Touch wood 

• Shipwrights making the replica Duyfken (above) photo by Robert Garvey, and The SS Perth (below) photo courtesy John Dowson

A NEW exhibition at the Shipwrecks Museum in Fremantle is a fascinating insight into the world of wooden boat making in Western Australia. 

Marking the 25th anniversary of the construction of the Duyfken replica in Freo, the exhibition covers everything from the wooden boats used in whaling in Albany to a sloop made by the survivors of a Dutch shipwreck in the Abrolhos Islands in 1727.

“There is a lot of knowledge in Fremantle about the history of building wooden boats but a lot of people will be surprised that there are still wooden boats being built around Perth and Fremantle till this day,” exhibition curator Elly Spillekom says.

“That is why this exhibition is set up and is connected to a whole program of lectures in the Maritime Museum every Sunday in the month of March, and a wooden boat parade and shanty festival on Maritime day.” 

The amazing craftsmanship it took to build these wooden boats, and their durability, is evident in the SS Perth, used for the South Perth ferry service in 1914.

The double-ended, double-decked steam ferry is now 107 years old and still afloat in Cockburn Sound.

The ferry was built by Alfred Edmund Brown, who bought a property opposite the beach on Fitzgerald Terrace (now Marine Terrace) and set up as a boat builder.

With a reputation established for innovation and speed, he quickly became one of the most prolific builders, sending his boats as far away as Queensland. 

At the peak of his production Brown’s yard was turning out a vessel every fortnight, mostly pearling luggers, but also yachts and river craft.

The history of wooden boat building in WA can be traced back to 1727, when Dutch seamen became the first to build a wooden boat in the European tradition in Australia – they crafted a small ship from the remains of the wreck of the Zeewijk and local mangrove wood.

Another 270 years later, in 1997, the very same boat building traditions and techniques were used to build a replica of the Duyfken, in front of the Shipwrecks Museum in Freo.

The idea to build an authentic replica of the Duyfken was hatched by local historian Michael Young and driven by a passionate group of WA maritime enthusiasts keen to see the skills learnt from their Endeavour replica preserved.

Wooden Boat Building in WA is a free, community exhibition on until May 1.



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