South Australia’s ketches linked town and country from the nineteenth century to the 1970s. They carried farm products, grain and minerals to the city and took anything to rural ports, from groceries to machinery.
They were rough working craft crewed by tough seafarers. Small vessels, they had centre boards instead of keels and flat bottoms so they could negotiate shallow waters. The ketches were dubbed the mosquito fleet because of their ability to flit across the mudflats.
The fleet peaked in the 1880s and 1890s when more than 70 ketches and schooners traded out of Port Adelaide. They endured past the introduction of steamships, railways and roads, to remain one of the last fleets of commercial sailing vessel working the Australian coast. In the 1950s there were thirty ketches working out of Port Adelaide and it was as late as 1982 that the last two working ketches, Nelcebee and Falie, were retired from service.