SOMETHING very exciting is happening to Franklin, prettily strung along the western shore of the Huon, a few kilometres south of Huonville, administrative HQ of the stunning Huon Valley.
It’s not just a single happening: from one end of the waterfront to the other, change is in the air. And, taken in sum, these changes reflect the essence of the thinking behind the vision of the Franklin Working Waterfront Association (FWWA).
A lot of what is happening is not of FWWA’s making. And it’s not easy to know where to start telling the story. Perhaps it’s better simply to say that Franklin — a township that, less than three decades ago, was resuscitated from near death — is experiencing a fresh surge of creativity.
The really big news is that FWWA, newly armed with a comprehensive business plan — largely paid for by State Government money that arrived after Premier Lara Giddings was so impressed by the association’s vision — is now pushing with renewed vigour to buy the township’s renowned Wooden Boat Centre (WBC).
Also, FWWA president Greg Guy says: “We are working closely with the Australian Maritime College (AMC), a special institute of UTAS, to develop a pathway to an associate degree with a specialisation in wooden-boat building.”
MEANWHILE, at Living Boat Trust, a few score metres south of WBC, projects and events are bubbling along at a furious pace. The once-cosy dinner-break gatherings for a handful of volunteers on Monday evenings are now sometimes monumental events. I’m told most of the seriously skilled work at LBT is done by the Tuesday team. In fact, barely a day goes by without action on one aspect or another of the trust’s broadening spectrum of activities.
A bit farther south — moored in front of the now-dead, still-for-sale Evaporators building, and nothing to do with FWWA— is the Lady Jane, a retired Hobart ferry. It could yet become a drawcard on the waterfront — perhaps as a houseboat, office premises, art gallery . . .
It seems that the Lady Jane’s presence at Franklin was not at first appreciated in some quarters. At Huon Valley Council’s February meeting, the tone was mostly negative. In a nutshell, council’s message was: “We’re trying to find the owner, so we can get rid of it.” It would have been so much more enlightened had council pondered: “Wonder who owns her? Wonder what they intend to do with her?” Since the February meeting, I hear there has been communication between the owners of the Lady Jane and Marine and Safety Tasmania (MAST) and council. Talk is that the Lady Jane may yet end up on the Franklin marina. Perhaps an “amicable arrangement” is in the wind?
Just behind the Evaporators — on the Huon Highway across the road from Jane and Shane Johnson’s multi-roomed maze of antiques, collectables and bric-a-brac in the old Bowmont Hospital building — is Laurence Burgin’s chandlery, Franklin Marine.
Since Burgin opened several years ago, he and his business have become invaluable to local marine enthusiasts. If it’s boats, fishing gear or anything to do with “on the water”, Burgin’s the man to turn to.
Already on the marina is David and Ea Nash’s magnificently restored Danish fishing vessel SV Yukon. Nash bought Yukon, built in 1929, in Denmark for a case of beer. The catch was, she was lying on the bottom. After lifting her, and spending a decade on restoration work, Nash (once a student at WBC when it was the Wooden Boat School), Ea and their children Christopher and Aaron, sailed her to Franklin via the Panama Canal. Yukon’s imposing presence at the end of the jetty is yet another magnet for visitors to Franklin. May she one day earn a living for her owners.
Down at the southern end of the township, just past the Petty Sessions restaurant, several pilings mooring have been put in over the past couple of years. It’s unlikely Franklin will ever boast as many vessels as are now moored in Port Cygnet, or in Kettering harbour, but the growing number of boats being kept there is a measure of how the township is again becoming recognised as a place in southern waters where you can get a boat fixed. Small vessels are already being built or restored at the LBT and the WBC. If FWWA wins through, much bigger projects are planned.
For example, a pillar of the FWWA dream is to build an 80-plus-foot schooner that would ply between Huonville and Hobart (maybe even to Melbourne and Sydney), carrying freight and passengers.
And, if all goes well, it will not be too long before Franklin will be graced with the presence of a long-time grande dame of the Derwent estuary, the century-old Cartela.
Cartela is described as the “oldest continuously working boat in Australia”, having led life in a variety guises, starting out as a steamer carrying passengers and ending her commissioned days as a ferry on the Derwent. In recent times, Cartela has been owned by a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to her complete renovation, including re-installation of her original steam engine.
It is Cartela that FWWA is hoping to have as one of its first clients. That would add be a multi-million-dollar restoration job over four or five years. At the moment, it is reported that she has power-supply problems that are preventing her from getting to Franklin.
FWWA, in its early days, set its heart on acquiring the Evaporators shed. It wanted to convert it to a boat-building and repair centre, and develop in its rabbit-warren interior a variety of marine-related business ventures.
Several barriers stood in the way of that coming to fruition, the main two being that (i) the price, more than $500,000, was far too high for a fledgling association that had nothing more in the bank than the annual $10 fees of its 80-or-so members; and (ii) the modifications necessary, including meeting safety standards, would be prohibitively costly.
Then, about a year ago, FWWA had its head turned towards the Wooden Boat Centre, a couple of hundred metres to the north. Its owners, Andy Gamlin and Yvonne Buckley, had decided it would be more appropriate if the WBC were in community hands.
Gamlin and Buckley, proprietors of Spritsail Pty Ltd, offered the centre exclusively to FWWA at an attractive price. The association in turn, at a special meeting last year, accepted the challenge to try to meet the offer in the knowledge that, not only was this asking price much more achievable, the centre is operating within safety standards and (an even bigger attraction) it is already building boats.
The time had come to get serious about fine-tuning FWW’s business plan, a project now possible thanks to that State Government grant.
Happening at the same time was a lot of pro bono assistance from lawyer Madeleine Ogilvie. Guy says that Ogilvie “has been a staunch advocate of the project over the past 18 months”.
FWWA is aiming to get off the ground with a basic stake of $350,000 (including the price of the WBC). The association, Guy says, is working to raise through donations $175,000 by late April, with the object of enhancing the possibility of approval of a matching dollar-for-dollar Tasmanian Community Fund grant.
All donations, says Guy, “will be refundable if we don’t reach our target”. Hopes are high. Funds have already started to roll in, one donation being for $30,000. Guy says $5 or more will make you a “friend” of the project, and bigger donations will warrant bronze, silver, gold or platinum friendships. It is understood FWWA is talking to several other prominent (but usually non-publicity-seeking) philanthropic individuals and organisations to bolster the fund.
FWWA says its aim is to create a social enterprise for the benefit of the Franklin and wider Huon communities by re-creating the maritime history of the town. “Given the worldwide trend within the maritime environment to return to sustainable practices by using wood and wind, Franklin’s past suits it perfectly to this re-creation.”
The association’s “10-year vision plan” would gain serious traction once it took over WBC. Guy says: “A large part of the plan is to introduce higher education into the Huon Valley by way of an alliance with UTAS (University of Tasmania) through the Australian Maritime College, as well as links that have been forged with TAFE Tasmania and Skills Tasmania. The combined efforts will ensure students can work through vocational training into a university-degree pathway in wooden-boat building.
“Other significant parts of the plan are to acquire suitable sites on the waterfront for the establishment of a suite of light industrial maritime workshops, which will create about 30 jobs and set Franklin up as the port of choice for Australia’s growing fleet of tall ships and heritage vessels to conduct their refreshment.” In the first year after acquiring the WBC, Guy says, “we will create four permanent jobs in the centre and up to 30 jobs over the next 10 years”.
What are likely to be the flow-on benefits of FWWA taking flight? Guys says, for a start, full-time students (each on a two-year course) would be living in the area and in need of accommodation and provisions. The jobs created would almost certainly mean more youngsters in town, thus boosting school numbers. “The extra activities will bring extra tourists, with their extra dollars, and, as the enterprise grows, there will be cause for those tourists to stay in the area overnight instead of using Franklin simply as a pit-stop.”
There has been quite a flurry of activity in recent weeks. I’ve asked questions of the FWWA (of which I’m a paid-up but inactive member) for a year or more. Until now, not much has been forthcoming. Guy explains: “The committee has done so much up to this point without being able to say much due to sensitive negotiations, or such things as commercial-in-confidence restrictions.”
Now, ready to talk, the committee says that all the educational aspects are in place and an agreement with Colony 47 has been reached to provide tax-deduction receipts for donations. Colony 47 Tasmania — http://www.colony47.com.au/about/about-colony-47 — a community charity organisation that, among other services, works with education providers, obviously thinks it is on to a winner in backing this Franklin-based organisation that is dedicated to reviving the local economy.
Donations, says Guy, will be used directly to buy the WBC; create jobs; establish an associate-degree course in wooden-boat building; and establish what he envisages as “world-class maritime tourism facilities” in Franklin.
NONE of this optimistic tale is likely to have come to pass if it hadn’t been for retired historian and experienced boat-builder John Young. John and Ruth Young came to Franklin at the turn of the 1990s, when its population was dwindling, for-sale signs were ubiquitous, and some townsfolk were even wondering if Franklin was heading for ghost-town status. The Youngs were determined to contribute towards giving the community something to live for, especially to demonstrate how Tasmanian specialty timbers could be used to value-add the state’s resources through building wooden boats.
John, now tripping into his eighties, and Ruth, not that far in years behind him, set to work to establish what is today the WBC. It started life in 1992 as the Shipwrights Point School of Wooden Boat Building, at Port Huon, before moving in 1994 to where the centre now stands. Then, early in the 2000s, John was among the group that laid the foundations for what is now a very vibrant LBT.
And it was John Young who — in presenting his vision for a reinvigorated ‘Franklin working waterfront’ — inspired the establishment three years ago of FWWA. (Today, he is the association’s vice-president.) Ruth Young, meanwhile, has written and published histories of Franklin’s Palais Theatre — which the Youngs played a prominent role in restoring in the late 1990s and early 2000s — and South Egg Island’s historic canal.
ALTHOUGH many hard yards have been travelled by FWWA and other parties, a truly “working waterfront” at Franklin remains yet a vision. Nevertheless, the auguries are good — and they would become so much better were Huon Valley Council to publicly acknowledge the merit in this ambitious, far-sighted venture. I don’t usually do commercials, but this is something worthy of the support of all who care about our lovely valley.
Surely, through Mayor Robert Armstrong, council could offer public in-principle support for such a long-focus vision. So far, to my knowledge, only Liz Smith among the nine elected councillors has publicly expressed in-principle support for it.
I recall, when FWWA was in its formative stage, letters of support and encouragement rolling in from many sources, including several councils elsewhere in Tasmania. So it has remained a mystery to me why HVC has been so reluctant to publicly voice approval for a plan that has the potential to swell the economy of Franklin, and, simultaneously, be of great benefit to the economy of the Huon Valley as a whole. After all, as the mayor might say, “It’s all about jobs!”
In one indirect way, council has acknowledged merit where merit’s due. After a bit of persuasion, it last year set aside $5000 for a mooring to be installed to accommodate the Cartela when she eventually gets to Franklin.
The first FWWA fundraiser event, described as ‘Buying back the Wooden Boat School’, will be a concert at the Palais Theatre, Franklin, on election day, Saturday March 15 (starting at 7pm). Local musician Steve Gadd is organising a long and talented line-up of artists, who will all donate their talents for the cause. Admission $10 at the door (supper provided); membership forms will be available (annual subs $10). Come along and help make a wonderful vision reality. — Bob Hawkins