Irene Pritchard, the first woman skipper on Sydney Harbour

Friday, March 11th, 2016



Irene Pritchard and brother in Zephyr, 1899. Photo courtesy of Nedlands Library.


In late December 1898, Irene Pritchard became the first woman to skipper a skiff racing on Sydney Harbour. She was listed as the skipper of a new boat, Zephyr, registered to compete in the 8ft dingy class at Johnstone’s Bay Sailing Club.

Irene won her first race on December 24, 1898. The Sunday Mail reported “As will be noticed, a lady piloted one of the dingies, and, as it turned, successfully. Not withstanding a heavy press of canvas, Miss Pritchard took her craft Zephyr to the front early in the race, and won, with 2 minutes to spare.” Eleven boats had been entered in the race, but not all started.

She was then elected to the Club.

Her boat, Zephyr, was built by her brother, H.C. (Harry) Pritchard. Her father, also H.C. and known as Charles, was a local boat builder.  Charles had started as a waterman – rowing people to their destinations – on Sydney Harbour in 1869. Charles  established a boat-building business, Messrs Pritchard and Company, at White Horse Point, Balmain, and later moved the business to Leichhardt, where the family lived.

Irene was born in 1875, the third of eight children, and the only girl. Harry was the eldest, born six years before Irene. The children were probably all born in Balmain, where their births were registered. At least two other brothers, Arthur and Frederick,  also became boat builders.

Arthur Swinfield, who had done his apprenticeship with Harry, recalled:  “While chatting with his father Charles Pritchard, who remarked whether the limit of beam of a sailing boat had been reached, H.C. Pritchard made a scale model which so pleased them both that they decided to build it. She was Zephyr, 8’ long [2.4 metres] and 8’ beam, which was eventually sailed by Irene Pritchard on tiller, H. Pritchard on mainsheet and Fred Pritchard on jib.

“At the Anniversary Regatta, after Zephyr’s win and the presentation of prizes at Hotel Australia, a gold medal was presented to Miss Irene Pritchard for being the only Lady Skipper on that day, and being successful in the 8’ x 8’ dingy Zephyr.” (From Australian Wooden Boats, Volume One, Classic Small Boats)


Like all the skiffs of the day, Zephyr carried an enormous area of sail.

Swinfield said she had an 18’ (5.5m) mast, a 16’ (4.9m) boom, a 10’6” (3.2m) and a 10’ (3m) bowsprit.

Irene belonged to the Johnstone’s Bay Sailing Club, then one of the premier sailing clubs in Sydney, and the only active sailing club in Balmain. The Balmain Regatta continued, but Balmain Sailing Club was dormant.

In those days clubs did not have clubhouses: they met at various pubs –  in 1898 the Johnstone’s Bay Club was meeting in the Pacific Hotel, Stephen Street, Balmain – and boats raced with several clubs.

Johnstone’s Bay Sailing Club held races for 22 foot, 18, 14, 10 and 8 foot classes.

Irene also raced with the Sydney Dingey (sic) Club, which catered “for all dingeys from 8ft to 14ft” and with the Port Jackson Dingy Club.

Although they sailed with several clubs, the Pritchards would not have been welcome at  every club on the Harbour. Some, like the Sydney Amateur Sailing Club excluded professionals, which they defined as: “all fishermen, oystermen, boat builders, sail makers, or persons gaining or having gained their living on the water, or any person who has received a monetary consideration for his professional knowledge”.

The Balmain Clubs welcomed all comers. Many Balmain residents in the 1890s earned their living working as boat builders, on the wharves, at Cockatoo or Mort Dock, or working with a ferry, tug or lighterage company and there were even still some watermen. To reject those who earned their living from boat and water-based industries would have severely limited club numbers.

The 8 footers were regularly referred to as midgets or mosquitoes, though in 1899 an even smaller boat, the 6 footer, was introduced. In addition to the classes raced at Johnstone Bay S.C. there were also 12, 15, 20 and 24 footers. The races were popular events, followed by several steamers where illegal gambling on the race took place. Prize money was very generous.

Irene’s first race was a handicap – she was on 5 minutes – with 11 scheduled to race, though not all started.

Her second race was with the Port Jackson Dingy Club, on January 7, 1899. The course went around Goat Island and Clark Island. Zephyr capsized, and one can only wonder how Irene Pritchard fared, in her lady-like attire, without a life-jacket, in a boat that could not be righted but had to be towed ashore.

The Anniversary Regatta is now known as the Australia Day Regatta was arguably the most prestigious Sydney sailing event. It has been held on January 26 since 1837.

In 1899 Irene Pritchard was the first woman to sail in it, and the first woman to win an Anniversary Day race. Zephyr won by 1 minute, 5 seconds, beating a fleet of 13.

Irene won £2, a significant sum when average weekly earnings were  £1.30.

The prize was presented 11 days later. The Sydney Mail and NSW Advertiser reported: “The large reading-room of the Hotel Australia was crowded, and there was considerable enthusiasm. The prizes were passed over to the several winners and placed boats, and to each the chairman paid well-deserved compliments, but when Miss Irene Pritchard, accompanied by her brother, came forward, there were loud applause and hearty cheers. Dr. Burne explained that this was the first time a lady had sailed a winner at Anniversary Regatta, or at any other regatta held in Sydney. In addition to the prize money the committee awarded a handsome gold medal to the young lady.” (Dr Alfred Burne was chairman of the Regatta committee between 1899 and 1907).

Irene Pritchard Carnaby, wearing her Anniversary Day medal. The top of the medal, which is in the shape of a Maltese cross, is a yacht.  Photo courtesy of Nedlands Library


Her next race was with the Sydney Dingey Club on February 4, 1899.

The course was from Goat Island, round Shark Island and back. It was a popular event. The Evening News reported: “The club has gone to considerable expense in chartering three steamers to follow the races. The Greyhound is to leave Circular Quay only at 3 o’clock sharp. The Lady Manning will leave Erskine-street at 2.30, calling at Pyrmont and Balmain, and the Lily will start from Hunter’s Hill at 2 o’clock, calling at Drummoyne and the West Balmain wharves en route to the starting point.” The steamers followed two races: the 10 footers and the 8 footers over their course from Goat Island, round Shark Island and back to Goat Island. Zephyr now started on scratch.

The Sydney Mail and NSW Advertiser reported: “The now famous Zephyr, with her young lady skipper, Miss Pritchard, again distinguished herself, and sailing through the fleet was ahead of affairs before Shark Island was reached, and as she squared away for home the order; was : — Zephyr, Britannia, Inez, Bert, Our Boys, and Thistle. Very little alteration took place on the run back, Zephyr increasing her lead, the finishing times being : — Zephyr, 4h. 59m. 53s ; Britannia, 4h. 20m. ; Inez, 5h. 3m. 11s ; Our Boys, 5h. 5m. 3s. ; Bert, 5h. 7m. ; Thistle, 5h. 7m. 36s.” (Note: 4h refers to 4pm, 5h to 5pm). Zephyr, for first place won £1 10s.

The following Saturday, February 12, 1899, Irene raced with Johnstone’s Bay Sailing Club. It was a big day, with four events: a general handicap for boats 18ft plus, 14 footers, 10 footers, and 8 footers. The course for the 8 footers was round Shark Island, from and to Goat Island. This time Britannia was victorious, with Zephyr coming second and winning £1. The Truth wrote: “This second place by Miss Pritchard in the Zephyr makes three firsts and a second in succession. Not a bad record for a lady in a dingy eight feet long and eight feet wide!” Perhaps she was only second because of the behaviour of the boat placed third, which was disqualified. This is described in The Yachtsman article later in this piece,

The next week racing with the Port Jackson Dingey Sailing Club, Zephyr again capsized.

Zephyr won the Johnstone’s Bay Sailing Club 8ft championship the following week, February 25, 1899, winning £2. The club held three races that day, for the 18-footers, 10 footers and 8 footers. The Evening News reported: “in the 8-footers’ contest, which was the ‘blue ribbon’ event of the ‘midgets’, Zephyr scored an easy victory. The champion 8-footer, which is 8ft broad as well, was again faultlessly handled by Miss Irene Pritchard, who may well be congratulated on her prowess.”

The Telegraph (based in Brisbane) also reported the race: “Six 8-footers started for the championship, and Zephyr (sailed by Miss Pritchard) immediately went to the front, and fairly walked away from her rivals on the beat to Shark Island. Zephyr won  ‘hard held’ by no less than 6 mins. Out of seven starts Zephyr has won five and capsized twice.”

Note the mythmaking beginning: the careful reader will note that out of her seven starts, Irene had actually won four – not five – races come second once and capsized twice.

Zephyr was featured in the Australian Town and Country Journal, published Saturday March 4, 1899. Under a photograph of her boat, the text read: “The Zephyr, the flyer of the 8-footers, is quiet (sic) a new departure in boat building, her dimensions being 8ft long by 8ft beam, making her as long as she is broad. Not the least interesting feature about her is that she is piloted by Miss Irene Pritchard, who is the first on the list to represent the gentle sex amongst the tiny squadron. In seven starts the Zephyr has gained no less than five victories, one second, and in the remaining event had the misfortune to “turn turtle.” This small craft was built by the well-known firm of Messrs. Pritchard and Company, boatbuilders, of Leichhardt.”


Australian Town and Country Journal, March 4, 1899. p. 24. From Trove, reproduced courtesy of the National Library of Australia


On March 22, 1899, the Johnstone’s Bay Sailing Club presented Irene Pritchard with the Champion Pennant of the 8-foot class.

Irene answered a request to sail in the Newcastle and Stockton Sailing Club’s handicap on March 25. The Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, said: “Miss Irene Pritchard is coming from Sydney with the boat the Zephyr. This lady is exceptionally skillful at the tiller, and her appearance here should attract a considerable amount of attention.” The newspaper later reported: “Miss Irene Pritchard, the champion lady ‘yachts man’ in her eight-footer, The Zephyr has kindly consented to take part in the carnival. This should alone be a big draw, especially for the ladies, to see one of their own sex at the tiller of her tiny craft.”

She was, according to the Brisbane-based Telegraph “accorded a great reception by the northern sailing men. Many hundreds of spectators lined the various wharves, and with those on board th steamers following the racing heartily cheered the fair skipper as she sailed by. The lack of wind prevented the races from finishing, but Zephyr had a strong lead, and would probably have won her race if the dingeys had been able to complete the course.”

Later that year, Irene presented the club “a large-framed enlargement photo of her 8-footer dingy, the Zephyr, in which the owner was depicted sailing her craft”.

Irene’s fame spread overseas. The London-based magazine, The Yachtsman, in an article in its March 16, 1899 edition, titled ‘Yachting in Sydney’, said: “The doings of an 8-footer Zephyr, with Miss Pritchard at the tiller, is the ‘dinghy’ topic in boating circles”.

The next month The Yachtsman not only printed a photo of Zephyr winning the Anniversary Regatta, it reproduced the plans for Zephyr, as well as an article on Irene, titled ‘One Beam to Length’:

“In our issue of March 16, we referred to the interest excited in Sydney by the winning performances of Miss Irene Pritchard in Zephyr in the 8-ft. dinghy matches. As we venture to think that the boat itself is not a little remarkable in several respects we therefore have the greater pleasure in being able to illustrate it to-day.

Zephyr was built recently by Mr. H.C. Pritchard of Leichhardt, Sydney, N.S.W., and is 8ft. long overall, 8ft. beam, and 2ft. extreme depth amidships, 7ft across transom; the mast is 18ft. long and 3¼in. thick; boom 16ft. long, 3in. at transom; gaff 10ft. 6in. by 2½in. thick; bowsprit 10ft. over bow. She has a deck of 13in. width, and usually carries three hands.

Zephyr is the only boat 8ft. long ever raced in Port Jackson and sailed by a lady. In six races, early in the season, Miss Irene Pritchard, with her two brothers as crew, won four first prizes and one second, the other event being ‘a swim’. In the race in which Zephyr took second prize, the third boat was disqualified for repeatedly bearing away to prevent Zephyr passing to leeward; when within half a mile from home Zephyr managed to secure a puff over the third boat’s sails and drew away, finishing 1 min. 5 secs. ahead. The boat has been equally successful in more recent matches, the latest of which we have advice being the championship of the Johnstone’s Bay S.C., sailed on February 25, in heavy water over the Shark’s Island course, when Zephyr and Miss Pritchard lead home by 6mins. 2secs., Inez being second. Miss Pritchard had her second ducking of the season in a match of the Port Jackson Dinghy Club on the previous Saturday, when the match was won by the scratch boat Our Boys.

Zephyr’s best point is reaching, when she is said to be almost as fast as the 10ft. class. She is said to be so stiff in the water that she can be moored out with the mainsail hoisted with perfect safety with no crew or ballast aboard; unlike the other boats of the class that are held upright while the crew are getting aboard. The exceptional speed shown by such a boat 8ft. by 8ft., and the fact of its successful handling by a young lady who had never before sailed in a racing boat, have, needless to say, excited considerable curiosity in that part of the world, and we should add that at the public distribution the prizes won at the recent Anniversary Regatta, Miss Irene Pritchard was presented with an additional and special gold medal for the skillful handling of the 8ft. dinghy Zephyr , and also for being ‘the first lady skipper in Australia’. The prizes were presented by the regatta committee at an evening meeting in the presence of a large and very enthusiastic audience.

“Our illustration shows Zephyr winning at the Anniversary Regatta. The drawings will in great measure speak for themselves, with the aid of previous remarks. The proportion of boat to sail area is an especially noticeable point”.  

This article, published in an English magazine, was the most detailed written about Irene, and the drawings, which were later reproduced in Australian Wooden Boats, Volume One, Classic Small Boats, provide the most complete record of Zephyr.


From Australian Wooden Boats, Volume One, reprinted from The Yachtsman, April 13, 1899


When commodore F.W.J. Donovan, read the ninth annual report to the

annual meeting of the Johnstone’s Bay Sailing Club, in August 1899, he dwelt at length on several special features, according to the Sydney Morning Herald. “One of the most prominent was the fact that a lady skipper had successfully competed in the club.” Irene won the championship pennant for the 8 foot class. She had dominated the class.

Irene Pritchard entered seven races (not including the Newcastle Stockton race). She had four wins, one second placing and two capsizes. She won the Anniversary Day medal for 8 footers, and the Johnstone’s Bay Sailing Club 8 footer championship.


The next season she skippered the 10 footer, Procella, which was also built by her brother Harry.

According to Australian Wooden Boats, Sydney boat builder and naval architect, Arthur Swinfield, served his boat building apprenticeship with Pritchard Bros, as it became known, when it crossed the harbour to Careening Cove. He had a set of notes made by Harry Pritchard about the Zephyr that were given to him after Harry’s death.

The new boat, a 10 footer called Procella was described in Harry’s notes as “10’ beam and self sailing”. Others were less flattering.

The Evening News reported the opening of the sailing season of 1899/1900 for Johnstone’s Bay Sailing Club: “The dingey ‘boys’ show signs of increased vitality this season, and there are several new craft amongst the ‘mosquito’ fleet, though when we note, such dingeys as  Zephyr, 8ft in length and 8ft in breadth, and the Procella, 10ft overall, beam or length, they seem rather large ‘mosquitoes.’ Both these curiosities are owned by H. C. Pritchard, Leichhardt, their builder. The 8-footer was very successful last season, being sailed by Miss Irene Pritchard who will also handle the new 10-footer.”

On October 3, 1899, ‘Bobstay’ writing in the Brisbane Courier observed:

“A new racing 10 footer of rather novel design has just been built by H. C. Pritchard, of Leichhardt, Sydney. A few particulars of this extraordinary little craft have been taken from an exchange. In the first place, though she is but 10ft in over-all length, her greatest beam is also 10ft and extreme depth but 22in. She measures 9ft across the tuck, and 9ft 6in at the mast. The Procella, as she is called, is cedar built like a wager-boat without stern or keel. Her timbers are spotted gum, and deck and linings are of diagonal planking of two quarter-inch thicknesses. She has a flush deck forward to the mast, and is lined from gunwale to waterline in a V section, underneath which she is airtight, and any water that comes aboard escapes through the centreboard-case. She has been fitted with a steel rudder, to which are attached two tillers, so that she may be more handily steered. She has also been fitted with an outrigger, 3ft over the tuck, to set her large mainsail, and the bobstay is affixed to the fore end of the centreboard-case underneath. The centreboard case measures 2ft 6m, and she will carry a board 2ft across, with a 6ft drop. She will have about 300ft of sail as against, say, 200ft carried by the ordinary 10ft dingeys. The mast is 21ft, mainsail 20ft, 13ft hoist, and 12ft gaff,  while the balloon jib carried will be 22ft on the foot with a hoist of 22ft also. The advent of Procella will be awaited with interest amongst the small fry. She is to be sailed by Miss Irene Pritchard (sister of the builder), who performed so handsomely in the 8ft x 8ft Zephyr last season.”


In October 1899 Irene was featured in an article in the Australian Town and Country Journal.   She was in esteemed company. Mr. F.W.J. Donovan was Chairman of the Sydney Sailing Council and commodore of the Johnstone’s Bay Sailing Club; Mr. C.B. Hunter was Vice Commodore of the Sydney Sailing Club;

Sam Hordern junior, in his half-rater Bronzewing VI, which was described as a “phenomenal little craft”, had a record in the previous season of eight first and three third places out of eighteen starts; and Mark Foy was the man who revolutionised

sailing on Sydney Harbour.

1.-Mr. F. W. J. Donovan, Chairman of the Sydney Sailing Council. 2.-Mr. C. B. Hunter, Vice-Commodore S.S. Club. 3.-Miss Pritchard, Skipper of the Champion 8ft dingey Zephyr. 4.-Champion 18-footer Australian. 5-Champion 22-footer Effie. 6.-Mr. Sam. Hordern, Jun. 7-Mr. Fred Doran. 8.-The half-rater Bronzewing. 9.-The one-rater Mercia. 10.-Mr. Mark Foy’s Southern Cross

Australian Town and Country Journal, October 21, 1899 p. 231


The article stated that open boat sailing and rater racing “have steadily gained ground during the past few years, and those who follow the sport with interest will note the changes that take place for the better year by year.”

The paragraph on Irene read:

“Miss Pritchard, daughter of Mr. H.C. Pritchard, of Leichhardt, is the skipper of the champion dingey Zephyr, whose splendid record bears testimony to this fair young yachtswoman’s skill and success. It is difficult to understand why yacht racing as a pastime for ladies has not become more popular here. In England, the fair sex largely own and sail their own boats, and some clubs even go so far as to have a ladies’ day. Women affect many things for which they are physically unsuited, and in which they have no possible chance to excel, or even equal, the average man, such as golf, bicycling, and other athletic exercises which afford them nothing in the way of success to compensate for the avidity and perseverance with which they pursue these exercises. But sailing is a pursuit most fascinating, varied, and exciting, in which they can become absolutely proficient, requiring no particular muscular effort or physical strength, only quickness of judgment, and a knowledge, which can be acquired by practice and the opportunity. So any woman wishing to shine in a delightful little world of her own would do well to emulate Miss Pritchard.”


Procella first raced on October 7, 1899, with the Port Jackson Dingy Club.

According to the SMH the opening event of the season for the club nearly proved a failure “owning to the scarcity of the wind”. Only two boats finished within the time limit. At the last buoy Procella was coming fifth in the fleet of seven.

The first 10-footer race held by Johnstone’s Bay S.C. was postponed due to lack of wind. When it was held on October 28, 1899, Procella did not place.  The Australian Town and Country Journal commented: “The 10-footer boys seem to be now quite content to meet the 10 by 10 Procella, judging by the entrants in the J.B. Club’s 10ft handicap last Saturday. I saw the monstrosity going down the harbor last Saturday, and in some of the squalls her big balloooner seemed to make her fly. But on a wind she does not seem to be a wonder.”

Irene Pritchard again made history when, on November 7, 1899, she was the first woman to compete in the Balmain Regatta, in Procella.

The Sydney Mail and NSW Advertiser reported: “Ten footers entered in numbers, and it is remarkable how much sail they carry, and the speed and power they have. The new boat, Procella, is just the same in beam and length, a very wide tuck or stern, and sails which are about three times the length of the boat, besides being exceedingly lofty. This boat is sailed by Miss Irene Pritchard, who did so well with her 8-footer last season.” Procella did not place.

The fleet of 10 footers gathered for the Johnstone’s Bay SC 10ft championship on November 18, 1899.

The Referee reported: “As is usually the case among the little fellows, there was some wonderful close racing, as the finish, after a long beat up from Shark Island to Goat Island, will show, there being only a difference of 13sec between the first two boats to arrive home.  Miss Pritchard’s charge made a fine bid for the race on the run down the harbor, and was the first to haul wind round the buoy. But this oddity was no match for her big rivals on the thrash back, as one after another they displaced her.”

The Sydney Mail and NSW Advertiser reported: “The midgets were despatched to an excellent start. Shortly after a heavy squall struck the fleet which caused a lot of trouble, and in which Crescent capsized. Procella went to the front at Kirribilli, the rest being in a bunch. At this time the breeze had moderated somewhat, and several set their ballooners square. Nearing Bradley’s, Procella took charge of her skipper and caused a deal of amusement.”

 Procella rounded the Shark Island pilelight first, just seconds ahead of her rivals.

But she was passed by the winners. “Procella lowered away”, according to the report, and she was not listed in the finishers.

And that appears to be Irene Pritchard’s last race.

By all accounts Procella was an unusual boat, and one that was difficult to handle: she carried 300ft of sail, compared with the 200ft carried by ordinary dingies. Later that year, the Evening News reported that Procella “was debarred last season [first half of 1899], but has been altered to comply with the rules”.  It is likely that debarring ended Irene’s sailing career.

The next season – after it presumably had been altered – Procella sailed in the Newcastle regatta in the new year, on January 2, 1900, with Harry Pritchard as skipper.  He was swamped and retired.  Harry also skippered Procella at the 1900 Anniversary Regatta, the scene of Irene’s triumph the year before, coming in third.

Procella enjoyed her first win under the hands of Irene’s younger brother, Victor. He won the Johnstone’s Bay S.C. 10 foot handicap on March 3,  1900.

Irene might have ended her sailing career, but her reputation grew, and she remained closely associated with sailing – and boat-building – for the rest of her life.

In 1928 The Australian Motor Boat and Yachting Monthly published an article titled ‘Way back in ’99 when Zephyr raced’.


The 1993 book, Australian Wooden Boats, ran a two page spread on Zephyr.

Arthur Swinfield, who had worked with Harry Pritchard, not only recalled conversations with Harry, but also had a set of notes from him. The article also quoted from The Yachtsman, which said that Irene was presented with a special gold medal for the Anniversary Regatta, for being the ‘first lady skipper in Australia’. But Harry differed, saying the award was for ‘the only lady skipper on that day’.  The article goes on to state: “Harry was probably more correct: in racing terms, Irene might have been the first lady skipper in Australia, but in general terms that title would have gone to a woman such as Mrs Anne Marsh, who owned and skippered a passage boat on the Parramatta River around 1803.”

Harry Pritchard’s notes said: “1893. When Zephyr first raced with 8 footers there were usually only 17 starters, but as time went on there were only three starters, so the Zephyr was sold and H. Pritchard designed a 10’. Procella was 10’ beam and self sailing. She was registered with the Johnstone Bay Sailing Club but after a few races the 10 footers would not enter against her. The Sydney Dingy Club members objected so strongly that she could not be accepted in the club. The last race with the Johnstone Bay Club was for youths under 16 years of age. Victor Pritchard sailed Procella (this being his first race). He won by 5 minutes and that proved our last race. Procella in leading was seldom passed by any open boats.”

[The newspaper records show there were eleven 8 footers scheduled to start in Zephyr’s first race, though not all did race. There were six in her final race.]

In 1904 Irene married boat builder Fred Carnaby.  According to the book Asteroids on the Swan, when Irene’s brother Arthur (who was also a boat builder) showed Fred Carnaby the photo of Irene wearing her gold medal, Fred said “She’s the girl for me!” Arthur replied, ‘She’s too old for you.” Fred was undeterred.

Irene and Fred moved to Nedlands, pioneering an area which was then on the southern outskirts of Perth, on the Swan River.

At the time Nedlands was virgin bush, but a tram line opened it up and Nedlands became a popular holiday destination for Perth residents, with the boats being a big attraction.

Irene and Fred first  they lived in a house boat while building their boat shed.  They then lived in the boat shed and built the family home behind it. Irene seemed destined to be surrounded by males: she had six sons; Eric, Ivan, Keith, Ceil, Colin and Trevor.

Carnaby’s boatshed, around 1911, Ivan, Eric, Irene, Keith and Fred Carnaby. Nedlands WA. Photo courtesy of Nedlands Library


Carnaby’s Boatshed thrived. Fred constructed motor launches, yachts, luggers, pearling schooners and at least one ferry. Fred was a foundation member of the Nedlands Motor and Yachting Club, later the Nedlands Yacht Club. He lent the club the use of his slip, as well as a store room, free of charge.

In 1921 the Star Yacht Club was formed. Fred family built 16 Star class yachts, 22 footers with open cockpits, built out of the local jarrah. He named them after asteroids and planets, hence the title of the book, Asteroids on the Swan. He rented them out, introducing many people to sailing on the Swan River. It was an era when most people could only access a yacht by renting it for several hours or a weekend.

Fred also sailed, but whether Irene sailed again is not known.

When Fred died in 1935, Eric, who had left school at 14 to join the boatshed, took it over. Ivan became a naturalist. Carnaby’s black cockatoo, Carnaby’s skink and Eucalyptus Carnabyi are all named after him, while three species of jewel beetles are named after Keith.

Irene Carnaby, nee Pritchard, died in Perth in 1953.

In 2016 Balmain Sailing Club established an award named after Irene Pritchard, given to the top woman skipper in the annual Balmain Regatta.


By Åsa Wahlquist, with additional research by Neil Bevan, Ian Smith and Bob Chapman.


Irene’s races in Zephyr


Race date Club Result
1. Dec. 24, 1898 Johnstone’s Bay S.C. 1
2. Jan. 7, 1899 Port Jackson Dingy C. capsized
3 Jan 26, 1899 Anniversary Day Regatta 1
4. Feb. 4, 1899 Sydney Dingey Club 1
5. Feb. 11, 1899 J.B.S.C. 2
6. Feb. 18, 1899 P.J.D.C. capsized
7. Feb. 22, 1899 J.B.S.C. championship 1
8. Mar. 25, 1899 Newcastle and Stockton S.C. No boat finished, lack of wind


Irene’s races in Procella


1. Oct. 7, 1899 Port Jackson Dingy Club DNF
2. Oct. 28, 1899 Johnstone’s Bay S.C. Did not place
3. Nov. 7, 1899 Balmain Regatta Did not place
4. Nov. 18, 1899 J.B.S.C. Did not place (perhaps did not finish)






Newspaper articles from Trove reproduced courtesy of the National Library of Australia.

The Yachtsman articles supplied by the National Library of Scotland.

Australian Wooden Boats, Volume One, Classic Small Boats, edited by Trish Murphy, 1993, published by The Wooden Boat Association of New South Wales.

Asteroids on the Swan, volume one, Nedlands Park, by M.R. Clarke, 1993, Dux educational publishers, W.A.

With thanks to Gillian Simpson from the National Maritime Museum of Australia, and Anthea Harris from the Nedlands Library.



Abhijata Iyengar

Monday, February 15th, 2016

The Iyengar Yoga journey continues

–       in conversation with Abhijata Srindgar Iyengar


from Australian Yoga Life, September-November 2015, pp 65-68

Abhijata Srindgar Iyengar is the new international face of Iyengar yoga. The 32 year old mother of a toddler, who is known as Abhi, is the grand daughter of BKS Iyengar, who died last August.

Abhi taught a three day convention in Sydney in May, and she proved an insightful teacher; instructing, explaining, correcting, cajoling, and occasionally even joking, and with a great fund of stories about her grandfather. And judging by the chatter at Iyengar classes in the weeks after the convention, her teaching inspired and energised  many attendees.

Being a member of the family meant that, as a child, she was familiar with yoga. “I was acquainted with a few asanas,” she said, “and I would do head stand and shoulder stand before my exams as I believed it would help me get better results. But that was all.”

The asanas must have helped: Abhi achieved a Bachelor of Science in Zoology in 2003, and a Masters in Bioinformatics in 2005.

In 2000 she started studying yoga seriously. In 2005 the next step in her studies was to enrol in a PhD, so she had to make a choice. It is a story that will be familiar to many serious yoga students. “At that time I had not decided that I would take up to yoga, I was doing all the classes, taught by Geeta and Prashantji [Iyengar’s eldest daughter and son].  I went and met my head of department of science, Bioinformatics. She said I had to give the whole day commitment for about five years to do my doctorate, and a whole day commitment, it seemed to me that would take me away from yoga. That is not something that I wanted to do, though I did not decide I wanted to be a teacher, I just wanted to learn yoga.

“So at that time I decided to take a break from my science pursuit, do yoga for a year and then see what I want to do and that year never stopped.”

Abhi, who now attracts hundreds of students to her conventions, said she never decided to become a teacher.  “One year Guruji just told me ‘now you have to start teaching the beginners class’. In fact I first started coming to the children’s classes and they said ‘now start the children’s class’ and two years later he said ‘now start teaching the beginners class’.” She laughs and said “It was a shock because I didn’t think I was ready but he said ‘just go ahead’.”

Abhi accompanied Iyengar to China on his last overseas convention in 2011, and Australian students saw her in 2009, when she assisted her aunt, Geeta Iyengar, at the Twin Water Convention, held in Maroochydore Queensland.

Abhi first taught an international convention in France in 2011, and she estimates she has taught around 10 conventions outside India.

She began the Sydney convention addressing a question some attendees must have been asking. President of the BKS Iyengar Yoga Association of Australia, Bertha

Shakinovsky, introduced Abhi as a senior teacher at the Pune Institute. Abhi responded: “She called me a senior teacher,” then paused. “First of all I would like to say that I am one amongst all of you, we are all students of Guruji.

“There are probably students here who took to yoga even before I was born, so in that way I am a beginner, but like Bertha told you told you I was lucky. I am still lucky because I was around Guruji the last 14 years.”

On stage Abhi has the Iyengar gift of teaching, confident, clear, in complete control of the room and with a wonderful use of language. Off stage, she looks more like a young girl, shy even diffident. Until, that is, she is asked a question about yoga, when the confidence flows back into her answers.

In conversation with Australian Yoga Life, she admitted: “When I travelled for the first time overseas I was not confident about it. I said there are people there who are going to be more senior, so I am not confident about travelling abroad and teaching a big group. And Guruji said ‘you forget about their years of experience you just teach them what you learn from me’.”

Abhi brings to her teaching those 14 years of intensive practice and study with Iyengar. “I spent the last 14 years with him, around him, at home. I lived with him, and in the practice hall, so in that sense it was an ashram kind of learning, where I saw what he did and I saw how he talked with people, I saw how he ate, I saw his whole life so in that sense I am at a big advantage.”

Study and life with Iyengar also provided Abhi with countless stories. Like the day, ten years ago, when  she decided she would do a long sirsasana or headstand. “I put my watch in front of me, I took belts and I tied my legs together so staying there would become easier so that was my plan.” Iyengar was nearby, practising with his eyes closed, “so it was easier for me. After about 10 minutes my palms began to sweat. I was itching, in my face, in my back, in places I did not even know existed, all those areas began to itch. But I said today I have to stay come what may, 12 minutes, 13 minutes then I am sweating, I am shaking. Somehow the clock comes to 17 minutes and then at the 17 th minute I tell myself let me complete another 3 minutes. So the moment the clock struck the 20 th minute I came down and I was in Adho Mukha Virasan.

“By that time Guruji had come up and he said ‘come here, lazy girl what are you doing?’  And I told him very proudly I had an accomplishment, I said ‘today I was not lazy, I have been in sirsasan for 20 minutes’. He said ‘OK what did you do?’, I said  ‘Guruji I stayed in sirsasan for 20 minutes’. ‘What did you do?’

“I didn’t understand the question at all. I said ‘I was in sirsasan, I stood on my head for 20 minutes’. He said ‘the moment you went on your head you abused the position of sirsasan, what did you do for the 20 minutes’. I was stumped, I did nothing for the 20 minutes, I was waiting for the 20 th minute. And he said ‘what a waste of time’.”

Abhi began the Sydney Convention by asking students to be open. “The most important lesson before we start any pursuit is being open.

“It not that you are going to learn from me, it is not that I am going to teach you.

I am only going to take you on a journey in which you are going to learn from your body, from your mind, from your breath, you are going to learn through me, you are going to learn from yourself.”

Abhi brings to her teaching the precision and clarity of an Iyengar. But she presents as a gentler soul than her grandfather, who could be famously ferocious in his approach to his students, and as less piercingly critical than her aunt Geeta.

But Abhi’s life is also very different from theirs.

Iyengar was seriously ill as a child, and at the age of 16 he was sent to his brother in law, the yoga guru T. Krishnamacharya, to learn yoga in the hope of regaining his health. By 18 he was teaching. During his early years he was so poor that he often lived on rice and water. In 1952 he taught yoga to the violinist Yehudi Menuhin, who became a great advocate, and brought Iyengar to Europe.

Iyengar married and had five daughters and one son. But he was widowed in 1975, the year he opened his institute in Pune, naming it in her honour: the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute. He remained faithful to her memory for the rest of his life. Both Geeta and Prashant dedicated themselves to the study of yoga and remained single.

“When the time came of my marriage, there was no discussion on whether I just get married or not get married,” she said. “When Guruji saw the prospective groom he said ‘he’s a nice boy, go ahead’.” Abhi said Iyengar “hoped I would continue what I am doing. He never enforced it upon me. And being a family woman, yes things are maybe different to Geeta and Prashant but they had bigger responsibilities back then, the Institute was just beginning to be formed. But now it is all set up, it is on a silver platter for me. So in that way that side of it is easy.”

Traditionally yoga was the province of men. Iyengar not only scandalised some by teaching women, he explored the particular benefits yoga could bring to women. His daughter Geeta wrote the classic, ‘Yoga – a gem for women’, which featured photographs of her sister, Vanita Sridharan, practicing poses while in an advanced stage of pregnancy.  Geeta wrote: “Women need yoga even more than men, as the responsibilities thrust upon them by nature are greater than men’s.”

Women have certainly answered yoga’s call in far greater numbers than men in Australia. And in the question and answer session, the perhaps inevitable question was asked: how to juggle family, children, and a good strong practice?

Abhi giggled and replied: “I don’t know, I am trying.”

Later she admitted she was lucky to have the help of parents and parents-in-law to support her. She said prioritising was necessary, but so was flexibility. “That is important, because if my daughter is unwell I can’t go to the class on a certain day. That doesn’t mean I am doing the wrong thing, it is about which duty, which duty needs you the most.”

Iyengar died at the age of 95 in August last year (2014).  He remained a strong and charismatic figure until the end of his life.

Abhi said she does not feel any special responsibility after having had such intensive teaching from him. “You see, I do not think that Guruji gave me anything more than what he gave anybody else. Those who have seen Guruji know he has always given anybody who is front of him what they need to be given at that at that point in time.

“I feel the responsibility in terms of keeping him alive, but I think that responsibility is on each of his students.”

In response to a question about the most important thing she learnt from her grandfather, Abhi said:  “I vividly remember he said ‘life is as dynamic as the River Amazon. As that river flows, life flows with that energy, hence your practice and your living has to be so dynamic’.”

The question many Iyengar practitioners are now wondering about is: what is the future for Iyengar Yoga; where will it go now? “It will go on its own current,” Abhi replied.  And in all likelihood, that current will be ably guided into the next generation by Abhijata Srindgar Iyengar.


Sailing Sabots at Snails Bay, Balmain Library Exhibition

Friday, April 11th, 2014

For a century Balmain was the hub of boat building and other waterfront industries, as well as the associated leisure activity of sailing.

Snails Bay lies between Louisa Road and Wharf Road Birchgrove. It also lay between two of the largest employers in the southern hemisphere. Mort’s Dock, in Mort Bay immediately to the south, was the largest single employer in nineteenth-century Sydney, with up to 1350 workers. It closed in 1957. To the west lies Cockatoo Island, home to Cockatoo Dockyard between 1857 and 1991. Over that period more than 12,000 ships were docked there, hundreds of vessels were repaired and built, and tens of thousands worked there.

Many of those who earned their living working on boats also loved to sail them for pleasure.

Carlin de Montfort writes in the Dictionary of Sydney that while yachting in England was the province of the ruling classes, in Sydney many working men sailed. “Early nineteenth-century sailing races were an extension of working maritime practices, reflecting Sydney’s focus towards the harbour and the sea.”

And the famous open sailing boats of Sydney Harbour were built by the men who sailed them.

By the 1870s, when open boat sailing races were as popular as horse racing, Balmain hosted three annual regattas, including one in Snails Bay.

Crowds lined the foreshores and crowded onto ferries to watch the races and the annual regattas of Sydney’s sailing boats. Betting on the races, although illegal, was rife. The racing boats made for a great spectacle. The boats carrying huge sails reached thrilling speeds. There were capsizes and altercations, and bitter competition between the boats.

The boats were wide of beam and carried enormous areas of sail. The Sydney boats reputedly carried a greater area of sail, for the size of boat, than any other type of boat in the world. Some, like the 18 footers, needed an entire football team to crew them.

The little six footers that sailed in Snails Bay, for example, were six feet or 1.8 metres long and six feet wide. They carried a 3 metre long bowsprit and their masts were almost 6 metres tall. Their booms were twice the length of the boat. One of the most successful six-foot sailors was Wee Georgie Robinson. He went on to achieve fame as builder and skipper of the 18 footer Britannia. In later life he was an umpire, teacher and inspiration to the children who sailed in Snails Bay Sabot Sailing Club.

In 1962, Stan Nicholson, supported by wee Georgie, his son Ron, and other local sailors, set up the Snails Bay Sabot Sailing Club in the boatshed of Stan’s house at 103 Louisa Road for the children of the area.

Back then Snails Bay was ringed with boating industries and activities, from Morrison & Sinclair on Long Nose Point, to Fountain’s Boat Yard at 5 Wharf Road. Jubilee Engineering, next to Morrison & Sinclair, was the mooring for a series of RW Miller ships, then came Clyde Lighterage (which operated lighters, small boats that carried goods from the ship to the shore) and a number of smaller boat builders and boat sheds along Louisa Road. They included Hancock’s boat shed, and Bidgee Holmes’ yard.

On the other side of Birchgrove Oval were boat builders Bob and Jack Griffith, Tay Lighterage, and the largest business in the Bay, Nicholson Bros Harbour Transport. Wharf Road ended in Ballast Point, then home to the Caltex Depot.

Today, of all those industries, only the Fountain’s boatshed remains. Len Fountain’s sons, Cliff and Warren, have just built the hull of what is likely to be the last wooden boat built in Snails Bay, a 42 footer, named Lena.

  Snails Bay in the 1960s

  1. Long Nose Point: Morrison & Sinclair

  2. 146 Louisa Road: boatshed used by Nick Masterman in the 1970s and 1980s

  3. 113 Louisa Road: Jubilee Engineering, RW Miller

  4. 109 Louisa Road: Clyde Lighterage

  5. 103 Louisa Road: Snails Bay Sabot Sailing Club

  6. 99 Louisa Road: The Dodd’s boatshed (Ron Robinson, boatbuilder)

  7. 93 Louisa Road: Bert Hancock’s boatshed (boatbuilder)

  8. 91 Louisa Road: Bidgee Holmes’ yard

  9. 88- 98 Louisa Road: Storey and Keers

10. 67 Louisa Road: the site of Birch Grove House, demolished 1967

11. 2 Water Street: Balmain 12 ft Flying Squadron

12. Cockatoo Island: Cockatoo Dockyards

13. end of Grove Street: Bob and Jack Griffith boatshed, boat builders

14. 45 Wharf Road: Tay Lighterage

15. 23, 19 and 17 Wharf Road: Nicholson Bros Harbour Transport

16. 5 Wharf Road: Fountain’s Boat yard

17. Ballast Point: Caltex Depot

18. Mort’s Dock









1. Morrison & Sinclair

photo. Boronia (skipper Terry Janzen) sails past Morrison & Sinclair, November 1962


  The boat-building business Morrison & Sinclair was set up in the 1890s. It was originally based in Pyrmont. In 1918 it moved to Long Nose Point.   

  The  company  focussed on building wooden boats. It built a number of wooden ferries, as well as boats for private purposes.

  In 1939 Morrison & Sinclair launched its biggest passenger ferry, Proclaim, which was built for Nicholson Bros. Proclaim was used mostly for the picnic trade, and it was particularly popular with the crowds that followed the 18-foot sailing boat races.

  In 1969 business was declining. Graeme Andrews in ‘The Watermen of Sydney, Memories of a Working Harbour’, wrote the decline was due to “the changing needs of shipping and the decrease in business associated with the introduction of new materials for building recreational boats”.

  The company ceased operations in 1970.

In 1971 the State Planning Authority bought the site, and turned it into a park. All that remains of Morrison & Sinclair is a plaque outlining its history and a slipway at the end of Longnose Point.









2. Nick Masterman

photo: Nick Masterman in Atom, Snails Bay, November 1962

Nick was a foundation member of Snails Bay Sabot Sailing Club in 1962. At the age of          just 13 he built his first boat, a Sabot called Atom. He soon moved on to sail 12  footers    at Balmain 12 ft Flying Squadron, and successfully represented Australia in that class.  

His younger sister Ardyn became Club Champion sailing Atom in 1966/67.

Nick took up an apprenticeship at Cockatoo Dock, where he was exposed to asbestos fibres. He won a Rotary scholarship to Japan as a naval architect. In the early 1980s Nick became an independent wooden boat builder, setting up his workshop at 146 Louisa Road. He learnt skills and purchased equipment from retiring boat builders, and using old techniques built simple clinker dinghies. He also restored old boats, including the steam yacht Ena. He won wide recognition for his skills.

Nick was instrumental in reviving the Balmain Sailing Club and setting up the Balmain Sailing School. Nick was a Leichhardt Council alderman between 1991 and 1993. He died in 1994 of mesothelioma.










3. 113 Louisa Road: Jubilee Engineering, a subsidiary of RW Miller and Company.

photo: Sabots being towed home on a windless day. RW Miller boat in the background, left. March 1963.


Robert William Miller developed an interest in coal mining in the Hunter Valley.  In 1908 he won the contract to remove spoil from the Balmain Colliery. The name Jubilee probably came from one of the Balmain coal shafts.

His son, Roderick, built up an empire of tugs and lighters (barges that transferred goods from larger boats to shore) and coal ships. The ships had a large M on the funnel. Snails Bay was where his ’60 milers’ were first unloaded. 60 milers carried coal from Newcastle to Sydney, a distance of just over 60 nautical miles. Several of his 60 milers sank at sea, including the Amanda Miller in 1929, with the loss of 6 of the 12 crew, and the 640 tonner Birchgrove Park, which sank off Barrenjoey in August 1951. Ten of the 14 crew, some of them Balmain men, were lost.

Roderick exanded his fleet to take on foreign ships active in the Australian tanker trade. He imported several large tankers and commissioned the construction of the largest ship ever built in Australia. The 66,800 ton tanker was named the Amanda Miller, after his daughter. Roderick was knighted for his efforts on behalf of Australian shipping in 1970. He died the following year.

He also had interests in brewing and hotels.


4. 109 Louisa Road, Clyde Lighterage.

Clyde Lighterage, run by the Stevens family, operated three small steam tugs. The family lived at 109 Louisa Rd, Long Nose Point, from 1927 until 1962 and the tugs were tied up in front of the house in Snails Bay along with about 10 lighters.










5. 103 Louisa Road, Snails Bay Sabot Sailing Club

Photo: Snails Bay Sabot Sailing Club, clubhouse, 103 Louisa Road, Birchgrove, December  1962

Snails Bay Sabot Sailing Club was set up by Stan Nicholson in February 1962. He not only offered the boatshed behind his house at 103 Louisa Road as the Clubhouse, he commissioned wee Georgie Robinson to build five Sabots for the local children to sail.

Word spread among the local sailing families. Eight boats started the first race. By the beginning of the next season there were 25, by the next there were 36. Most were home built, the Sabot was designed to be an inexpensive little boat.

The course was designed so it could all be viewed from the clubhouse: the buoys were placed in front of the club house; near Balls Head; Goat Island and off Ballast Point.

The young sailors, aged between 5 and 16, also had to negotiate around commercial shipping and the ships moored on the wooden dolphins in Snails Bay.

Stan Nicholson died in 1969 and the club was evicted. After several years of temporary use of the boatshed of the Dodds family at 99 Louisa Road, the Snails Bay Sabot Sailing Club moved to Drummoyne in 1973 and changed its name to Drummoyne Junior Sailing Club.










6, 7 and 8: 91 to 99 Louisa Road, boatsheds.

photo: From the left along the waterfront: Bidgee Holmes’ yard, Hancock’s shed (boatbuilder), the white shed belonged to Tom and Jean Middleton, the double dark shed was Dodd’s shed (used by boatbuilder Ron Robinson), Snails Bay SSC boatshed. December 1962.

Bidgee Holmes and Bert Hancock were local boat builders. A number of local boat builders used Dodd’s shed, including Ron Robinson who built the first Sabots there, as well as a number of 18 footers and 16 footers. Dodd’s shed became the temporary home of the SBSSC after Stan Nicholson died in 1968.


9. 88- 98 Louisa Road: Storey and Keers

Storey and Keers was a ship repair company providing a wide range of services. Many Balmain people worked there, and many boys served apprenticeships there. It still has an office in Balmain and a worksite in Port Kembla.


10. 67 Louisa Road: the site of Birch Grove House.It was the first house in the area, built in 1810.

It was demolished 1967. At the time, it was the second oldest house in the country.


11. 2 Water Street Balmain 12 ft Flying Squadro

The forerunner of the Balmain Sailing Club was founded in 1885. Its sailing fleet comprised a range of open boats, from six to 22 footers.

In the 1960s the club was known as the Balmain & District 12 ft Flying Squadron, and only raced 12 footers. The Club was licensed and hosted poker machines and dances. By the late 1980s the

12ft fleet had dwindled. A group of locals re-established the club in 1995. Today it runs mixed fleet races of dinghies and keelboats, as well as a Sailing School. The Club prides itself on being friendly and inclusive.









13. end of Grove Street Bob and Jack Griffith boatshed, boat builders

photo: Little Scamp, (Alan Robinson and Rhonda Magner, grandchildren of wee Georgie Robinson). The Griffiths’ boatshed is to the right.










14. wee Georgie Robinson

photo: Brit (formerly Britannia), left to right: unknown, Eddie Isberg, wee Georgie Robinson standing, Stan Reeves. November 1962. Wharf Road in the background, remains of Tay Lighterage barges to the right, Nicholson Bros and Caltex to the left.

Wee Georgie Robinson – so named because he stood just over five feet (152cm) tall – was a Balmain legend. He began his sailing career in Snails Bay six footers. In 1918 he built his 18 footer Britannia. Britannia carried 2,800 square feet (260 sq metres) of sail: a “mainsail, balloon jib, spinnaker, watersail, ringtail, topsail and God alone knows what else,” according to sailing writer Bruce Stannard. He describes Britannia with her sails “towering over a hull just 18 feet (5.4m) long and a mere 8ft 6inches (2.6m) wide. When she was sailing in a breeze of over 18 knots Britannia often carried a crew of 14 burly men and a boy whose sole job was to keep the well more or less dry.” In its 26 years racing, Britannia sailed 691 races and won 41 titles and cup races.

When Britannia’s racing days were over, wee Georgie fitted her with a half cabin and inboard motor and shortened her name to Brit. Wee Georgie trained umpires at Snails Bay Sabot Sailing Club and taught children how to sail. Jack Thomson, whose sons and daughter sailed at SBSSC recalls wee Georgie, at 80 years of age, saying “I am still learning to sail even now”.

Britannia was purchased by the National Maritime Museum in 1986, and restored by Arthur Griffith. It is currently on display at the Museum.










15. 23 Wharf Road, 19 Wharf Road and 17 Wharf Road. Nicholson Bros Harbour Transport

photo: Snails Bay Sailing Club Herons sailing in Snails Bay. Wharf Road in the background. Around 1967

Nicholson’s Harbour Transport began when John Nicholson aquired his first ferry, Promise, in 1911. That began the tradition of naming all their vessels with the prefix ‘Pro’. They moved to 19 Wharf Road, Snails Bay in 1913, and his sons, Stan and Eric, took over forming Nicholson Bros.

By 1925 they had 10 passenger-carrying launches, one ferry, a cargo lighter and a number of line handling launches. They began their first ferry service in 1939 to Balmain.

During World War 11 they converted private craft for war use.

The boatbuilders grew to run the largest private ferry service in the Harbour. They expanded to 23 and 17 Wharf Road, providing housing for some of their key workers.

Nicholson Bros also manufactured anchors and other equipment.

In 1968 Stannards acquired the business and continued to operate in Snails Bay until 2002


16. 5 Wharf Road: Fountain’s Boat shed

Boat builder Len Fountain began next door, then moved to what had been Bowcock’s yard in the early 1960s. Over his career his sons Cliff and Warren, who now run the yard, estimate he built more than 50 timber boats. The shed also provides boat repair services. They have never had to advertise, all their business has come from word of mouth.

Cliff, who was apprenticed to his father in 1960, said that at that time Snails Bay was “full of timber ships, old steam winches, a lot of harbour lighterage and a lot of logs being towed around the place, a lot harbour transports.”

Fountain’s Boat Shed retains the original buildings and slipway. It is last, and only, boat industry operating in Snails Bay.

Cliff and Warren no longer build boats, because people want fibreglass hulls. But they are building one last boat, a 42 footer, from Huon Pine and spotted gum, named after their grandmother. On the transom it says: Lena, Snails Bay










17. Ballast Point: Caltex Depot

photo: Niord (skipper Karen Armstrong). In the background behind Niord is Caltex on Ballast point. To the right is the ferry Sydney Queen, moored at Nicholson Bros. December 1962

Ballast Point was resumed in 2002, and developed into a public park.










photo: Tiger (skipper Larry Cargill) sailing into Snails Bay, Louisa Road on the right. November 1962.

All photos are by Gil Wahlquist.

April 11, 2014







Snails Bay Sabot Sailing Club

Saturday, January 11th, 2014


   The Clubhouse, 103 Louisa Road, Birchgrove, 1962

On Sunday morning, February 4, 1962, eight small sailing boats gathered for the first race of Snails Bay Sabot Sailing Club. In the 1960s Snails Bay was lined with boat-related industries, from the Caltex terminal on Ballast Point, the southern arm of the Bay, to Morrison and Sinclair on the tip of Long Nose Point on the northern side.

In between were several lighterages with their barges, a number of small boatsheds where craftsmen boat builders worked and Nicholson Brothers Ferries where the big old ferry, the Sydney Queen, was moored.

The Club was the initiative of one of the Brothers, Stan Nicholson. He not only donated five sabots so the underprivileged children of Balmain could enjoy their birthright to learn to sail, but he also very generously allowed the club to use the boatshed behind his house at 103 Louisa Road.

The Club that day was very much a local and a family affair. The Club hero and vice Commodore was “wee” Georgie Robinson. He built at least three of the sabots that started that first race: his son, Ron, was the starter; and his grandson, Alan Robinson, and granddaughter, Rhonda Magner sailed that first race.

The Sabot is a small boat, just 2.4 metres long and 1.14 metres wide. Back then they were simply constructed out of plywood, and most were made by the families who sailed them. They had one sail and two crew, a skipper and a sheethand. In later years children aged over 12 years could sail one up. They were open boats with no bouyancy: once they capsized they could only be righted with external help. They were a very good preparation for the 12, 16 and 18 foot boats many boys would go on to sail. They were also reminiscent of the wide-bellied six footers that Wee Georgie and Balmain identities like Charles “Chook” Fraser sailed in Snails Bay at the beginning of last century.

Word spread quickly, and when the second season opened there were 25 boats and 150 members. One of them, Atom, had been built by 13-year-old Nick Masterman, who went on to become an Australian representative sailor and renowned builder of wooden boats. Another new member was Rob Brown, who would crew Australia II when it won the America’s Cup in 1983.

Bruce Stannard argues the men who sailed the old open boats, the 18 footers like Wee Georgie’s Britannia, could be described as bluewater bushmen. He wrote that, while it might sound like a contradiction in terms, “in fact the rough and ready Sydney Harbour sailors did embody many of the characteristics which were so readily ascribed to their country cousins”.

He listed their courage and daring, “their reckless have-a-go spirit, their rough language, their intense personal loyalty and mateship” and their working class origins, and pointed out many crews came from the same families.

By the 1870s the open boat races were at least as popular as horse racing in Sydney, and perhaps the most popular Regatta of all was Balmain Regatta, held every year until the outbreak of World War 1 in 1914.

Wee Georgie’s Britannia was one of the most famous 18 footers on Sydney Harbour in the period between the wars.

Stannard reports Britannia carried 2,800 square feet of sail, carrying a “mainsail, balloon jib, spinnaker, watersail, ringtail, topsail and God alone knows what else.” The young Sabot sailors were in awe of the photographs of Britannia in full sail, and of the stories he told us about the six footers.

When Britannia’s racing days were over, wee Georgie fitted her with a half cabin and inboard motor. We knew her as Britm our starting boat. Britannia was purchased by the National Maritime Museum in 1986, and restored by Arthur Griffith, whose son Alan was a club champion in his Sabot Viking.

    Britannia, Wee Georgie is second from the right, 1962



Stan Nicholson, who was also the Commodore, named all his donated boats after wild flowers: Waratah, Wattle, Rock Lily, Boronia and Native Rose. His brother, Eric, a vice commodore, together with G. Carlson also donated a boat. It was given a name, Propellor, in keeping with the Nicholson Brothers’ habit of giving all their boats names with the prefix ‘Pro’. Propellor has been restored and is now on display at the Wharf 7 Maritime Heritage centre at Darling Harbour.

In the early days the Club operated in the shadow of the 18 footers. Races started at 9.30 on a Sunday morning, so they would finish in time for everyone to board the ferries and go and watch, or participate in the Sunday afternoon 18s race. This had its advantages.

Every Sunday morning the bookies for the 18s would gather at the Snails Bay wharf, waiting for the ferry to take them to the afternoon race. They took an interest in the young sailors.

A report in The Link, dated March 14, 1962 stated: “The Club would like to express its appreciation for the very fine gesture made by the Birchgrove Sea Wall supporters last Sunday by donating to the Club the sum of 10 guineas. Thanks Boys.”

A guinea was one pound one shilling, and 10 guineas was a handsome sum to donate in 1962.

That report in the Link also reported another notable event: “To the two girls, Misses J. Gillings and K. Middleton, congratulations on your first effort in the Native Rose. It won’t be long before you are winning races.”

Sailing in 12s, 16s and 18s was in those days before equal rights was a male-only affair. But Sabots enabled girls who could previously only come on board for ladies day races, to get their hands on the tillers. There was no shortage of girls keen to sail, and many did so with distinction.

Ardyn, known as Poss, Masterman went on to become Club Champion in 1966/67. The following year Vicki Gilling was Club Champion in Surprise.

Shipbuilding and the engineering trades were, for more than one hundred years, “the mainstay and mainspring of Balmain’s industrial life,” according to P.R Stephensen. In 1965 he wrote:

“The people of Balmain have a strong feeling of local pride, with traditions of toughness, cheerfulness, sportsmanship, and self-dependence, due to their peninsularity, which sets them a little apart from Sydney City; but their feeling of local pride is enhanced by the fact that Balmain has among its residents a larger proportion of workmen skilled in shipbuilding, engineering, stevedoring, and waterfront trades generally, than could be found in any other suburb of the Harbour frontages.”

But within a decade, the lifetime of the Club, Balmain changed. The waterfront industry that was the lifeblood of the suburb would shut down; the families that had lived for generations in the same streets would begin to move out and go in different directions, under the pressure of gentrification.

Max Solling and Peter Reynolds, in Leichhardt, on the Margins of the City, wrote that, between 1966 and 1971: “The proportion of blue-collar workers in the labour forces in Sydney’s inner suburbs fell by up to 15 per cent, compared with 5 per cent across the whole metropolis. At the same time the percentage of professional and upper white collar workers in the Sydney population rose 0.5%.” In Balmain it increased 6 per cent.

Stan Nicholson died in 1969 and the Club was evicted from his boatshed.

Morrison and Sinclair ceased work in 1970, and their site is now a park. By then Tay Lighterage and Clyde Lighterage had gone. Stannard Bros had taken over Nicholson Bros in January 1968.

The old boatsheds, industrial sites, the vacant lots and houses of Louisa Road, no matter how shabby, were skyrocketing in value and the fabric of the old suburb had changed.

After several years of temporary use of Dodds’ boatshed on Louisa Road, the Snails Bay Sabot Sailing Club was was welcomed on the other side of Iron Cove to become Drummoyne Junior Sailing Club in 1973.

Hundreds of children sailed at Snails Bay Sabot Sailing Club in the decade of its existence. Some went on to to greater sailing glory, others never put a foot in a boat again after their sixteenth birthday. All were privileged to share in the great sailing tradition of Balmain.


Bruce Stannard, Bluewater Bushmen, The Heritage Press, 1981

P.R Stephensen, The history and description of Sydney Harbour, Rigby Limited, 1966

Max Solling and Peter Reynolds, Leichhardt, on the Margins of the City, Allen & Unwin, 1997

 Published in the Penisula Observer, The Balmain Association, December 2013

Artist Jude Roberts: The River Makes its Mark

Thursday, June 13th, 2013

Jude Roberts gently tugs and lifts the end of a nine-metre roll of paper onto the banks of the Maranoa River. The rest of the roll lies partially submerged in the waters of a wide stretch, just upstream from the southern Queensland town of Mitchell.

In the late afternoon light, the river red gums lean towards their reflections in the still river, and Jude examines the marks the river has left on the paper. “That’s a lovely rich stain”, she points to a crimson mark edged with brown, “I don’t know what made it”. Other marks, like the sharp imprints of eucalypt leaves, clearly show their provenance.
read the rest at: http://oneriver.com.au/the-river-makes-its-mark/

Where does our food come from? Pigs and poultry.

Friday, January 25th, 2013

Broadcast on Ockham’s Razor ABC Radio National, January 6, 2013

People used to know where their food came from. They grew it and harvested it, or raised it and slaughtered it. However, the separation of people from their food sources has resulted in more than ignorance and misconceptions about how food is produced and has also resulted in massive waste. Returning to a more environmentally sustainable farm system would involve more than change the land, according to rural journalist Asa Wahlquist from Sydney.

Robyn Williams:  2012 saw plenty of discussion about emissions from cattle and pigs and about food waste. It was said that a third of the food we bought for Christmas and the festive season would end up in the tip. WASTED. What to do? Here’s Asa Wahlquist, winner of the Eureka Prize for writing on agricultural themes.
Asa Wahlquist:  When I was in primary school in inner Sydney in the late 1950s we lined up after lunch to walk between two bins. We placed our paper rubbish in one bin. The other was for food scraps which went to pig farms.  At home, our food scraps were fed to our chickens who supplied us with eggs. When they stopped laying my father would chop their heads off and we would have the very rare treat of chicken for dinner.
It’s probably illegal these days to chop the heads off chickens in the inner-city.  And people don’t need to resort to such measures to put chicken on the table. Chicken has gone from a luxury to an everyday food.
Andreas Dubs, the executive director of the Australian Chicken Meat Federation, calculates that 50 years ago chicken cost four times as much as it does today.  The extraordinary decline in the cost of chicken meat is due to the increased efficiency in the way in which the chicken converts feed into meat. In 1975 it took 64 days and 4.66 Kg of feed to produce a chicken weighing two kilograms.  Now it takes just 35 days and as little as 3.4 Kg of feed.
This is nothing short of a triumph for modern agriculture.  But there are several costs.  A growing alienation from the way our food is produced as chicken rearing moved from the backyard to industrial sheds; a dramatic increase in demand for grains and oilseeds; and all those food scraps that now pose a serious waste disposal problem.
In the coming year chicken meat consumption in Australia is expected to reach one million tonnes.  We now eat more chicken than red meat.  That shift incidentally, has registered on the national carbon footprint.  According to Ross Garnaut’s Climate Change Report, for every kilogram of beef 24 kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalent is produced.  Lamb produces 16.8 Kg.  The figure for port is 4.1 Kg of carbon dioxide equivalent per kilogram of meat and for chicken it is just 0.8 Kg.
Back in 1975, when I was studying plant breeding as part of a degree in agriculture, we visited a chicken farm.  As both of us – yes, we were a class of two, stood in a sea of chickens, our lecturer explained chicken genetics were as simple as plants.  But it was not quite as simple as that.  The rapid growth in chicken meat production per bird came at the expense of behaviour, leg strength and immunity.
A chicken grower I visited last year told me that 15 years or so ago his chickens were massive with tiny little legs, great big long toenails, no feathers on their backs and a very flighty temperament.  A major killer was scratches on the back of their unfeathered legs that became infected.  Nor did chicken farmers emerge unscathed.
But since then the emphasis has been on breeding for health and temperament rather than ever increasing size.  The result is a much more settled flock.  The chickens I saw last year allowed visitors to pick them up without incident and the farmer said he hasn’t had to use antibiotics on his chickens for ten years.
My family became pig farmers in a very modest way after they moved to the country to establish a vineyard.  My brother wanted a pig, so my parents purchased the champion sow from the local show, Big Julie. She was joined by our boar Kennedy and another sow who wandered in one day.  They were set up in open-air yards with access to a paddock where they could graze and we sometimes even created mud wallows.
Those pigs lived a very different life from the ones I observed on another university excursion.  This time it was the entire agriculture class, about 35 of us, mostly rowdy boys.  I still remember how they were all silenced as they filed into the piggery.  It was more factory than farm; the animals were confined, the mothering sows unable even to turn around.  Silently we observed the rows of tail-less pigs that would never see the sun, let alone ever be as happy as a pig in mud.
The first time it was my job to feed my brother’s pigs I was surprised to see meatmeal listed on the ingredients of their prepared feed.  Yes, pigs are omnivores.  One reason farmers detest feral pigs is they will kill and eat baby lambs.
Our family pigs ended up the way they all do.  Their yard was next to the shearing shed that became the winery and that was their death knell.  Our pork cuts had names for some time after that.  My father used to enjoy asking if we would like a slice of Kennedy.
In 2008 the price of grain doubled.  Aid agencies were unable to purchase all the grain they needed.  Some countries placed embargoes on grain exports and there were food riots in half a dozen countries. Grain production had fallen short due to a range of adverse climate events, including drought in Australia, as well as under-investment in grain research and development.
But there were two other factors at play.  Critics condemned the use of grain for fuel and questioned the large quantities of grain being fed to livestock rather than to people. As people’s standard of living rises they switch from grain-based diets to eating more protein.  Across China, Indonesia and other Asian countries the middle class is growing rapidly and with that the consumption of meat.
But all animals are not equal when it comes to converting feed into meat.  Beef requires 6 to 10 kilograms of feed to produce one kilogram of meat; lamb requires six to seven kilograms of feed; pork requires 3.5 to 4 kilograms, but chicken requires just 1.7 kilograms of feed to produce one kilo of meat.  That last figure goes a long way to explaining why chicken is now half the cost per kilograms of beef and why chicken consumption continues to rise.
But wait, feed does not necessarily mean grain.  Cattle and sheep can eat grass.  Traditionally chickens and pigs were an integral part of farms and households where their role was to produce protein from food scraps and farm waste. Today, disposing of food waste is a constant challenge, not to mention expense.  It ends up in dumps where it produces the greenhouse gas methane.
Pigs used to be fed swill which is generally defined as meat or meat products or anything that’s been in contact with meat or meat products.  This practice was banned in Australia in the 1950s due to the risk of diseases like swine fever and foot and mouth, which has not occurred in this country for over a century.  Both affect pigs, neither affects humans.
In Australia you can legally feed milk, eggs, fishmeal, manufactured dog and cat food, dry meat meal, non-meat bakery waste and fruit, vegetable and cereal waste to pigs if you jump through all the hoops, which include the possession of a so-called Pig Pass QA.  That effectively rules out all restaurants, hospitality and food service companies that have any meat products on their menu and makes it very hard for the remainder.
Tara Garnett from the UK’s Food Climate Research Network believes that although poultry and pigs are more efficient converters of plant energy than cattle and produce less greenhouse gas, they do have an environmental problem; they are more dependent on grains.  Instead she argues we should take what she calls an ‘ecological leftovers’ approach.  Rather than feeding livestock good quality grain, we should be feeding them by-products like molasses cake, brewer’s grains, vegetable residues and rice husks.
It does make sense to feed animals stuff we don’t or won’t eat; all that grain ruined by rain at harvest, the residues from food processing, the mountains of food waste.  In Australia household food waste alone amounts to 4 million tonnes a year, while Britons are estimated to throw out between 18 and 20 million tonnes of food per annum,
Simon Fairlie, a British journalist and farmer and author of Meat, a benign extravagance also makes the case for returning to feeding food waste to pigs.  He estimates that in the UK waste food could be used to produce one sixth of their total meat consumption.  But in the UK feeding food waste to pigs was banned in 2001 after the catastrophic outbreak of foot and mouth disease.
Until the 1990s only one third of pig feed in the UK consisted of grains that were fit for human consumption; the rest was made up of crop residues and food waste.  Since then the proportion of good grain in pig feed has doubled.  Fairlie says there are several reasons for this; the rules set by supermarkets and the domination of the feed industry by large corporations which can’t handle waste from many different sources.  But the most important is the ban on food waste that came in after the BSE or mad cow and foot and mouth crises.
The UK pork industry halved between 1998 and 2007.  Britons still eat the same amount of pork; only now much of it is imported.  Fairlie describes the feedlot beef industry in which cattle are removed from grazing on grasslands and instead fed on grain as, and I quote “one of the biggest ecological cock-ups in modern history”.  He argues “cattle are excellent converters of grass but terrible converters of concentrated feed like grain”.
Alan Bell, the former head of CSIRO Livestock Industries points out the use of grain to feed chicken and pigs must be factored into any comparison between the environmental cost of their meat and that of beef and lamb. Cattle and sheep have the distinct advantage of being able to digest grass, thanks to the bacteria in their rumen, but that also produces the potent greenhouse gas methane.  Cattle have been vilified for their emissions, but that’s only part of the story. 60% of the world’s farmland is grasslands; there simply is no other way to produce food from it apart from grazing ruminants.  Pigs and poultry don’t have rumens, so they need other more digestible sources of feed.
Bell argues that if you just assess the efficiency of ruminants in terms of energy they always come out worse because of their inefficient digestive systems.  But if you use a ratio of human inedible input to human edible output, then ruminants often come out on top.
Roger Campbell, the CEO of the Pork Co-operative Research Centre, tells me the pork industry would love to be able to make use of the food that we waste but it needs a system that eliminates any health risk to pig and to human.  And that means an agreement between a wide range of sectors, including vets, human health authorities and local government.  It is a problem way beyond just the pork industry.  It is, he says, a community problem.
Cattle, sheep, pigs and chickens, grass, grain and food waste are all part of a complex picture.  Change one part, for example by giving up eating beef, or ending the feeding of food waste to pigs and the impact is felt elsewhere in the system.  The great tragedy is most of us now live in cities and we are too far removed from the farm to see or feel these changes. Or, I fear, to make informed decisions about how our meat is produced.  After all, when was the last time you fed your vegetable scraps to a pig?
Robyn Williams:  Never. Only birds. Asa Wahlquist.