Picking up steam

Rod Price and Dennis Baker. Photos by Steve Grant.

AN Attadale resident who lovingly built Swan River character Rodney the steam paddleboat has had to turn to crowdfunding to save him from the scrapheap.

Rodney broke two rather large mooring ropes during a freak storm in May this year and ended up on the beach next to the Bicton Baths, a big hole in his hull and a flooded forward cabin.

Owner Dennis Baker told the Herald the deeper he delved, the worse the diagnosis and now Rodney faces at least $65,000 in repairs which won’t be covered by insurance.

“I’ve got a friend who lives near there and he said he’d never heard the wind roaring like that before,” Mr Baker said.

Shorted out

“The forward cabin had a queen-sized bed and cupboards which were made out of western red cedar, and when it filled at high tide it has ruined the cedar and got in behind the panelling.

“The battery was under the main bed and water has got in and it was dead shorted out.”

Now forlornly racking up a bigger bill in dry dock, Rodney’s hull has been redone and the interior’s a jumble of carpentry and wiring projects. But with a mountain of work yet to be done, Mr Baker’s daughter-in-low Josie Price has convinced him to abandon his diehard DIY attitude and appeal for help to get the paddleboat back on the water.

They’re hoping the fact Rodney has become something of a river favourite will open people’s hearts.

“I didn’t realise how much an icon it was until last time we had it up,” Mr Baker said.

“When we went back up the river, people were tooting their horns and coming over; it was such a surprise.”

Perhaps it shouldn’t have been given the 12 years and attention to detail he put into the steamer’s construction.

Rodney boasts a 1926 two-cylinder Aveling and Porter compound steam engine that was pulled out of an old steam roller, turned backwards and attached to the paddles.

The boat’s wheelhouse and funnel can be completely tipped forward so it can get under low bridges, meaning Rodney’s been known to take his passengers all the way up to the Swan Valley to enjoy a wine or two. And they’ve been sipped from glassware etched with Rodney’s outline and name.

As for the name, it’s got a double meaning.

Mr Baker’s son Rodney Price gets half the credit, which he’s well and truly earned pitching in with repairs and tracking down a cheap crane to get the boat up for repairs.

The other half is now a shipwreck on the Darling River with a history mired in myth and legend.

The original Rodney was a 175-ton paddle steamer primarily used to transport wool, but during the 1894 shearers’ strike was bringing 45 non-union shearers to Tolarno Station in rural New South Wales. The enraged shearers had strung wire across the Darling to hold up the steamer, and when the captain pulled aside into a swampy area to avoid the trap, around 30 stormed aboard.

Here accounts differ as to whether they threw the rival shearers over the side or simply herded them onto a barge, but there’s no doubting they doused bags of chaff with kerosene and burnt Rodney to the waterline.

The incident was for years cited as an example of union “outrages”.

To help get Rodney back up to steam, head to http://www.gofundme. com and look up PS Rodney.


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