The Port’s Tug

Written by Cassandra Morris | September 11th, 2012

Yelta is a key part of South Australia’s industrial heritage, the last working steam tug in the State. In keeping Yelta steaming the volunteer crew preserve rare trades and offer passengers a glimpse of the power behind the industrial revolution.

Yelta was built in 1949 by Sydney’s Cockatoo Docks and Engineering Company for Ritch and Smith which was a subsidiary of the Adelaide Steamship Company. Yelta towed ships in and out of Port Adelaide until 1976 when it was retired and purchased by the Port Adelaide branch of the National Trust. Sadly, Yelta was berthed outside the CSR Refinery at the Sugar Wharf and left unattended with little maintenance for nearly a decade. Put up for sale again, the SA Maritime Museum made a bid for the historic vessel and, in 1985, added the tug to their collection.

Volunteers were asked for to help restore Yelta to its former glory. After extensive restoration and refitting, including preparing the vessel to modern safety standards, Yelta was relaunched. Currently Yelta steams the Port River several times a year, allowing passengers to experience a piece of Port Adelaide’s history, the Port River itself, and life onboard the vessel.

After 27 years in the Maritime Museum’s collection, Yelta still holds many secrets. In an attempt to broaden our knowledge of the vessel, I investigated some questions that were often-asked but still unanswered and untangled some facts that were confused by newspaper articles and photographs. One of my key goals was to resolve details of the colour scheme and the historical presentation of the vessel so the Museum could review its conservation plan for the vessel. I also wanted to paint a richer picture of the general life of the tug and its crew. I researched slipping reports, requisition reports, monthly maintenance reports, museum documentation and log books, in addition to newspaper articles and photographs. I interviewed two former crew members to find a personalised view of the tug and its working life.

Cassandra Morris onboard ST Yelta.

Cassandra Morris onboard ST Yelta.

Through this research, I produced a timeline of events in the life of the tug and changes to its configuration and presentation. From 1948 to 1953 Yelta featured in newspapers across Australia, linked with the movement of many vessels in and around Port Adelaide. Slipping and requisition reports follow, from 1956, providing details on maintenance and changes made to the vessel. Critically, these reports detail the tug’s colour schemes through it working life: red below the waterline, black hull above the waterline, green or red decks, and white deck structures. Two major changes to deck construction occurred in the mid-to-late 1960s. Yelta’s wheelhouse was overhauled in 1964, downsizing the cabin and adding starboard and portside entrances. Furthermore, in 1967, the entrance to the crew’s accommodation was changed from a hatch to a deckhouse. These two major changes assisted in the approximate dating of photographs held by the museum.

Photos below show Yelta at major turning points in its life.

Blog post submitted by Cassandra Morris. Cassandra completed the Yelta project as part of the Flinders University Industry Placement Program at the SA Maritime Museum (June-August 2012).

ST Yelta under construction at Cockatoo Island.

ST Yelta under construction at Cockatoo Island.

Yelta after deck changes. Note changes to the wheelhouse and the addition of a deck house aft. (Post 1967).

Yelta after deck changes. Note changes to the wheelhouse and the addition of a deck house aft. (Post 1967).

Yelta outside the CSR Refinery. The tug can be seen here painted many colours, occurring after its retirement. (Post 1977).

Yelta outside the CSR Refinery. The tug can be seen here painted many colours, occurring after its retirement. (Post 1977).


Mr Bond’s photographic studio

Written by Lindl Lawton | 19 May 2017

Port Adelaide was a defiantly working class suburb in the first half of the 20th century.

Wharfies lived from week to week, reliant on the competitive pick-up system to feed their families.  Nevertheless local families marked rites of passage – weddings, births, graduations, first communions, sons leaving for war, and sporting victories― by forking out for a pricey portrait at Mr Bond’s Studio.

Albert Ernest Bond was listed as photographer in Commercial Road, Port Adelaide, from 1901. In the 1930s the studio shifted to St Vincent Street. His subjects posed, often dolled up in their Sunday best, in front of his studio backdrop: a painted canvas depicting a window opening on to rolling hills and woodland with plush velvet curtains that could be drawn or opened.

The South Australian Maritime Museum owns the Bond Studio Glass Negatives collection – 1500 portraits on glass taken from the turn of the century to the 1930s. It provides a beautiful and often moving snapshot of a community at a specific moment in time.  Each portrait bears the surname of the sitter only – although many of these names are still familiar in Port Adelaide. All the photos have been digitised and often serendipitously, the curators glean a little more information on their subjects.

Several capture athletic young men and women clad in saggy woollen one pieces posting next to an ornate shield. This trophy, awarded to the winners of the gruelling long distance Swim Through the Port, is in our collection.

This portrait is labelled “Nelson”.

One image labelled Manual, of a glamorous young woman in a dance costume, featured on the front of a History Festival program. The sitter’s daughter saw the photos and contacted us with more information on the story of her mum Gladys Sheehan who was fostered out to the Greek Manual family in 1923 when she was five. Gladys assisted Harold, one of the brothers, to teach ballroom dancing.

It seems Mr Bond had a stash of fancy dress costumes in the studio as many of his child sitters pose in Rosella and Bryant and May brand boxes, gumnut costumes, and dressed as Mexican bandits and cowboys.

This portrait is labelled “Ireland”.

This portrait is labelled “Dowsett”.

In another portrait, a young boy poses awkwardly with his ventriloquist doll (see below).

An email from someone who had glimpsed the portrait online suggested that as an adult Cliff Howe eventually made a business of ventriloquism. Sure enough, we turned up Cliff and his doll “Jimmy’s” s calling card at the National Museum, with his tagline “ Yours for Mirth”.

(Header image courtesy of National Museum of Australia)


Sir James Hardy’s ‘Black Bottle’ Victory

Written By Adam Paterson | 21 April 2017

In late March, 1966, many of Australia’s best sailors were joined by 27 international competitors for the 505 world cup held at Brighton and Seacliff Yacht Club. The 505 class (reflecting its 5.05 metre length) originated in France in the 1950s. Among the competitors was the then 33-year-old South Australian Vigneron Sir James Hardy who was one of a group of sailors who introduced the class to South Australian racing.

Hardy was sailing his 505 Black Bottle, named after a top shelf brandy produced by the famous family winery, and crewed by himself and Max Whitnall. Black Bottle was build by renowned South Australian boat designer and builder, David Binks, who pioneered the use of fibreglass in the construction of racing yachts including the 505.

Noc-too sailing. Fred Neill and crew of Doug Giles and Leo Dunstall won the 1954 Australian Championship ‘Stonehaven Cup’ for 12ft Cadets. It was the first time as SA boat won this Cup. South Australian Maritime Museum Photographic Collection 16077

Racing over a week, the best five results of each crew were counted. The first day of racing was very calm; Canberra Sailor Rod Dalgliesh delighted in the conditions ‘just like the old lake (Burley Griffin), light and fluky’. It wasn’t to last: on day two extremely strong winds cut the fleet by two thirds.

Charles Nichol skipper of the yacht Eleanor was especially unlucky. Capsized and hampered by several woollen jumpers, he and his crew, Greg Marshall struggled to right the boat. He recalled: “I was just about to give up when I grabbed the boat and managed to get in. Greg couldn’t get in, so I pulled him in by the hair.”

Nichol’s trails had only just begun, though. After withdrawing from the race, a particularly strong wind gust lifter his yacht off a tailer and the mast became caught in some power lines, burning the stays and part of the mast.

Conditions didn’t hamper Danish Olympic Gold medallist Paul Elvstrøm who won the first two hearts; for the remainder of the week, he and Hardy benefited from stronger winds. Hardy, who after a childhood sailing at Brighton Seacliff knee the local conditions well, posted strong results.

Nocroo (foreground) and Black Bottle (middle) at the 2014 Festival of Boats, Planes and Trains in Lipson Street, Port Adelaide

Going into the final race, Hardy was just ahead of Elvstrøm on points, needing to finish second to secure the title. Characteristically, Elvstrøm won the start and led by nearly two minutes early in the race, whilst Hardy dropped back to 19th. Moving through the fleet, Hardy eventually finished second, but only by a boat length ahead of fellow South Australian Bob Lanyon.

Hardy later recalled: “It was great, because we won the first world championship for an international class held in Australia. That, I think, set me up for being invited to sail in ocean racing and America’s Cup yachts after that.”

How the Canberra Times reported the victory

Sir James donated the Black Bottle along with his sharpie Tintara and his cadet dinghy Nocroo to the South Australian Maritime Museum in 1986. The museum also owns Noc-too, built by Sir James for Fred Neill, using the same plans as his own dinghy, Nocroo.

(Header image from South Australian Maritime Museum photographic collection 16076)

Norma, the headless figurehead

Written By Lindl Lawton | 7 April 2017

Norma once adorned the prow of a four-masted barque built in Glasgow in 1893 that carried vast cargoes of wheat from South Australia’s Gulf ports to Europe.

Fashioned after a druid priestess from Welsh mythology, the figurehead was cast adrift 110 years ago on April 21, 1907.

Groaning under the weight of 31,000 bags of wheat, Norma was anchored off Semaphore waiting for favourable winds when the iron barque, Ardencraig, misjudging distances through the pelting rain, struck it midships. Norma sank within 15 minutes.

All the crew managed to escape the sinking ship except for  the ship’s carpenter who was somehow missed in the chaos.

Ardencraig at Port Adelaide after sinking Norma, 1907. Image courtesy AD Edwardes Collection, State Library of South Australia SLSA: PRG 1373/24/43

Later that same morning, the steamer Jessie Darling misread warning signals from the Ardencraig and steamed to its assistance. The shallow wreck of the Norma ripped a gaping hole in its hull and it sank within eight minutes, settling on top of the Norma.

The crew was saved and the vessel was subsequently repaired and refloated. In the ensuing year, several other ships came to grief on the shallow wreck and, acknowledging the dangers it posed, the authorities decided to dynamite the site. It is unknown whether poor Norma lost her head in the collisions or in the subsequent blast.

Norma’s headless figurehead. Image courtesy South Australian Maritime Museum Collection (HT941009)

The figurehead was discovered in the mangrove swamps at the Ships’ Graveyard, Gawler Point, and donated to the Port Adelaide Nautical Museum, becoming part of a collection now owned by the SA Maritime Museum.

The figurehead after rescue from the swamp. Image courtesy SA Maritime Museum Collection

SS Governor Mugrave with spars from the wreck of Norma, Port Adelaide, 1907. Image courtesy Searcy Collection, State Library of South Australia SLSA: PRG 280/1/1/299

Wreck of the Norma at Outer Harbour. The wreck is now a popular dive site, a plaque marking its location. Image courtesy photographer Karolyn Gauvin

The Museum holds 17 figureheads – the largest collection in the Southern Hemisphere.

They were sourced and acquired over a period of 50 years by the energetic Vernon Smith, Honorary Curator of the Nautical Museum.

(The header image courtesy of AD Edwardes Collection, State Library of South Australia SLSA: PRG 1373/6/71)


Port Adelaide’s wool stores

By Lindl Lawton | 24 February 2017

Lumbering 19th Century wool stories, their jarrah floors steeped in lanolin, line Port Adelaide’s Santo Parade. Vacant for several decades, they are now earmarked for redevelopment – loft-style conversions for those with a penchant for industrial chic.

Once South Australia’s entire wool clip was siphoned through these buildings en-route to the looms of Europe.

The colony’s most powerful graziers formed Elder Stirling and Company in 1856 and build their imposing stone store near the Port River. By the late 1870s, the Port was the hub of the lucrative wool trade.

Men baling wool, Port Adelaide wool store, about 1950. Photo courtesy State Library of South Australia

Bales were lined up and opened for buyers to value. About five kilos would be pulled out and dropped on the floor. Post sale, labourers stuffed this wool back by hand – a tricky job on heavy bales.

Mike Smith, a stock agent with Wesfarmers Dalgety, recalled: “The rookies would always be relegated to the oddments section which included stained crutchings, dags, and maggoty, dead and flyblown wools.”

Wool was a light but bulky cargo, so the stores were also responsible for ‘dumping’ wool – compacting it with hydraulic presses to reduce the space it consumed in a ship’s hold.

The wool boom continued through the 1880s. More sprawling brick and stone stores were constructed to the south of New Port, robust enough to withstand the heft of wool presses and thousands of bales from the ever expanding clip.

Other companies shifted in: Goldsbrough Mort, Bagot Shakes and Lewis, Dalgety and Luxmoore, and the South Australia Farmers Co-op.

A demand for woollen uniforms during the Korean War in the 1950s saw the last boom. Synthetic materials gradually supplanted natural fibres and the market collapsed completely in 1990.

The wool stores today. Photo: Tony Kearney

(Header image: Workers ‘dumping wool’, Port Adelaide, 1923. Photo courtesy State Library of South Australia)

Anna and Fredrick Gadd – mariners

Written by Jan Perry, Museum volunteer, with Gabrielle Sexton, Museum volunteer

Anna Gadd, her spouse Johan Frederik Gadd and her young son Julius Gadd, of Abo/Turku Finland spent many years at sea, sailing all over the world and, in particular, to  South Australia. Their ships, three and four masted, brought goods to Australia and carried grain from South Australia’s wheat belt to Europe.

Anna and Fred kept in touch with friends they’d made in Adelaide whilst in South Australian ports loading grain and wool for Europe. Their friends were Vera  and David Deex.  David Deex worked at Weman’s ships’ chandlery and sailmakers in Lipson Street. The South Australian Maritime Museum occupies the Weman’s building now. The Gadd letters are part of the Museum’s archival collection, having been donated by the Deex Family.

The letters were written by Anna’s husband Frederik between 1907 and 1930. They are addressed to the Deex family. The two families had met through the business of shipping, so they are full of news about shipping. Vera and David Deex lived in Durham Terrace, Alberton, near Port Adelaide.

The letters reflect the reality of life, and death, at sea in the first quarter of the 20th century, especially for mariners  on sailing ships engaged in the merchant trade across the globe. In the first letter, of 1904, Annie, Fred and Julius are in Port Victoria. They are all in good health but concerned about desertions from the Finnish ships. Fred asks for sweets and chocolate to be sent to his ship. Fred reminds David to write to the Russian Consul.

In London in 1907, (letter 2) Captain Gadd mentions that their most recent passage (from Australia to London) was very long, having  taken 156 days, and that Julius has nearly lost his left hand due to an accident with a boom.

In letter 3 from Cardiff in 1916, Anna, Fred and Julius Gadd are living ashore and  looking for work. The Cambrian Princess, their former ship, has been sold in Rio and they have brought two passenger steamers to England ‘to run on the East African coast’. He writes: ‘It is risky to move about here; it is no fun….when coming from Havre, in the “Matheus”, (we had) a German submarine alongside – but he had no time to fire at us, as a British patrol boat came up and frightened him away, so you see it was a close shave for us.’

Back in Finland, and retired, letter 4  is from Abo on August 1, 1927. The Deex family have been sending the South Australian newspapers and Fred is grateful. He laments the demise of the sailing ship and describes how he and Anna felt when they had to ‘break up’ their ship Rowena in Antwerp. He tells of other ‘old’ captains who have retired in his district – ‘Old Helsten’ of  “Lindesfarne” is bank manager at Nystad and is married to a young girl and got a 4 year old daughter, just fancy the old boy, someone said poor Helsten.We were together at Macabi Island (Peru) when the girl was born’.

In 1928 and still at home in Abo/Turku, Finland Anna and Fred have purchased a steamship the Aura. Anna has had two operations within a month on her Adam’s Apple. Fred  has sent the South Australian newspapers to the Harbour authorities so that they can see how the strikers are to be managed. ..’we have what we call “Skyddskar” this is all good and true men young and old fully armed just as soldiers and trained, we are about 400,000 men and women nurses and servants. ..This guard takes the kink out of the bolshevists backbone, every one of this guard lives at home and has their arms always at home……this guard is kept going by private money gathered by ordinary people and women’s needlework and so on.’

By November 1930 Fred Gadd is asking ‘but what has become of Australia now?…it is on account of all the Russians.’ (There have been wharf strikes in Australia.)  Anna has had three operations and radium treatment in Stockholm since their last letter. She has a throat tumor. In this letter he gives the following list of Finnish mariners en route to Australia.

The Finn sailors are on the way out to you again, mostly to Port Lincoln.

“Archibald Russel” 20/9 for Port Lincoln

“Herzogin Cecilie” 19/10 for Port Lincoln

“Lawhill” 12/9 for Port Lincoln

“Melbourne” 24/9 for Port Lincoln

“Viking” 6/9 for Port Lincoln from Callao

“Favell” 2/10 for Port Lincoln

“Hougomont” 7/8 from Vancouver to Port Natal

“Killoran” 27/8 from Copenhagen to Delgoa Bay

“Penang” 26/9 was at Luderitz Bay

“Pommern” 8/9 to Cape Town

“Winterhude” 2/8 to Beira, Southeast Africa

‘Some of them sailors that are bound to S. Africa I expect will also come to Australia.’

Gladys in Quarantine

The Torrens Island Quarantine Station (TIQS) story continues to unfold with the discovery of the diary of Gladys Ward at the State Library of South Australia. Gladys was a passenger on Strathaird in August 1938. She  was quarantined at TIQS after another passenger died of smallpox on-board.

Strathaird steamed into Outer Harbour flying the yellow flag on 28 March 1938. Twelve passengers were taken off the ship and installed at the station, where they were vaccinated against the disease by Chief Quarantine Officer Doctor F.W.A. Ponsford.

A lifelong diarist, Gladys recorded her time at the station on the back of ship’s stationery. She recalls that newspaper reporters and press photographers travelled alongside them, taking photos and collecting stories as they were taken to the quarantine station. Gladys’ recollections are invaluable to historians as they allow us to experience the quarantine process through her eyes.

Transcription from the diary of Gladys Ward, March 1938, Courtesy State Library of South Australia:

Sunday Morning

Breakfast 8:30

My Coat; community dressing gown

Telephone call to Mum. Bruce also.

10:30 Bath preparations

12 Baths in Bathing Block

3 divisions           1. Strip, leave clothing; pass into next cubicle

                            2. Bath in yellow mixture—pass on

                           3. Dress

Medical Inspection—vaccination particulars.

Hair drying in sun:


Visited Baggage room, collected ‘Blue Bag’

Arrival of launch with mails and Doctor

Went for Med Inspection.

Gladys’ stay was short—only 10 days. Her time at the station seemed pleasant. She writes that they had a hot three course meal for dinner and were able to make phone calls to loved ones. The TIQS breakfast menu from 2 April 1938 is held by the SA Maritime Museum (HT93.868). Although listed choices are not to most modern tastes, it looks both filling and nutritious.

The other included images are Gladys Ward’s diary from her arrival at Torrens Island and an archival photograph of passengers outside the fumigation store in 1937 (B61388). Both images are courtesy of the State Library of South Australia.

Stay tuned for more stories of Torrens Island Quarantine Station as we continue to uncover the island’s histories and mysteries.

Archie’s Coxswains

Without its team of qualified coxswains, South Australian Maritime Museum’s historic launch Archie Badenoch wouldn’t be able to leave its berth with regular groups of excited school children on board. It is important to mention is that the coxswains and crew are all volunteers. The ex-navy, ex-water police launch is surveyed to carry 24 passengers.  One of the conditions of operation is that the vessel is skippered by a person with a coxswain’s certificate. Our pool of six or seven qualified volunteers is drawn mainly from retired sailors who were previously employed as master mariners, trawler skippers, Department of Marine and Harbours coxswains and merchant seamen.

Archie, as our launch is affectionately nicknamed, is involved throughout the year in a busy education program, taking students down the Port River on trips that form part of their full day of fun and learning at the museum.  During the cruises, the coxswains and crew take the children on a voyage back to an era when the river was a bustling waterway, explaining the port’s interesting history. If they are lucky, they might even spot one of the Port River estuary’s unique dolphins.

In November 2017, Archie celebrated its 75th birthday. Thanks to the Maritime Museum’s regular maintenance program and the launch’s dedicated team of coxswains and crew, we are certain to celebrate many more in years to come.

Typical of Archie Badenoch’s team of qualified coxswains is Hank van de Water. Before retiring, Hank spent 40 years with the port authority skippering dredges, tugs, motorised barges and launches like the Port’s hydrographic survey vessel, Pathfinder.

Archie Badenoch was built in Port Adelaide during World War II to a design called ‘40-foot AWBs’ (Auxiliary Work Boats). Over 100 were built in Australia for the three Armed Services. Archie is one of the few survivors still going strong!

To book a school excursion on Archie, contact the museum at 08) 8207 6255. Public trips are available during school holidays, and private tours on request.

Special thanks to Archie‘s sponsors that help keep her afloat: Starfish Developments and Marina Adelaide.

Dead Man and the Canoe (Portland Canal)

I was walking the line behind Port Dock Station
the old woolstores gave a strange vibration
strapped up with steel, wood beams and bricks
it was about a  time I almost missed
when a world was dying, old ways of working being eclipsed

the path stretched before me smoothed by tyres and men and bikes
a smooth rubber track sweet and round without a crack
all the way up and back to Black Diamond Corner
would I ever feel that love again

down by the canal my brother and I went
just to build a canoe we needed timber that bent
we passed a man shuffling along the outer edge of the wharf

you could see the rickety pile hanging like a loose tooth by a thread
and when we came back that man was dead
the newsman said he’d mis-stepped and hit his head
they were dragging him out with a canvas hoop
as we walked on by we were worried about the loot

did that man face a lot of turmoil and strife
as I watched I wondered if he had a wife
you don’t have to go too far to see death in life

S. Perry, 2013

Poem submitted by Curatorial Volunteer Jan Perry

Notes on the attached image of the Portland Canal: Rosewater Amateur Swimming Club can be seen, as can SA Implements (makers of farm machinery). This photograph was taken just before the canal was filled in so that a supermarket could be built there. It shows Mr McCormack being towed in his boat, by a person rowing a dinghy. Two children sit in the dinghy with the rower. Earlier, the canal had an extra arm that formed an ‘L’ shape near Commercial Road. Ketches used to moor up there.

Thanks to Neil McCormack and Norm Butcher.

Miss Kate Hutton: Outer Harbor’s ‘Goat Lady’

Motorists travelling to Outer Harbor in the 1940s and 1950s would invariably have to contend with a horde of livestock across the roadway near Taperoo. This odd impediment and hindrance to free passage was Kate Hutton’s substantial goat herd.

Miss Hutton lived in a small red house made of galvanised iron, behind Lady Gowrie Drive, near the current entrance to the North Haven marina.  Kate and her brother Charles came to Australia from Scotland in the early 1900s.  It is unclear when she set up her goat farm on the Le Fevre Peninsula, but she struggled on with her harsh life, tending her animals for more than twenty years.

Kate was a short, stooped woman of slight build and wore her hair in a grey bun.  Almost every day she could be seen wearing the same cardigan and dress, Wellington boots and a chaff bag for an apron.  She nearly always ambled along with the assistance of a wooden staff.  Those who knew her well described her as a kindly soul with brown, leathery skin, a result of years doing battle with the elements.  Her basic little abode had no electricity or running water and no close neighbours.  When the wind whipped up off the sea and over the sand hills, the box-thorn bushes beside her walls would screech back and forth over the ironwork, creating an eerie sound.

Miss Hutton and her beloved goats were often the focus of controversy. It is said that she used her rich Scottish accent to sway those who she saw as being out to get rid of her goat farm and considerable animal herd.  But to the many tourists who passed nearby the assortment of goats was a great delight; to stop and feed the swarming creatures scraps of bread, or almost anything at all that could be considered ‘edible’.

It was said that Kate would often sell her young goats to passing crew members from the many P&O ships that called in at Outer Harbor.  The small sums she received in payment helped to make ends meet as she struggled to subsist with basic means.

In the 1960s, the goat farm disappeared: a victim of creeping urban development.  But Kate Hutton, the ‘goat lady’, remained as a truly memorable character to all those who had regularly passed by her farm, or stopped to feed her constantly hungry and friendly herd of goats.