The Port Macquarie-Hastings area has a rich and varied maritime history, which many of us are unaware of. Have you visited our Maritime Museum recently? Ted Kasehagen, Museum Co-ordinator at the Pilot Cottages Museum, shares a few interesting historical facts with FOCUS readers…
How did you first become involved with the Maritime Museum?
I’m the Museum Co-ordinator at the Pilot Cottages Museum in Port Macquarie.
I first became involved with the Maritime Museum when a past President of the Museum asked for volunteers at the Oxley Men’s Probus Club, where we were both members. I have always had an interest in Australia’s history in a general sense, so when I visited the Pilot Cottages Museum for the first time, I soon realised how little I knew about Port Macquarie’s early days. I became a volunteer after that first visit in 2006.
What is the history of the Museum?
Well, the Museum was officially opened in April 1991, and it is situated at the top end of William Street opposite Town Beach.
We also have two other sites, and both are important historically. The Hibbard Boat Yard is situated on Boundary Street, adjacent to the Hibbard Ferry, and dates back to 1884. The Pilot Boat Shed is right near the centre of town. It is located at the western end of Clarence Street, and was moved to this location in 1953. It was built about 120 years ago, and it housed the Pilot’s boat. It originally stood eastwards along the river front, near the Royal Hotel.
How many volunteers are involved?
Across the three Museum locations, we would usually have about 25 to 30 men and women volunteering every week. This does not include the ‘behind the scenes people’, because we have volunteers in our main office, we have research workers, maintenance people, cleaners, and Museum guides. This might seem a lot, but we will always welcome people who would like to contribute their time or skills to help preserve Port’s maritime history. We especially need the holder of a Coxswain’s Certificate for harbours and rivers to help us out!
What are some of the most interesting displays you have at the Museum?
There are three houses at William Street, but as our name implies, the Museum exhibits and displays are on view in the two oldest surviving cottages that date back to 1892 and were the homes of the Pilots −and the Boatmen who assisted the Pilots.
The first substantial cottage was built at this Pilot Station precinct in 1882. The early Pilots were responsible for bringing sailing ships into Port Macquarie over the dangerous bar at the mouth of the Hastings River, often in stormy conditions, when the winds and strong tides tested the skills and seamanship of these brave men.
So the first room that visitors enter at the Museum is dedicated to Port Macquarie’s Pilots. In the same cottage is the Wreck Room, self-explanatory, but where people can see many relics from ships lost in our waters. There is a model of the paddle-steamer, ‘Ballina’, that was wrecked in the Hastings River in 1878 in the same room and a rocket launcher that was used by Port Macquarie’s Rocket Brigade from about 1860, right up to the late 1920s.
Share an interesting, perhaps surprising story/fact or two with our readers about Port Macquarie’s maritime history …
In 1943, while sailing from Ballina to Sydney, a coastal steamer, the ‘Wollongbar 2’, was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine. The attack occurred just off Crescent Head, north of Port Macquarie. The stricken ‘Wollongbar 2’ caught fire and sunk quickly. The townspeople of Port Macquarie learnt of this disaster when a message was dropped from a Catalina flying boat that had witnessed the sinking. A fishing trawler called the ‘XLCR’ went out to see if any of the ship’s crew could be saved. The local fishermen on the ‘XLCR’ bravely saved five men, not knowing if the submarine was still in the area. Thirty-one other crew members perished.
We have a room in the second cottage dedicated to the loss of the ‘Wollongbar 2’, and many photographs and artefacts are on display there. An odd coincidence is that the Pilot Cottages Museum was officially opened 48 years later, on the anniversary of the sinking of the ‘Wollongbar 2’!
For you personally, what’s the most fascinating thing about maritime history; what keeps you motivated as a volunteer?
I enjoy being involved with the Museum, because of the unexpected. We may receive a phone call saying that a batch of old photographs of boats have been found in a suitcase, and are we interested in them, or should the caller just throw them out. Or a visitor will say something like, “Oh, my old uncle was a crew-member on that ship. I’ve got a lot of old papers that he left us with”.
Any information that can be researched can add to the records of past times, and we are always appreciative if an object, photograph, map, or anything that has historical value is brought into the Museum. Some parts of our history can be lost in a generation.
Why do you think it’s important for the community to have access to our maritime history?
When groups of schoolchildren visit us, our Tour Guides have to explain that our Pilots had nothing to do with aeroplanes, and that Pilots and Boatmen communicated with signal flags, because there were no mobile phones back then! Children ask about the past, so Mum and Dad can show them the past and enjoy the experience themselves when they visit the Maritime Museum.
How many people visit the Museum?
The numbers average out to about 1,800 visitors per year, but this does not include all those people who view the exhibits at the Pilot Boat Shed, or those who visit the Hibbard Boat Yard.
What are the opening hours & entry costs?
We are open 7 days a week at the Pilot Cottages Museum, from 10am ‘til 4pm. People can visit the Hibbard Slipway on Wednesdays and Saturdays from 9am ‘til 2 pm, and the Pilot Boat Shed is open Monday to Saturday, from 10am-2pm.
Does the museum hold special events?
We have a film afternoon every couple of months to which the general public are invited. We also stage Trivia afternoons-all are welcome. During Heritage Week in April, we’ll be officially opening our Oyster Farming display.
Where can the public find out more info about the museum? Phone us on 6583 1866 or log on to www.52things2do.com.au
Interview by Jo Atkins.