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Kangaroo Island where they caught only 40 scattered individual
tuna. After four days at seas they came home and sold the meager
haul to the cannery for just £50.
The Haldane brothers resources were at a low ebb. But on
February 25, 1953, Tacoma’s luck began to change when, off the
northern end of Boston Bay, she ran her purse-seine around a
small school of tuna. In two shots they hauled 14 tons of tuna
aboard, the first Southern Bluefin ever captured in Australian
waters using a purse seine. They also seined 20 tons of Australian
salmon just outside the bay.
Their triumphal return to Port Lincoln was short-lived when
they found the local cannery lacked the capacity to process all
the catch. Half their haul of tuna had to be buried by a bulldozer.
Twenty years would pass before the technique of purse
seining for which Tacoma was designed, was deemed a success
in Australia. The Haldanes didn’t stick with seining for that long
though; instead, they switched to bamboo poling.
Bill Haldane had read about this method of fishing and its
success in the US tuna fishery. He wrote dozens of letters to South
Australian Premier Tom Playford pleading for the government’s
assistance in bringing experienced American tuna fishermen
to Port Lincoln to demonstrate the technique. Finally, in 1956,
the Jangaard brothers, Chris and Sverre, flew from San Diego to
show them how it was done.
The Jangaard brothers taught Tacoma’s crew how to use the
tuna’s aggressive forward momentum – speeds of up to 30 miles
an hour – to help lift the charging fish onboard. Steel racks rigged
over the stern put the fishermen close to the water and reduced
the effort needed to lift the
poled fish. With no safety
gear other than a hard hat,
no flotation devices, and
no tethering lifelines, the
poling fishermen relied
entirely upon their sea
legs and their agility.
On Thursday, March
15, 1956, South Australian
Premier Playford went for
a 36-hour trip in Tacoma
during which he poled
one very large tuna. The
Jangaard brothers poled 25 tons that day and Tacoma’s decks were
piled high with pounding, blood-spattered fish.
The first of the South Australian tuna booms was underway.
During their three months in Port Lincoln, the Jangaard brothers
caught 93 tons of tuna. Their shared experience greatly accelerated
the development of the South Australian tuna fishery.
Today 14 specialised tuna boats catch an annual quota of
4,500 tons of Southern Bluefin Tuna. On current values the catch
is worth between $120 and $150 million although it has been as
high as $300 million.
In 2003, after a fishing career spanning 52 years, Tacoma was
Now on the Australian Register of Historic Vessels, she is
based in Port Lincoln under the care of the Tacoma Preservation
Society, where she serves as an active piece of living history.
Members of the Haldane family endowed the vessel and gifted
her to the Society, a community-based organization whose
volunteers keep her in working order. She now goes to sea twice
a year with 12 crew who each pay $400 a day for the privilege of
a weeklong cruise in which they are licensed to catch 200kg of
Southern Bluefin Tuna.
Ever ything about Tacoma – the homey smell of the AGA
cooker in the galley, the unmistakable odour of masculinity
in the crew’s quarters, the paper charts, brass dividers, cedar
parallel rules and Bill Haldane’s smudged spectacles in the
pilothouse – are exactly as they were when her working crew
last stepped ashore.
On the Port Lincoln waterfront, where huge steel purse-seiners
and prawning boats lie cheek-by-jowl, Tacoma’s white-painted
wooden hull still turns heads with her striking good looks and
For further details visit www.tacoma.org.au
The Haldane boys triple poling tuna (left to right) Clyde, their uncle
Hugh and Roger. 1962.
Andrew Haldane using his
grandfather’s caulking tool to re-work
the forward section of the hull. 2011.
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