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A raft and a canoe made by kids out of farm materials

Unusual watercraft

Unusual watercraft suggests the weird and wacky, and that description often fits the vessel even though its origins and intentions never had that in mind. Curious shapes and unlikely material choices often produce an unusual result within a standard type, and the vessel then stands out from its fraternity, and sometimes for the wrong reasons.

A classic Australian example are the various sheet metal dinghies found around the country, usually inland - bush creations that more or less replicate the shape of a dinghy or tender. However their construction, often in corrugated ironand sealed with road tar then finished off at the stern with a half round section taken from a water tank panel gives rise to a very distinct little craft. They work, the lack of shipwright refinements is not an impediment to their use, and in flood times they were often the only means of communication between homestead and the town. Wooden versions were built to, out of whatever was available. CONRAE II was made from household shelving. It was not until the Australian tinnie and much later the inflatable became off-the-shelf retail products that an alternative was readily available, and probably from the 1960s onwards these stock craft gradually replaced the need to make the home-grown ones.

Tin canoes were another favourite - just a folded up sheet, secured to a frame perhaps, or seized together with dad’s fencing wire, once again with tar at the ends to stop it leaking. Many hours of fun was had with these craft in dams and billabongs, but in the 21st century, the production plastic kayak and canoe have headed out into the country and replaced imagination and scrounging.

In the 1930s HC Press built a radical 18-foot skiff for its time, it featured a veed stern, almost double-ended hull shape instead of the wide dinghy style transom board. It looked quite strange, and was not a success. Back in 1863 RAW Green rowed a streamlined, tubular shaped scull made by his brother George in Sydney. He took it to England to challenge their best scullers, but after trials adopted a more conventional English built craft for his eventual races.

Another approach comes from those unique individuals who can see something different within an object in front of them, visualising how it can be adapted or transformed into something a bit different, or even totally different. Australia has its own collection of intriguing watercraft that have come about through this process, and regional centres are a place where this approach is rife. The 'can-do, use what's available' thinking leads to all manner of curious creations.

A classic example comes from Bill Wembridge out Wentworth way in the south west of NSW. They used to build the fibreglass canopies for Ford F 100 ambulance bodies in that region, and he tells the story of how someone realised that if you cut around and took off the raised roof section from the canopy, then inverted it, you had a wide punt shaped boat ready to fit out and use. Stick an industrial fan blade on the back, maybe powered with a chainsaw motor or something bigger, put a shield around it and some steering vanes in the flow, and you had an American style, capable speedy little craft ideal for marshes and shallow water. That’s an era now passed in many ways, and not just because the F 100s are way out of date. Inevitably these craft were usually out there fishing and hunting; It was duck shooting and so forth, and for various environmental reasons - either the water has gone, the quarry is no longer there, its protected, or it’s just not seen as the right thing to do- its now something of the past.

The Seebee runabout has a similar story to its inception, the hull is actually the front section of thealuminium fuselage of a Seebee amphibious aircraft. With a transom, outboard, deck and seating added, it was used for many years on Jervis Bay NSW.

How the red gum log boat came about is a mystery. It was identified as a boat rather than something else when it was located in a dried up lagoon beside the remains of two other more recognisable craft. The end planking was missing but the fastenings remained, and it had some holes for a painter or other rope. Early records of the Murray River region near where it was found noted a similar hollowed red gum craft had been used in the past, helping confirm that this was indeed a boat of some description.