Books reviewed by Paul TalbotHeroic Forceful  and Fearless Australia’s Tugboat Heritage by Randi Svensen 

Heroic Forceful and Fearless

Australia’s Tugboat Heritage

by Randi Svensen
Published by Citrus Press, in Association with the Australian National Maritime Museum
RRP $79.95 (256pp; 270mm x 240mm)

There is no shortage of pedigree involved in this book. Author of Heroic, Forceful and Fearless, Randi Svensen, has a lineage the envy of the boating world being a member of the famous Halvorsen family. She recorded the Halvorsen’s history in her book, Wooden Boats, Iron Men, which detailed the development of that marvellous Halvorsen fleet of wooden cruisers as well as the brothers Halvorsen’s contributions to blue water sailing in Australia.

Commissioned and supported by Chris Stannard of Stannard Marine, the Australian National Maritime Museum, PB Towage and Svitzer, Svensen’s new book pays homage to the tugboats of Australian waters dating from the earliest steam vessels to grace Sydney’s harbour in 1831.
Graham Andrews supplied significant resources to the book, via his extensive picture library, and is given due credit.

In his Introduction, Chris Stannard outlines his motivation for commissioning a book such as this. While there is a large personal cause rising out of his very maritime background, there is also a recognition that without the little and large workhorses of the harbour, their skippers and crew, Sydney’s and Australia’s maritime history may have been quite different. His drive to get the story told also reflects the aging of many of the characters that the author needed for colour and realism.

Starting at the beginning, Svensen recounts the confusion of what was the first “steam-vessel” to operate on Sydney Harbour – the import Sophia Jane or the locally built Surprise. The Sydney Herald of the day reported that the import was the first to be seen floating on the harbour on 17 May 1831, taking its first sailing ship under tow on 12 June 1831 and thereby opening the exit door to Sydney Harbour in adverse winds.

The author presents a pocket history of the development of steam power in the 100 years prior to Sophia Jane’s historic tow in Sydney. As Australia grew and expanded in those early days, the development of steam power assisted the movements of a vast increase in shipping in Port Jackson, Newcastle, Port Phillip and soon such places as Port Fairy and other smaller ports.

As the demand for towage increased, so did the entrepreneurs emerge. Men such as founder of the Stannard family dynasty, William Stannard, James Deane who headed James Deane and Co, and the robust and renowned Andrew Fenwick, father of John and Thomas of J & T Fenwick. Tug masters and company owners were required to be tough, but there seemed none rougher and tougher than Thomas Fenwick, whose exploits in northern New South Wales waters were legend.

Svensen brings the book into the 20th century with stories of the people and boats that plied the waters all around Australia quietly going about the business that their larger charges relied on. She highlights the boats which gave their names to the book, Heroic, Forceful and Fearless.

With a wealth of events, disasters and stories, she picks out the Pasha Bulka’s grounding on Nobby’s Beach in Newcastle in 2007 to illustrate that, while the technology of tug boats had changed over the years to the modern standards of this new century, the ingenuity, perseverance and skill of the skippers and crews had not.

As she did in Wooden Boats, Iron Men, Randi Svensen provides detailed indices of Tug Boat operators and the names of all the vessels she has discovered in her research.

It seems that the Australian National Maritime Museum’s and Chris Stannard’s desires for a comprehensive record of this part of Australia’s maritime history have been achieved with this worthy volume.