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The word marina did not exist in Australia until Ron d’Albora
made his mark on the industry back in the 1960s. But
Ron d’Albora, who died on 8 April had a humble start to
He was born in Sydney on March 31, 1922 and three years later
the family moved to Melbourne. His passion for boating stems
from him working with his Italian uncle on a small commercial
fishing boat on Port Phillip during his school holidays – something
he enjoyed immensely, except when he got seasick – which was
At age 16 he left school and started work with the Hotel
Australia in Melbourne as a ‘Commis’ – a boy who cleaned the
chairs, helped the waiters, served the coffee and cleared the tables.
The advent of World War II led to him satisfying a long-held
interest in engineering: Because he showed a unique ability when
it came to the intricate welding skills needed on the casings for
aerial bombs and torpedos, his boss arranged for him to stay in
that job for the duration of the conflict.
With the war over Ron established his own engineering
business, specialising in large projects for the rapidly expanding
motor vehicle industry. He was 24 at the time and doing big
installations. He built the largest dust extraction plant in the
world for the General Motors plant at Fishermans Bend.
While operating this business Ron acquired Speedcraft, a
local company building plywood speedboats.
“It was the mid 1950s and I’d ordered a 16ft ski boat from
this bloke,” Ron told friends. “But he was so slow building it that
I finished up buying the company and running it myself. It went
well until the credit squeeze of 1961. It took me nearly two-and-
a-half years to sell one month’s production when it hit.”
After that he went to America to see what was happening in
the boating business – and saw the first ever floating marina. He
returned home and declared to his son, Jeff: “We’re never going
to build another boat. We’re going to build marinas. That’s where
the money is. We’ll look after boats, sell boats, clean boats,
fuel boats, but never build another boat. There’s no money in
Not even the introduction of fibreglass could convince Ron
otherwise – this is where he really showed some foresight.
“ When I saw the first fibreglass boat I thought it looked like
a bathtub, and I couldn’t believe how thin it was. I was certain
fibreglass would never succeed.”
After deciding that Melbourne weather wasn’t conducive
for marinas Ron moved to Sydney and in 1966 bought Busch’s
Boatshed in Rushcutters Bay, next door to the Cruising Yacht
Club. He wanted to build a floating marina on the site, but the
engineering techniques didn’t exist back then when it came to
keeping the structure in one piece in rough weather ... so the
plan turned to a fixed pier structure.
“ That was the easy part,” Ron said. “It cost us $1 million and
took 13 years from 1966 to beat the local residents and Woollahra
Council. The locals dubbed me ‘The Rapist of Darling Point’
because I wanted to build a marina.”
In 1966 he formed the Marina Owner’s Association, something
that made a huge difference to the industry. As a result of this
move he is recognised as the man who erased the word ‘boatshed’
from Australian waterfront vernacular and replaced it with ‘marina’.
Later he expanded his business to include marinas at The
Spit and on Pittwater, and he launched the city’s first cruising
restaurant, the John Cadman, which was a large converted ferry.
In 1980 he left that side of the operation to Jeff and moved
to the Gold Coast where the purchase of Mariner’s Cove Marina
presented another opportunity ... to go into the restaurant
business. He took over the now legendary establishment,
Grumpy’s, and grew that business from a small 91-seat venture
to one where it had 136 staff in high season and was doing 1,200
main courses a day.
He has been recognised as one of the founding fathers of the
restaurant industry in Queensland and has subsequently been
inducted as a ‘Lifetime Achiever’ by Restaurant and Catering
Apart from being very active in the early days of offshore
powerboat racing, including the Sydney-Newcastle in a very
small boat, Ron’s lust for life and good times has seen him also
hold a great passion for cars.
“I’ve always loved fast cars. I’ve had the best: a Corvette,
a 300SL Mercedes convertible, Pontiacs, a Camaro, a Cougar,
Bonneville, and Firebirds ...
“I even had a racing car when I was 23, but I had to sell it, and
my piano accordion, so I could afford to get married!”
Ron d’Albora was an absolute gentleman who will be sorely
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