THE loss of permanent major shipbuilding in Newcastle Harbour came as a shock amid bitter disappointment.
Residents still recall vessels being built at Carrington Slipways beside the old bridge off Wickham's Hannell Street leading onto "the island".
Well before that though, was the busy Callen ship repair yard in Stockton. In colonial times it was in what later became Punt Road.
Then there was the now long defunct state government shipyard at Walsh Island, at the present east end of Kooragang. Walsh Island closed in 1933 to be replaced by the 'new' State Dockyard, relocated in 1942 at Dyke Point just in time to significantly help in WWII.
By war's end, this replacement yard had launched two RAN ocean-going ships plus a reported 600 small vessels for the US Navy, to carry supplies and men in the Pacific Islands.
By 1987, when this enterprise also, sadly, closed, it had built at least 45 craft ranging from major passenger ships, to cargo freighters, Sydney Harbour ferries and dredges.
That's all part of our history, but there's a new battleground to preserve part of NSW 's strong shipbuilding heritage. But it's not in Newcastle, but rather on the Central Coast, at the perhaps little-known Empire Bay, south of Gosford.
Down there, there's a group of residents trying to salvage a tiny part of some fast-vanishing local history.
For, believe it or not, Brisbane Water has quite a rich shipbuilding past. From 1829 until 1953, shipwrights toiled at yards at Blackwall (near Woy Woy), at Kincumber, Davistown, Bensville, Daley's Point, Empire Bay and Terrigal.
Here, they built everything from ferries, ketches and schooners to tugs and even pearling luggers, although you'd never guess it today as there's almost no trace.
Now, according to locals, the last once busy shipbuilding hub of the region is under threat with the possible demolition of the now run-down, but heritage-listed Empire Bay boatshed.
The Crown Lands revoked the licence on the operator of the ramshackle wooden structure in September citing safety and pollution concerns. In his defence, the former marina operator told the media he had offered to replace cladding and piles but "a few things got in the way". These included his wife passing and a couple of heart attacks himself.
About 670 people have already signed a protest petition to save the Empire Bay boatshed. The aim is to turn what is claimed to be the last remaining shipbuilding hub into a community asset, a hall restored at an estimated cost of less than $400,000.
But, of all the boats built in the Brisbane Water district, only two are said to have been built at Empire Bay - and a century apart. The last timber ship built on a slip alongside the boatshed was the 80-ton Erina 11 (pictured at its hull stage), launched in 1934.
"But that's wrong," Errol Baker, a barber who organised the petition and is leading the community protest, told Weekender.
"The shipwright was Arthur Davis who once lived in the boatshed for years with his wife and three kids with the grandparents living behind.
"He may have only built two large ships, but I believe he actually built 200 vessels all up ranging from 16footers to 20ft half-cabin craft. This is the last link to our shipbuilding past.
"As I was growing up I saw lots of local maritime sites, but now they're all gone, replaced by waterfront mansions," he says.
"This (historic) shed is 100 years old next year. Soon nothing at all here will be left. What's wrong with this country to want to destroy all its past like this?
"More than 500 timber vessels were built in total around Brisbane Water. That's more than were ever built in Tasmania."
But while people are hoping the tide might be turning to save the Empire Bay boatshed, Baker's latest news has disillusioned him.
"I believe the plans are to demolish the boatshed and wharf for $134,000. But, because of its current state, it could cost $1 million overall, including removing site contaminants.
"But if demolition is threatened, 50 people from here will be chaining themselves to trees in protest. At the very least, we'll seek an injunction on any work and get our own assessments prepared," Baker says.
"This boatshed needs to go back to community use. Crown Lands might be still investigating the situation, but they're not in the business of retaining everything."
Another fear held by residents involves the removing of Empire Bay pilings where their district ferry, connecting small waterside settlements, now moors overnight.
"Will all the places still have a ferry then? It's vital service around here," Baker says.
The Erina 11, the Empire Bay shipyard's last big timber motor vessel, was launched in August 1934.
It was built from local timbers using only axes, adzes and hammers over 12 months.
Later, sporting bullet holes, it was used by the US armed forces in wartime Papua New Guinea to transport commandos and supplies to remote island bases.
Baker says a community meeting on site is planned for January 6.
'LITTLE DOVE' RETURNS
FREMANTLE's majestic 17th century replica Dutch scout ship, the Duyfken, will return to Newcastle soon . . . as cargo onboard a ship.
Launched in 1999, the nimble replica was last in Newcastle Harbour in late 2006 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of European exploration of the nation's top end.
The wooden vessel, whose name means "little dove", is being transported from WA to Newcastle, where it will be re-rigged before sailing down the coast to a big welcome in Sydney Harbour.
After negotiations with WA's Duyfken Foundation, the Australian National Maritime Museum is taking over ownership and management of the unique vessel as a gift to the nation.
The original Duyfken visited Australia 164 years before Captain Cook. The ship then began mapping Australia's coastline, recording about 300 kilometres of the west coast of Cape York Peninsula in 1606.
But it wasn't until 1933 that the extremely accurate Duyfken charts were discovered in a library in Vienna.
The not-for-profit foundation, which recreated the historic 24 metre-long vessel, was unable to secure sufficient funding for maintenance - believed to be $300,000 a year - to keep the ship in Fremantle.
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