The Port Adelaide “Ships’ Graveyards” and my Grandpa…

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My Adelaide Northern District Family History Group posted this announcement of a coming event and I thought… OK I’ll go along and see what it’s all about. No way could I have imagined what a delightful, informative and fulfilling afternoon this would be.

Robyn Ashcroft’s passion for the topic was infectious as she drew us into that wonderful world of many of the ships who have found their final resting place in the “Ships Graveyards”  in Port Adelaide, South Australia.

The old map Robyn put on the screen made my heart beat overtime… There was Port Adelaide exactly the way it was when I was a girl.  I looked at the triangle between the  “Old Port Road” and the “Port Road” where my childhood home was… but is all changed now. The actual Port River, the Canal and the wharves – the area which is now the “Ships’ Graveyard” was largely a revelation because I was raised to be a “good girl” and, of course, “good girls” did not hang around the wharves, the ships and the sailors taking “shore leave.”

Port Adelaide - Ships' Graveyards

Confess that I fell in love with so many of those ships and delighted in the stories, and anecdotes, that Robyn shared. This truly is a “Treasure Trove” and one of which I was largely unaware and suspect is true for many South Australians.

If I were younger, and not so afraid of water, I sure would take up Robyn’s offer to go kayaking with her around the Graveyard as she provided more info about the working lives of  these irreplaceable examples of our maritime history. Some were hard working drudges, some had exotic adventure across the seven seas and some were “pleasure crafts” who plied the gulf taking honeymooners and  families to previously unseen places.

I was absolutely enthralled as Robyn described the working lives of many of the ships my Grandfather, a Port Adelaide Waterside Worker (wharfie), would have worked on.  Maybe one of those ships was the very one he was working to unload when a load “slipped” and he was thrown off the dock and into the water?  The evidence of which he carried from then on with a pronounced limp.

However it was Robyn’s information about the ketches, named the “Mosquito Fleet”, who plied the waters of South Australia skittering in an out, loading wheat etc, and then landing their cargo in places where there were no landing facilities which really provided the closest link with my maternal Grandfather. It seems that these ketches would come inland on a “high tide” and because they were flat bottomed and with a retractable kind of keel they would sit there ready to be unloaded when the tide went out, and when the tide changed they’d be off again, just like a mosquito skittering across the water.

It was at this point that I went all shivery and the memory of mum saying how my Grandpa used to drive the horses, and the dray, across the sands to unload the cargo finally made sense.  For years I’ve wondered what mum was actually talking about and wished I’d asked more questions and then “the penny dropped” thanks to the info from Robyn.

So, thanks again to the Adelaide Northern Districts Family History Group and Robyn Ashcroft for filling in a little more of my family story, as well as the South Australian  Department for Environment and Heritage, Robyn Ashcroft’s former employer.

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RESOURCES and FURTHER INFORMATION:
http://www.environment.sa.gov.au/our-places/Heritage/Visiting_heritage_places/Ships_graveyards

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Port_River

http://maritime.historysa.com.au/collections/mosquito-fleet-south-australias-ketches

 

Copyright © 2013. Catherine Ann Crout-Habel.