From about 1908 until the early 1930s the Callen family’s Newcastle Ferries Co Ltd seems to have been the largest local ferry organization although there were several others handling specific routes – such as to one side of Walsh Island dockyard. As I noted in Part 1, the new company absorbed the interests of several earlier ferrymen and was able to operate several routes as well as the main, Newcastle-Stockton and workmen’s runs to Walsh Island Dock runs.
Newcastle Ferries was also well involved with the party and charter trade around Newcastle and Port Stephens. During the 1920s several large ex-Sydney ferry steamers were bought for further use around Newcastle.
Of these the largest and most powerful, bought in 1928, was the ex-Manly ferry Kuring-Gai, of which it was said that she was large enough and powerful enough to dig her own channel when needs be!
Kuring-Gai was steel and was double-ended so that she didn’t have to turn around when she ran up the Hunter River. She regularly carried out excursion trips to Morpeth, upriver, and out and up the coast to Port Stephens. Her remains can be seen at very low water on the southern shore of the Hunter River at Hexham, just east of the old road bridge.
An earlier ex-Sydney import was the ex-Cockatoo Island worker’s ferry Kurnell which was used in Newcastle from 1925, to carry workers to the shipyard during the week and for excursions on holidays and weekends. She looked like a Sydney ferry but had never been used on scheduled ferry services in Sydney.
Early in World War II Kurnell was sold to the Hegarty ferry company in Sydney as Romantic, the idea apparently being to use her as a Showboat associated with Luna Park. The scheme fell through and the old ferry became a barge. One of the seamen employed early in the 1900s on Newcastle ferries was Tom Walter. He worked as master of the launch Trilby for the Limeburner family who were later to be connected to the Walters by marriage.
In January 2007 I interviewed Edith Richards (née Walter) who, born in 1913, appeared to be the last member of the Walter family alive who was physically connected with the Walter ferry service. The family has few records of this service which was sold to Gordon Davey in 1978. Edith died in August 2007.
It seems that Tom Walter may have operated a small ferry service and waterman’s run around Port Hunter during the 1920s. He may have been more concerned with taking seafarers to ships at anchor than in scheduled passenger services.
Late into the 1920s and into the early 1930s the Newcastle Ferries Co Ltd seems to have become somewhat tenuous and the loss of their ferry Bluebell (2) in 1924 after a collision, with fatalities, may not have helped.
The small company of Cox Brothers had handled both the Stockton and the Walsh Island ferry route for several years with their main ferry being Unit 1. When this was burnt out near Walsh Island, Tom Walter took over the service.
Edith Richards, who later had the ferry Edith Walter named for her, was active in the ferry business from before WWII. Edith’s father was Thomas Henry Walter who established the Walter family’s Stockton-Newcastle service with the help of three sons and a daughter. In the family, three of Edith’s brothers, John H (ferry John H. Walter) and Arthur G (Arthur G. Walter) and Sydney worked mainly on the family’s ferries and the fleet was rapidly extended after World War II. Pre-war things were not so secure.
Walter’s Stockton Ferries seem to have acquired the Maheno as their first ferry with the Tuggerah as back up. Both came from the Taylor ferry company at the Entrance. Maheno was built in 1922 for use on the Wyong—The Entrance service.
At 85 years of age, Maheno under her original name was in use as a charter ferry on the Yarra River. Early in December 2007 she ran into a submerged object and slowly sank. There were no injuries.
In 1938 Sydney ferryman James D. Rosman chartered his ferry Renown to the Walter family for the best part of a year. This was probably to provide a third ferry for their run while the new ferry Stockton was being built. Earlier the Darra had been locally built in 1934 as the well-decker Tuggerah had not been popular with the passengers.
With three ferries the company probably had had only just enough capacity, so another ferry, Harrier was ordered in 1936. She was quickly followed by Stockton which was completed in 1939. Darra (of 1934) had not been a successful ferry, although Edith (Walter) spoke well of Darra of which there is a launching photo with herself shown aboard. In 1985 Australasian Shipping Record Sept/Oct has shipwright Ron Haug stating that Darra was sent off to the PNG area during WWII.
Following the end of the war the Newcastle area began a long period of industrial expansion which saw BHP’s activities increase manyfold while the State Shipyard (on Walsh Island) was busy building ships to carry Australia’s imports and exports.
Stockton Ferries soon expanded with the local economy. The Newcastle-On-Hunter was introduced in 1946, followed by the Edith Walter in 1948. In 1950 along came Thomas H. Walter with the final new-building being John H. Walter in 1966.
The Harrier was worn out by 1965 and seems to have been retired when John H. Walter arrived. She was sold for further work as a work boat but by 1970 she was a hulk on Lake Macquarie.
The construction of the new high-level Stockton Bridge in 1971 did not immediately destroy the Walter family business as it had the vehicular ferry service but trade was really hard hit. A couple of the older and smaller ferries were soon laid up. Arthur G. Walter (ex-Maheno) was sold to Peter Verrils of Pittwater for use as the Ellen Anne and Stockton was sold early in 1977. By 1976 the company was on the market.
Hawkesbury River ferryman Gordon Davey bought the company in 1978 and soon sold several of the ferries or transferred them to other Davey ferry routes.
Public resistance to the departure of many of the wellknown ferries, together with friction between the new owners and the ferry crews eventually resulted in the Stockton ferry service being discontinued in July 1982 with the final run being taken by the Edith Walter.
Too few locals were using the ferry, and all were objecting to any ferry fare price rise. Gordon Davey closed the service and sold or transferred the ferries to other owners and other duties and a bus service soon took the long way around over the new bridge.
The State government was soon under steady pressure from local citizens to take over the ferry service. In 1983 the (then) Public Transport Commission re-introduced the Stockton ferry service using ferries West Head and Edith Walter, both on charter from Gordon Davey.
The (new) Urban Transit Authority ordered nine new medium speed catamaran ferries for the Sydney inner harbour service in 1985. Two extra ferries of a reduced version were also ordered for the Stockton route. First was Shortland which entered service in May 1986, closely followed by her sister Hunter in the following month.
And … that’s the way the Newcastle passenger service to Stockton was at the end of 2007.
[Any extra information, particularly photographs of the pre-war service ferries would be greatly appreciated. Any photographs will be copied and promptly returned – GA]
*Graeme Andrews’ book The Watermen of Sydney can be had from Boat Books, ABC books and all good book stores. Mail order enquiries may be made to Stannard Marine at 02 9418 3711.