THE PEARL OF DICK­SON INLET

Re­stored lug­ger evokes nau­ti­cal ro­mance

Port Douglas & Mossman Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - Shane Ni­chols

THE pearling lug­ger, once pro­lific in north­ern wa­ters, is now per­ilously close to ex­tinc­tion. Just a few ex­am­ples of this mar­itime work horse re­main afloat in Queens­land, a sad tes­ti­mony to chang­ing times and the high main­te­nance de­mands of large wooden ves­sels.

Con­ser­va­tion, of ves­sels like this, and of the en­vi­ron­ment as a whole is what drives Jon Ben­nett and Iris Bom, whose lug­ger “HB” has been moored in Dick­son Inlet in re­cent months.

The cou­ple have painstak­ing re­stored the 60 ft “HB” and it is a sim­ply su­perb ves­sel now, beau­ti­fully kept and full of at­mos­phere, below deck es­pe­cially where bur­nished lamp light and nat­u­ral light warm the rich browns and dark reds of wood and fur­nish­ings in the liv­ing quar­ters.

Jon and Iris, the key fig­ures be­hind the Mar­itime Mu­seum based in Cairns, would like to moor their lug­ger near the public pon­toon on the Inlet, as a float­ing mu­seum and the cen­tre of their eco ed­u­ca­tion cam­paign.

It would be more or less op­po­site the renowned Grafton, the lug­ger that lies on the mud­flat on the north­ern side of the inlet.

The “HB” was built by a Ja­panese ship­wright on Thurs­day Is­land in 1938 for Harry Bow­den’s Bow­den Pearl Com­pany. Soon after, she was con­scripted into WWII ser­vice in the army. From the 1940s she re­turned to har­vest­ing pearl shell in the Tor­res Strait, an in­dus­try that flour­ished into the ’50s and ’60s with close to 50 lug­gers col­lect­ing mother of pearl.

“They had in­ter­est­ing prac­tices,” said Jon Ben­nett.

“For ex­am­ple, the skip­per, in a heav­ily weighted div­ing suit, would bounce along the sea bed watch­ing out for the best patches to ex­plore.

“He could steer the ves­sel by re­mote – us­ing ropes to in­di­cate to the helms­man where to steer to the best shell beds.”

The ex­ploits and ro­mance of this way of life in the Strait in­spired sev­eral fea­ture films, and in one them, “King of the Co­ral Sea” star­ring Chips Raf­ferty and Rod Tay­lor, the “HB” fea­tured on screen.

But the times were chang­ing and sheer bad for­tune played a part too.

Twin calami­ties in the ’70s wiped out the pearling in­dus­try in Tor­res Strait – the com­pet­ing cul­tured pearl in­dus­try set up in Broome, WA, and a mar­itime oil spill killed the East Coast pearl blood­stock.

Jon Ben­nett has spent a life afloat. Re­turn­ing to Aus­tralia after many years in the su­pery­acht in­dus­try, he ac­quired the “HB” in 1993 and set about fix­ing her up.

The flood­able wet-well was a ready made space for con­ver­sion to an­other cabin area, which ac­counts for why the “HB” to­day is so well served for cabin space.

Jon and Iris use the “HB” as a plat­form for mar­itime his­tory and also as a plat­form for ed­u­cat­ing the public about the Great Bar­rier Reef and eco­log­i­cal is­sues.

Most of their ex­ten­sive mar­itime mu­seum is ware­housed in Cairns, so they want the “HB” to be the cen­tre­piece of a Lug­gers Land­ing on the banks of Dick­son Inlet.

They in­vite any­one in­ter­ested in their project to con­tact them on 0412 712 042.

Pic­tures: SHANE NI­CHOLS

Beau­ti­fully re­stored and main­tained, the Queens­land lug­ger “HB” in Dick­son Inlet

Iris Bom (at right) talks to a guest in the at­mo­spheric and charm­ing main sa­loon

Nat­u­ral fin­ishes and goods are favoured ev­ery­where

Jon Ben­nett

Pic­ture: SUPPLIED

HB in a for­mer life

Film ro­mance of the pearling era

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