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After a brief, unhappy stint as a rouseabout in a local abattoir,
Garry started work as deckhand on a crayboat at the age of 16.
Although he was miserably seasick during the first few days
offshore, he soon found his sea legs and resolved to stick it out
for 13 months, learning as much as he could while he saved for
a boat of his own.
He was 17 and a half when his mother lent him £700 as the
deposit on the Valdarie, a 28ft crayboat he worked alone in the
coastal waters around Portland. His second boat was rather more
interesting. She was the 55ft shallow-drafted Gazelle, a clipper-
bowed former trading ketch built in 1875. Garry recalls that she
still had the original pin-rails around her mast, a cut-off jibboom
and concave ‘dishes’ in the decks where her stropped wooden
blocks had been flogging over many years under sail.
“I was fascinated by the idea that people had been able to
make a living carting cargo under sail in vessels like that,” he
said. “So I wanted to find out more about her history. And when I
did, I wanted to share that history with other people. That’s really
where my fascination with maritime history started.”
Garry has owned 11 vessels over the past 55 years. Each
has been a progression, bigger, beamier, more powerful and
with greater capacity as his crayfishing business prospered
and expanded. His current crayboat, the 20 metre, steel-hulled
Eumeralla is today valued at around $800,000.
Whatever Garry Kerr may have missed in the way of a formal
education, he has clearly more than made up for in terms of his
hard-earned success as a crayfisherman. But instead of relaxing
and perhaps resting on his laurels as one might well be tempted
to do after so many years at sea, he has put his money and his
down-time to good use in pursuing his passion for Australia’s
maritime history. In doing so he has become in essence, a fisher
His first efforts must have been incredibly difficult for someone
with his background. But, having tracked the old timers down, he
patiently sat with them for hour after hour while they reminisced
and he took notes in a laborious longhand. In doing so, Garry did
have one undeniable advantage: as a seaman, as a fisherman,
he spoke their language and therefore had their confidence.
Among the men were old Cape Horners, shellbacks who had
either served before the mast in square-rigged deepwatermen
or in sail trading ketches and fishing boats in Tasmanian and
South Australian waters. Tucked away and largely forgotten in
retirement, they were only too willing to be drawn into frank and
open conversation by a man they trusted. Their plain, unvarnished
yarns were shared as they would have been in the blue fug of a
foc’s’le years ago.
Through the camera’s unblinking eye, the years roll away as
they speak with candour about their working lives in ways that
are always compelling and often deeply moving. They have all
passed away now and yet thanks to Garry Kerr, their stories and
the history they made, continue to inform and to enhance our own
lives. Garry has made a major contribution to the preservation of
Australia’s maritime heritage and I commend his work to anyone
with an interest in our seafaring history. h
For further details visit: www.maritimehistory.net.au
Mewstone Rock south coast of Tasmania.
A bin of Lucky Red coastal crays.
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