Keeping alive the history of our humble tugboats

All aboard: Reference services librarian Jeff Stonehouse with Ian Goulding and Lyn Workman.
All aboard: Reference services librarian Jeff Stonehouse with Ian Goulding and Lyn Workman.

In the era when river systems were our highways, the humble tugboat played an integral part in our community.

From the accepted role of guiding larger vessels safely into port, tugboats also transported sporting teams to compete against neighbouring towns or took residents upriver for day trips and – in the case of Port Macquarie – out to sea for fishing expeditions.

And it is those background stories that drew Port Macquarie residents Lyn Workman and Ian Goulding to research and build some eight tugboats that are currently on display at the Port Macquarie library.

Mr Goulding said tugboats enjoyed an intriguing history in relation to Port Macquarie and across most of Australia.

“Lyn does the research work and sources photographs of tugboats that plied their trade in our area before I build them to scale,” he said.

“It is not just the vessels themselves through. The backstory can include the captains, the crew and where and how they plied their trade.

“Unfortunately, some of the stories are not always happy. For instance, Port Macquarie was considered a dangerous port to enter and there are many cases were boats were lost on our bar.

It is not just the vessels themselves through. The backstory can include the captains, the crew and where and how they plied their trade.

Ian Goulding

“Tugboats in Port Macquarie were used to take travellers up to Wauchope on day trips, and to take sporting teams for an overnight trip to Wingham and even up to Crescent Head during the popular mullet run.

“And back in the day when Port Macquarie did not have a hospital, a tugboat would be used as an ambulance to transport a patient to the Taree hospital. They were even used for search and rescue missions.”

The pair said they were driven by a desire to keep alive the history of the area.

Mrs Workman said tugboats were also prominent in the transportation of timber products to various markets.

“They were essential to the lifeblood of every community,” she said. “They were tasked with the toughest of jobs. 

“I just love shipping and wanted to be involved in help ensure their remarkable history was not lost.”

The pair both nominated Undaunted – a wooden steam tug – as their favourite vessel of the exhibition.

Built in 1897, she was responsible for taking passengers out to the roadstead to meet larger vessels standing off, unable to enter the harbour area and assisting steamers from entering the port.

In 1903 she carried the governor and Lady Rawson for local vice-regal celebrations organised by the then mayor. However, she was also stranded many times on the shifting sand shoals in the harbour.

To coincide with the display, the library’s pre-school story time on August 22 and August 23 at 10.30am will focus on boat stories.

The display ends on August 26.