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Gus Cole's oyster punt

Vessel Number: HV000679
Date: c 1915
Builder: Gus Cole
Vessel Dimensions: 4.55 m × 1.58 m (14.93 ft × 5.18 ft)
Classification:Vessels and fittings
The oyster punt from the Merimbula Imlay Historical Society collection was built in Merimbula by its first owner Gus Cole between 1918 and 1930. It is a wooden, flat-bottom open boat, and was used by him on the oyster leases that began the commercial oyster industry in Merimbula after World War 1. It is the only extant punt from this early period, and the only surviving craft built by Gus Cole, whose family have lived and worked in the area for more than three generations. The construction shows the original configuration, it is intact and comprises almost completely original fabric. It has details that show exactly how the material was selected, shaped and built into the hull. It interprets how they were handled and operated, and that they were adapted for fishing and other general work as well. It represents a typical shape for the period, combining functional and styling aspects to produce a pleasing appearance.
DescriptionThe punt is one of a handful of wooden punts from the earlier periods of the oyster industry that are known to exist, and the only one with a stem shape rather than a scow or barge shaped bow that was prevalent in later punt construction. The punt has very strong connections to the Merimbula and the local industry which remains operating at Merimbula as an important part of the region’s activities.

The oyster punt represents a typical flat-bottomed carvel planked hull with a sharp stem. The small amount of spring or curvature in the bottom profile helps make the craft more easily manoeuvred than a flat profile, and the flare in the topsides throws water away in choppy conditions. The sharp stem is a better shape for cutting through in choppy water as well, but reduces carrying capacity and is slightly more complicated to build than a scow shaped bow
The sharp stem is typical for many skiff and dinghy hulls, and is apparent in images of other punts of this era, however in later decades the scow shaped barge type became the dominate style of hull to be built. This punt is the only extant sharp stemmed punt currently recorded.

It is a very good example of a simple planked construction small craft. The planking is supported by the chines, and straight frames on the bottom, with knees for bracing and topsides support, and has a tarred finish. Built with the minimum number of elements needed it is typical of many other general-purpose craft like this, and well suited to its use on oyster leases. It is simple and very economical to build and maintain, and as shown by this craft, the practice can produce a craft with a long and productive working life.

The grown knees distributed throughout the craft are particularly good examples of this bracing feature; their varied shape and proportions are all well suited to their individual task.
The oyster punt in the Merimbula Imlay Historical Society collection was built by local Merimbula oyster farmer and fisherman Augustus ("Gus") Cole for his own use. His family had oyster leases on Merimbula’s Top Lake, and this is where Gus used the punt.

The progression of ownership of the punt can be traced through the sale of the associated oyster leases. After Gus Cole, the punt's next known owner was Artie Goodsell, followed by Gus Jackson and then Reg Warn.
In 1981 oyster farmer Chris Boyton purchased leases from Reg Warn in Merimbula's Top Lake and ownership of the oyster punt passed to him at that time. It was then laying in mud and tidal waters under mangroves on one of these leases. Although not in usable condition, Chris recognised the punt's potential historic value and in the wake of development in the area and the perceived threat to the punt, he retrieved it for donation to the Merimbula Imlay Historical Society in June 1986.

Gus Cole and Family

Born in about 1890, Gus Cole built boats as a sideline to his other activities, using local timbers such as spotted gum, box, banksia and casuarina for the framework; and cypress pine, treated Oregon and spotted gum for the bottom and sides. He was understood to have been building boats between about 1918 and 1940. Gus is known to have constructed both flat bottomed oyster punts such as the vessel in the Merimbula Imlay Historical Society collection, as well as traditional fishing dinghies of various types. This oyster punt is the only example of a vessel built by him that is known to exist today.

A noted axeman, Gus competed with success at many Pambula Shows, making his first appearance in 1912 to take second place. He followed this up in 1913 with a win and was the last of the champion axemen to compete in the show's wood chopping events before WWI. In 1926 he again secured a first place and continued to win the event continuously until 1930, the only axeman to win five consecutive times. At the age of 47, he also won the 14" underhand chop. Gus Cole passed away on July 27, 1967 at the age of 77 years.

Gus' father Samuel ("Sam") Cole took up farming land at Nethercote where his seven children were raised. He was one of Merimbula's early oyster farmers, taking up leases in the immediate post-WWI period around 1921. Around 1925 he became the first to take up oyster leases in Merimbula's Top Lake.

Sam's grandfather Tom Cole was a Master Mariner who arrived in Australia from England during the gold rushes of the 1850s. He was on board the American steamer Monumental City when it was wrecked off Gabo Island in May 1853, with the loss of 33 lives.

Eventually Gus and his three brothers, Sam Jnr, Harold and Eden followed their father into the oystering and fishing industry. They also cut sleepers, worked for local timber mills and helped out on the family dairy farm at Nethercote. Eden also had the Eden to Gabo Island mail contract for around thirty years, including during World War II, delivering mail using a small 16 foot timber skiff Elsie that is now in the Eden Killer Whale Museum collection.
The Cole family has remained active in the Merimbula oystering industry through to the present day, with Gus' brother Sam junior passing on the skills to his son Jack, who, in turn, shared that knowledge with his son Peter. Cole Oysters continue to work in excess of 30 hectares of leases, some of which are in Bermagui for catching purposes, with the remainder in Merimbula Lake above the bridge. They employ a number of full time staff, and now use plastic trays, baskets, bags and posts, all of which are unaffected by borers.

Vessel Details
Current status:on public display
Deck layout:open
Hand propulsion/steering mechanism:oar
Hull material and construction:carvelcarvel-planked
Hull material and construction:timber
Hull shape:flat bottom
Hull shape:monohull

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