mexican maids, Dolores and Mercedes. Apparently I quickly became a fluent Spanish speaker but lost this just as quickly on returning to UK.

  • I went to an English-speaking nursery school run by one Mrs Bone. I remember nothing of it unfortunately.
  • Our best friends were the Wade family: David Wade was a Shell executive so presumably met my dad via the embassy. We and their two (at the time) children were good friends and maintained contact for years after we returned to Twickenham and Sidcup respectively.
  • Dad was awarded an MBE in the 1957 birthday honours list. He was presented with it when Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent visited Mexico in 1959.
  • We returned to UK in 1959. To get my dad back to work in London asap, they put him on a plane (then the more expensive option), leaving my mum to cope with two small children on the long train journey back to NYC, then the transatlantic crossing on the Queen Mary – not half as enjoyable as it might have been for her with two small children to look after and no spouse to share the load.

Postcript

  • Queen Mary at Long Beach 2010

    Queen Mary at Long Beach 2010

    In July 2010 after visiting Dallas for a software conference I took a stopover in LA so I could finally achieve one of my great ambitions, revisiting the Queen Mary. I booked a three night stay and in special requests put ‘returning passenger’. When I checked in, I was given a room upgrade! See Two Queens and me