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
on the end of a whippy stick and shoot them across the gully at school mates on the other side who enjoyed the fun as much as you did. It was no fun on your own, but with two or three on each side it made for a terrific Saturday afternoon. No one was injured, but today adults would stop this on safety issues.
The other Saturday summer interest was to walk down to Castray Esplanade where the yacht races started from a control box. The box sat at the very edge of the rocky foreshore with an outer starting buoy about hundred metres offshore. When the sea breeze was in, it was exciting to sit on the rocks and watch the yachts sail in close on their port tack and throw about very close inshore to make the starting line right on the gun and head out on the starboard tack (right of way). The noise of the slapping sails and yells of the skipper and crew were all a part of about three quarters of an hour of the starting line excitement. From then on the yachts all got mixed up with each other in different classes and I lost interest and would go into Princes Park for a play or to the old fortification tunnel, which at that time was still open. When no one else was around, it was both exciting and scary to go into it. The tunnel was originally built as explosives storage not long after the settlement of ‘Hobart Town’.
The highlight of the year, of course, was the arrival of Santa Claus. He would leave his headquarters in the Cascade area on his wonderful coach drawn by six beautiful white horses, drive around the South Hobart area, past Albuera Street school, along St. Georges Terrace and down Colville Street past our house. What could be more wonderful! It would always be during our lunch hour and all the kids, and usually their mothers, would be lined up at the front fences to watch and cheer. This happened every year. There was only one Santa and he would be installed at Brownell’s Emporium in the city and there was never any confusion about Santa and whether or not he was real.
We were always sent to Sunday school at St. George’s Church on a Sunday morning. Neither Mum, Dad nor any of their families were religious from what I can recall, but it was the kids’ role to go along each week. Church was well attended in the 1940s and Sunday school was always full. We would go into the Church for a short period, then move into the hall where a short service was followed by about ten individual classrooms spaced around the sides of the hall. The first Minister I remember was Mr L Nash, followed by Mr Bennett. Mr Nash was quite stern and I didn’t like him as much as I did Mr Bennett. Some of the teachers took themselves too seriously and one lived in one of the row of houses almost at the top of Napoleon Street, right opposite the laneway down to Perce Coverdale’s slip. One of the other boys and I went there one night after I had taken a reel of black cotton from Mum’s sewing drawer, quietly tied one end to his door knocker and went down the lane and hid. We managed to pull the cotton and he answered the door three times before he realised, felt and broke the cotton. He was angry and I thought, ‘What would we do if he came down the lane and chased us?’