The slipyards were my favourite place to play. Always empty on a Saturday afternoon, I would walk from home down Trumpeter Street to the entrance to Purdon and Featherstone’s yard, the largest on Battery Point. The yard was very full and active, particularly during the war years when they were building large wooden hospital vessels for army use around the Pacific Islands. The other slipways were as busy and full of quite interesting boats, often being worked on by the owners. The smell of the yards, timber, pine, oils, paint and the sight of the old winch machinery was very heady for a youngster and I loved it. None of the dividing fences all along the foreshore were in good condition so it was so easy to go from one yard to the other through fences or under jetties at the right tide.
The Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania had their foreshore property next to Purdon and Featherstone and there were two jetties with small storage sheds along each jetty, with dinghy davits for all the yachts moored out in the bay. Summertime was a buzz there, but it was fairly quiet in the winter. The next yard heading south was previously owned by old Tucker Abel and soon to be occupied by Max Creese. Next to that was originally the Ross Patent slip. A very large and long cutting into the weathered dolerite rock going from the waterline back to Napoleon Street and at the head of the slip cutting, a winch house then used as a storage area. The original steam boiler is still in the ground, although the wooden building burnt down in the 1970s.
At the water end, the old buildings were still in use by Bill Burnett and his sons Bill, Bunny and Bob. They operated their two fishing boats, ‘Aone’ and ‘Frolic’, from the jetty on site and wheeled the catch of couta or scallops along the jetty on a wheeled trolley on rails and into the sheds for splitting (scallops) or with couta, gutting and readying for sale or the smokehouse, again on site. This is where I would be sent to buy them – couta by the piece (whole) or scallops by the hundred (counted into your own billycan).
Jock Muir had yet to start his business at the next yard (1948) and the next had no dividing fence but you had to be careful because Norm Taylor had not long taken over the yard from Charlie Lucas and didn’t like kids around. Saturday afternoon was fairly safe because in the summer, you guessed he would be at the races and wintertime at the football. The next fence divided Taylor’s and Perce Coverdale who was often working in his shed and usually left the door open. Perce usually worked with a bed of Huon pine shavings at his feet which was puzzling because he always had a pipe in his mouth, usually alight. The one thing that still fascinates me about the slipyards was that prior to the sewerage line being put through in the 1970/80s, the toilets were boxes built out over the water, with a narrow plank to walk along to get there. Taylors and Coverdales were side by side with only the fence between them, just like ‘long drops’ except that at high tide the floor was sometimes covered with water.
You had to walk around the end of Percy’s shed and under his jetty to get to the last little slipway, that of the Batt family, famous for their involvement with the Yacht Club and in particular, Skipper Batt’s designing of the 21ft restricted class of ‘Tassie’.
Winter was also a great time to go to what was to be Jock Muir’s yard, as I found out some years later, the original yard of the great John Watson. Up at the head of the cutting was a stand of small trees, a little like willows, and the ground around there was all clay. It was fun to dig out golf ball sized lumps of clay, put them