At the Far Side of the World

At the Far Side of the World

…there’s work afoot.  In the Royal Kingdom of the Netherlands, talk of the MyState Australian Wooden Boat Festival in faraway Tasmania has already hit the media.  Preparations for a major Dutch presence at the 2017 festival includes a team of young Dutch boat builders getting ready for a very big trip.  Owners of the classic tjotters (small sailing craft popular in Holland) are preparing to send them out here for the festival and a fascinating exhibition, to be presented at TMAG, will tell the story of the VOC (the Dutch East India Company) and the quite incredible feats of navigation and seamanship that brought Abel Tasman to our island in 1642. Tasmanian company Blundstone will be a major partner, organising a warm send-off in Amsterdam and the local Dutch community here in Tasmania are coming to the party to offer accommodation and hospitality.  One remarkable project is coming from the famous Batavia Yard (Bataviawerf) near Amsterdam.  It is a carving, suitable for a ship’s figurehead, of the Dutch carpenter Pieter Jacobs.  Jacobs was the man who swam ashore at Blackman Bay to plant the Dutch flag 375 years ago.  Master carvers at the Batavia Yard use cutting edge technology and traditional skills to create master works in wood

High tech scanning captures an actor's image
High tech scanning captures an actor’s image


The rough is assembled in laminated timber
The rough is assembled in laminated timber


A detailed mould allows the sculptor to capture the image exactly
A detailed mould allows the sculptor to capture the image exactly


The master woodcarver begins the finishing work
The master woodcarver begins the finishing work

The Batavia Yard was responsible for the stunning replica of the 17th century ship that reached Australia in 1629, only to be shipwrecked on the Western Australian coast.  The story of that shipwreck and the mutiny that followed is a violent and bloody chapter in Australia’s earliest European history.  You can read more about the ship yard that preserves traditional methods and skills here:

Meanwhile, Bert van Barr and his team of young shipwrights are eagerly looking forward to their pre-Christmas arrival, to get a start on their own project, the 6-metre sailboat to be constructed at the Wooden Boat Centre in Franklin.  The Centre is generously donating workspace and tools for the team to do the build.  They are expected to complete and launch the boat at the MyState Australian Wooden Boat Festival in February, 2017.

The Dutch team will be right at home at the Wooden Boat Centre

Instructor and shipwright Bert van Barr has started his own blog here:

Game On For Dutch Boat Project

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Abel Tasman’s 1642 journal in the Dutch National Archives

The theme of the Australian Wooden Boat Festival in 2017 is Tasmania’s long Dutch history, starting with the visit of navigator and explorer Abel Janszoon Tasman some 375 years ago.  With the close cooperation and support of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, we will present a multi-faceted program involving Dutch boats, Dutch cultural history and Dutch boat builders coming here to help us celebrate our conjoined maritime heritage.  One of the most exciting projects under this umbrella is the Dutch Boat Project, an ambitious plan to bring out a team of young Dutch boat builders with their instructor Bert van Baar from the HMC Vocational College in Amsterdam.  They will be our guests to build, from scratch, a Dutch-design sailboat  called a BM (Bergumer Meer class) first built in 1928 by Hendrik Bulthuis (1892-1948).  In 1939 his BM was granted the status of a national sailing class by the Royal Dutch Sailing Association. Popular on the lakes and inland seas of the Netherlands, it’s said to be a fast and competitive racer and we’re eager to see it launched at the next Wooden Boat Festival.


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Nicoline van Cann from the Consulate of the Netherlands inspects the facilities at the Wooden Boat Centre at Franklin

How this is coming together makes a brilliant story of international cooperation and the Tasmanian ‘can-do’ attitude to practical projects. First, representatives from Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and from their Sydney Consulate visited Hobart to see at first hand what we had in mind.  The Wooden Boat Centre at Franklin very kindly offered to provide a place for the team to work, at their well-equipped boat shed on the Huon River.  The local Dutch community, and members of the Living Boat Trust at Franklin, are putting their hands up to find accommodation and hospitality for the young shipwrights.  With our European associate producer Karen Meirik arranging things at the Dutch end, it was ‘game on’ for the project with funding from the Dutch Government and logistics arranged by AWBF.


Pioneering timber company Hydrowood came on board, sponsoring the primary building material: reclaimed Tasmanian celery top pine.  The company donated two enormous logs from their Lake Pieman operation, where they are rescuing drowned trees from flooded valleys in the high and remote Tasmanian wilderness.

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Hydrowood is reclaiming valuable timber from Tasmanian lakes

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Specialist saw miller Dave Golding agreed to cut the logs at his Huonville location. Our team of shipwrights is due to arrive in Franklin in November and get started on the project straight away.  We are looking forward to greeting them and adding another chapter in the long, and sometimes overlooked, history of Dutch-Australian connections.


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Celery top pine logs arrive at the Huonville sawmill



Ready for specialty cutting and seasoning

Tall Ships in the West

The story of the early Dutch explorers and their ships, soon to be a major theme of the 2017 Australian Wooden Boat Festival, gets started this summer in Western Australia. In the early 17th century, the powerful Dutch company VOC (we know it in English as the Dutch East India Company) sent wooden ships and brave navigators thousands of nautical miles into unknown waters. They were searching for new trading partners and a shorter route to the rich Spice Islands of Indonesia. Why the rush? Because spices like ginger, cloves, pepper and cinnamon were immensely popular in Renaissance Europe and the appetite for these expensive luxuries knew no limits. A ship’s captain who could sail these vast distances might return with a cargo literally worth more than its weight in gold. It’s worth remembering that this was before reliable clocks (for determining latitude), before the invention of the sextant and long before the Southern Ocean was mapped. Dutch sailors were further from port than modern day astronauts going to Mars, and there was no Houston Control to call home. It would still a challenge today to sail 9,000 miles out of sight of land and hope to find landfall safely.

It’s no wonder, then, that the coast of Western Australia is strewn with the wrecks of hundreds of ships that came upon the Australian continent with little warning, in the dark of night, with strong winds and seas behind them. They simply didn’t know it was there. They were wrecked on scores of isolated reefs and shoals, most of them to disappear forever. In 1606, one of them, Willem Janszoon, managed to reach the shore of Cape York. In 1616, Dirk Hartog made landfall in his ship, the Eendracht, at Shark Bay, Western Australia.

The Lioness and the Dove

The original Leeuwin (Dutch for ‘Lioness’) was a Dutch galleon that discovered and mapped the southwest corner of Australia in March 1622, just 6 years after Dirk Hartog’s landing at Shark Bay. While the charts survived in the records of the VOC, the logbook has been lost. We don’t even know the name of the captain who sailed her.Leeuwin-4

STS Leeuwin II is Western Australia’s own tall ship, a 3-masted barquentine with over 810 square metres of sail and an overall length of 55 metres. The STS Leeuwin II is a working ship and all voyage participants are expected to be involved in sailing, steering and navigating, cleaning the ship and climbing the mast. The Leeuwin will sail from Freemantle to Denham in October 2106. Details can be found here:

The Duyfken (Little Dove) was a lightly armed, fast and nimble Dutch ship despatched from Banda, Indonesia to explore New Guinea. Commanded by captain Willem Janszoon, the ship was the first to discover the Australian mainland, when it touched in on the western shore of the Cape York Peninsula, near what is now the town of Weipa. The Dutch name for this type of fast, shallow draft vessel was jacht, from which we get the modern name for a pleasure boat.


The modern replica vessel was built by community effort in 1999, to counter two of Australia’s most popular maritime myths: that Dirk Hartog was the first European to step ashore on the Australian mainland, and that Captain Cook ‘discovered’ Australia. In truth, it was Willem Janszoon in the ship Duyfken who claimed that honour. In 2016, the modern Duyfken will sail from Bunbury, WA, calling at Mandurah, Fremantle, Jurien Bay, Dongara, Geraldton, Cape Inscription and Denham. Members of the public can sail in her or simply visit the ship between late August and late October 2016. Details of the voyage are here:

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