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A&H Green's shed at Abbotsord during the Second World War

A & H Green

The Green family of boatbuilders. 1822 - 2008

Many generations of Green family have been successful boat builders in Sydney. They have also had great success in rowing and sculling, beginning with brothers Richard, George and Henry in the mid 1800s, then later on in the 1900s, the twins A&H Green. However their connection to boatbuilding begins much earlier, when the colony of NSW was still in its infancy centred on Sydney Harbour.

The first member of the Green family to build vessels in Sydney was George Green. He was 12 when he became an apprentice with Thomas Day whose yard was on the edge of Cockle Bay, now Darling Harbour in 1822. George had been born in Camberwell, Surrey, England and came out to Sydney to live with an uncle and aunt, who had promised to find him employment as a condition of him being allowed to emigrate. His apprenticeship took seven years. In 1834 his parents and five of his siblings secured passage to Sydney as well, firmly establishing the colony as their home. George's connections to boatbuilding continued when he married Maria Bates in 1830, she was the daughter of boatbuilder Thomas Bates and lived nearby to his aunt and uncle. Little is known of the vessels George was involved with, apart from the yacht FRIENDSHIP which he built for James Milson Jnr. It was a champion yacht on Sydney Harbour in the 1840s. His sailing involvement included racing on the harbour, and there is a record from the 1838 Anniversary Regatta showing how George Green took an advantage in a race staring off Dawes Point. He chose to start on the opposite shore, Milsons Point , and put himself well to windward of his competitors. He reasoned that Milsons Point was indeed off Dawes Point as well.

His first three sons, the second generation, became very well known as boat builders and scullers. The eldest son, George Amaziah became a boat builder and designer in Sydney, as did the second son Henry Thomas, whilst the third son, Richard Augustus Willoughby (RAW Green) was better known as a champion sculler, although he too is recorded as a shipwright. A sixth son Charles John also entered the trade, but he worked in Riverton, on the south island of New Zealand.

There is a significant New Zealand part of the Green story. In this period there was considerable movement between the colonies, with no strong national Australian or New Zealand identity yet forged. Consequently there was considerable movement of people between the various colonies, on both a short and long term basis.

George (senior) went to the South Island in 1838 and made many land purchases from Maori chiefs, including Stewart Island, then returned to Sydney for a period before moving back to an area near Riverton in 1858-59. There he stayed until he died in 1872. He was joined in New Zealand by members of his family including Henry Thomas who arrived around 1864. Records from New Zealand show that George had established a boatbuilding yard in Dunedin before Henry's arrival, but subsequently it was Henry who is known to have designed and built the significant vessels recorded from their yard. SPRAY, RIPPLE and ZEPHYR are the three most well known, and they had intriguing features. It is clear from contemporary descriptions and one section sketch of ZEPHYR that all three had veed sections and arc shaped longitudinal lines that were similar to the radical yacht AUSTRALIAN from 1858, designed by Richard Hartnett and built at Woolloomooloo by Dan Sheehy. RIPPLE and ZEPHYR both featured a heavily raked mast, with an almost vertical sliding gunter yard supported by cross-trees and stays, that was to all intents and purposes a Bermudian rig profile. It is also understood that the craft were double planked fore and aft.

ZEPHYR came to Australia in 1881 and raced on Hobsons Bay and in Hobart with great success before returning to New Zealand.

Prior to his arrival in New Zealand it would seem that Henry and his brother George were already preparing their own radical designs, the principal evidence being the tubular rowing scull STAR OF AUSTRALIA. This unique craft was probably designed by George and built by Henry, and it was intended for their brother Richard Green. The scull was shipped to England for Richard to use in a challenge for the unofficial title of the Champion of the World. By undertaking this challenge Richard probably became Australia's first international sportsman to take part in an event outside of the country. He trialed the unusual craft which created great interest, but eventually raced in a heavier conventional craft. This single scull is described in an advertisement for its sale in England in 1863 as a Patent Tubular Wager boat, and the advertisement also indicates that a model for a Lifeboat or Pilot Boat designed along the Elliptic Tubular Principle was also available for viewing. The same lifeboat concept was displayed in Auckland in the early 1880s. Clearly the Green brothers were prepared to look at unorthodox ideas and try them out as well.

Their boatshed was located on the eastern side of Milsons Point and it is understood that they built rowing craft for Richard, for themselves and for others, as well as skiffs such as butcher boats. It is not known what other work they may have done. When the DUNBAR was wrecked off South Head in 1857 George Green (Snr) secured much of the timber salvaged from the harbour. This shed was probably started by George Green (Snr), but it is not known what happened to the site when Henry left for New Zealand in 1864 to join his father while his brothers George and Richard remained in Australia.

Henry returned to Sydney in 1889 some years after the death of his father in New Zealand. He set up a yard in Lavender Bay toward the northern end and lived not far from the yard, in Alfred St near St Leonard's Park. Records show that in the next 20 years of boatbuilding he built yachts and launches. Amongst these were a small yacht design by Walter Reeks called EVELYN in 1899, a radical looking launch in 1902 called WAHINE also designed by Reeks ( who was the owner ), the elegant Fife designed 30 ft Linear rater SCOTIA and then another 30 ft linear rater, the more awkward looking KUKUBURRA designed by its owner AE Cutler. Two smaller linear raters are also mentioned in reports. Henry died in 1909.

Boatbuilding continued in the Greens with at least one of RAW Green's sons. Augustus Stuart 'Gus' Green settled in Cobaki on the northern NSW coast and built the trawler X.L.C.R at Iluka in the early 1900s. Another son was Richard and his sons Richard, Robert and twins Augustus 'Gus' and Harry also became involved in the trade. Richard, Robert and Gus served shipwright apprenticeships on Cockatoo Island, rowing across from their home at Greenwich. Robert then became a dock master at Garden Island, Richard a foreman with Patrick Shipping Company. Gus became a champion sculler and eventually moved to the northern rivers of NSW which was a centre for professional sculling with people such as Fischer and Paddon.

Harry Green served in the army during World War I and when he returned Gus joined him in Sydney to set up a shed on a waterfront property purchased from Thomas Kemp at Teviot Street, Abbotsford on the Parramatta River. They concentrated on building racing craft for the rowing clubs, schools and eventually some of the most famous names in Australian rowing. They built the full range, from single sculls up to the big eights. They were also keen on sailing and built a skiff EVELYN which they sailed together along with a third crew member Jono Anderson. Harry left the business they had called A&H Green to settle in the Tweed River region later in the 1920s and Gus carried it on. The great Bobby Pearce used sculls built by A&H Green for almost all of his significant wins, including the 1930 Empire Games, the prestigious Diamonds at Henley Royal Regatta in 1931, his second Olympic Gold medal in 1932 and subsequent professional victories up until World War II. Although he lived in Canada from 1930 onwards, he preferred the Green built craft from his native home of Sydney. Success for Green built craft continued after the war; Mervyn Wood rowed a Green single scull called KINGFISHto win Gold in the 1948 Olympics at London. Then in 1956, Evans Paddon rowed an A&H Green scull to become the last professional sculling world champion.

The business prospered before and after the war, but during the conflict the yard, like most other yards, turned to building vessels for the services, including lifeboats, rescue boats and work craft such as tugs.

Gus had two sons, Maurice and Barry. Maurice joined his father during the war to become the fifth generation of Green shipwrights in Sydney since George Green was apprenticed to the trade at 12 in 1822. Maurice was also interested in sailing and built his own VJ, then a 12 foot Skiff CRUSADER which he raced successfully on the Parramatta River.

Gus sold the shed at Abbotsford in the early 1950s to members of Sydney High School, and then moved north to the Tweed River to join his brother. Gus retained an interest in the trade building a few craft and helping at the local rowing club. He and his twin brother died within a few days of each other in May 1971. When Gus sold the yard it became Greens Racing Boats before becoming Sargent and Burton, who were the last timber scull and shell builders in Sydney. It then became the site for the Sydney High School rowing shed.

Barry Green went to the Tweed with his father after the sale of the business, where he took up boatbuilding, initially doing surfboat repairs and making oars. Barry went on to become a State and Australian Champion sculler. Later on he was a coach and boatman for both St Ignatius (Riverview) in Sydney and then Brisbane Boys College in Queensland. He returned to Sydney for a short period to work for Greens Racing Boats, and then went to work for the rival firm George Towns and Sons. In 1963 he returned to Queensland.

Meanwhile Maurice moved north to Newcastle and worked with his shipwright cousin Eric Green at the State Dockyard, building lifeboats and working on the construction of the bulk carrier KOOJARA.

Maurice returned to Sydney to work with Sportscraft building small speedboats and in his own spare time at home he built the successful racing hydroplane MISS BORON. Later he moved from Sportscraft to work at AG Williams shed in Drummoyne building and repairing pleasure cruisers. Under his guidance Keith Lambert became apprentice of the Year.

From Williams he moved to CrestaCraft. This was a sign of the times, they were fibreglass boat builders and the reign of the wooden boatbuilder was now at an end. However Maurice still preferred to work in timber, so he designed and built his own 10.2 metre long wooden cruiser KIMBALEE, and soon after he retired from boatbuilding altogether. This craft probably marks the end of the Green family boatbuilding in Sydney.

There were other Green connections who made their mark. Kenneth Goswell, a cousin of Barry and Maurice was also a champion sculler. He started rowing at 14 and won many championships for Queensland at interstate regattas. In 1984 he was still racing and was the world champion sculler in the over- 60 age group. Meanwhile in 2008 Laurie Fray, descended from another Green generation builds canoes in Queensland.