More than meets the eye - Sydney Heritage Fleet: A Boomerang for all seasons by Gregory Blaxell

Boomerang seems a strange name for a beautiful schooner-rigged yacht. But the boomerang was the trade mark of the Albert family’s commercial operations in Australia. So it’s no wonder that the family used ‘Boomerang’ for the name of their Spanish Mission/Hollywood Spanish mansion in Elizabeth Bay. And moreover, they also changed the name of the yacht, purchased in 1929 by Michel François (Frank) Albert, from Bona to Boomerang.
I had been conscious of Boomerang for many years but on one occasion when I was participating in the Barrister’s Boat Race (I supplied the yacht for a barrister mate and even let him steer on the straight legs), Boomerang was the Committee’s boat.
The starter, who was perched on the bow at both the start and the finish, was Mr Justice O’Keefe. He was assisted in his onerous task by a glass of champagne which seemed, miraculously, able to remain topped up. The race, lunch and trophy presentations were done in the same spirit. Boomerang remained serene throughout.
Bona shortly after she was launched in 1903. / Walter Reeks, designer of Boomerang.
Bona was built in 1903 for Mr C. Wallace of Melbourne. She was designed by noted naval architect Walter Reeks who was best known as the designer of ferries for the Balmain Ferry Company and the Lady Denman and other lady-class ferries.
He also designed the steam yachts Lady Hopetoun and Ena. Bona was built by W.L. Holmes in Lavender Bay. Holmes’ shipyard remained there until it was purchased by Albert Stannard in 1937. The workshops and slipway were used as a ship repair facility until 1965 when the area was redeveloped.
In 1915, Bona was sold to H.B. Howard-Smith and then in 1927 was purchased by Charles Lloyd-Jones. Then she was described as Australia’s largest yacht. In 1929, she became Boomerang owned by  the Albert family where she remained until October 1987. In that year she was presented to the Sydney Heritage Fleet by Robert Albert in a fully restored condition.
Boomerang is nearly 70ft long, 17ft in beam and has a draught of 8ft. She is built with hardwood frames, has kauri decks, deck beams and planking, and is copper sheathed and copper fastened throughout. She has oregon masts and spars and is powered by a Gardner 6 Lx-Diesel. While in the ownership of Howard-Smith, the moveable keel originally built into the yacht was removed and extra water tanks added to provide more ballast.
Kanangra, James Craig, Waratah and Boomerang when the Sydney Heritage Fleet was located at Darling Harbour in 1989.Following her purchase by the Albert family, she was only used as a motor cruiser and has not had her sails set since the 1930s. It appears to me that this is the origin of the myth that Boomerang does not sail because she has broken her back.
On 9 April 1925, Bona set out on a voyage from Melbourne to Sydney under the command of Captain Dudridge. She motored to the Port Phillip rip but once outside in the open sea, the sails were set. The yacht made good headway, ‘although some of the crew suffered a little from sea-sickness.’
All went well and by the next morning she was sailing at 12 knots. By 2000hrs that night, Bona was abeam of Wilson’s Promontory. During the night she practically hove-to close inshore under Cape Everard. Next morning, the weather remained good and she headed for Gabo Island and was abeam by 1300hrs.
“All hands went ashore and a visit was paid to the lighthouse. The greatest hospitality was shown the yachtsmen by the residents who displayed much interest in the schooner.”
They left Gabo at 0400hrs under power and headed for Cape Howe which was reached by 0530hrs. Cape Green was passed at 0905hrs with a building sea. Twofold Bay was not reached until 1235hrs. Fuel (at this stage, 230 gallons of petrol) was taken on in Eden. Bad weather set in so Bona did not leave Eden until 0900hrs 15 April.
Boomerang, Lady Hopetoun and Waratah at their first Sydney home at Birkenhead Point. From there, the fleet moved to Darling Harbour and then Rozelle Bay.In good sailing weather, Bona logged Bermagui at 1430hrs. From here, the weather worsened with the need to substantially reduce sail. In spite of the weather, steady progress was made through the night. Point Perpendicular was reached by 0230hrs where big seas made the foredeck awash. This was followed by blinding rain so the engine was started.
As the seas abated, Bona was off Port Kembla. Now with calm seas, she reached Botany Bay by 1500 hrs and Rose Bay by 1700 hrs. Captain Dudridge stated that: “… the yacht behaved well in all weathers. She was an easy boat to steer and a comfortable craft in anything like decent going.”
Because Boomerang was given to the Sydney Heritage Fleet in 1987 by Robert Albert, it is interesting to look briefly at the history of that family.
A painting by Doug Allcot of Bona on a slipway in Sydney and used for the cover of The Australian Motor Boat & Yachting Monthly, September, 1929. Can anyone identify where the slipway was located? Mosman Bay? Lavender Bay?The first Albert to come to Australia was Jacques Albert. He was born in 1850 and learned his trade as a watchmaker in Switzerland. He arrived in Rockhampton with his wife Sophia (d.1890) and two children on 10 December 1884.
He came to Sydney and set up as a watch and clockmaker and music teacher in Newtown. Many patrons were attracted to his shop because of his violin playing. In 1890, he decided to import violins and harmonicas and moved to Boomerang House in King Street, Sydney where he adopted the boomerang as the firm’s trade mark. He married Anne Marie in 1901 (d.1903) and in that year was naturalised. He married Mary Eliza in 1904 (d.1950) and died in 1914.
His eldest son, Michel François (Frank), was born in 1874 (d.1962) at Kharkov, Russia. He was educated in Sydney (Newtown Primary, Fort Street and Sydney Boys High) and in 1894 joined his father at J. Albert & Son.
In 1896, he became the sole proprietor of the company that was now a music selling and music publishing business. He also married Minnie Eliza Buttel in that year. They had two children, Edmond and Alexis. In 1902, he built a house on the Elizabeth Bay House Estate. The present ‘Boomerang’ was built in 1926 when the first house was demolished to make way for building of the mansion.
‘Boomerang’, the historic house in Elizabeth Bay as seen from Beare Park. Frank Albert expanded the firm and conducted licensing arrangements with overseas publishers for Australia and New Zealand rights. Among his other business interests were radio stations including one that became the precursor to the ABC. He started commercial radio station 2UW and other stations in Queensland. He ran a chain of suburban cinemas, and in 1933 gave up retailing to concentrate on music publishing.
Frank Albert was a motoring and yachting enthusiast being an early member of the Royal Automobile Club of Australia and in 1905 a founding member of the Motor Boat Club (Royal Motor Yacht Club) where he became Commodore in 1912-20.
Stylised drawing of Frank Albert by Marjorie Pritchard presumable with Frank at the wheel of Boomerang. From The Australian Motor Boat & Yachting Monthly for August 1929. Frank Albert.From 1909, he raced the ex-New Zealand yacht Rawhiti and was successful in winning many races at the Royal Prince Alfred YC and the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron. He was also a distinguished geographer and was elected a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society of London. He was involved with many charitable causes including gifts to the University of Sydney and St Paul’s College within the university.
He died at his home ‘Boomerang’ in 1962, having lived at the Elizabeth Bay site from 1902.  He was survived by his younger son Alexis who carried on the business.
Alexis Albert (later Sir Alexis) carried on the family business and had three sons, Robert, Tony and Ted all of whom joined the company. Ted Albert founded Albert Productions in 1963. This company was one of the first independent record production companies and in 1970 saw the launch of their own Albert Productions record label. Three years later, Albert Productions established its own recording studio. Both Tony and Ted are deceased.
Boomerang dressed for the opening of the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron, 1931.Robert O. Albert, AO, RFD, RD is the Patron of the Sydney Heritage Fleet and a member of its Board of Governors.
Finally a word about ‘Boomerang’, formerly the Albert’s mansion in Elizabeth Bay. Boomerang was designed by Neville Hampson and built in 1926. It has been described as the oldest and finest example of Spanish architecture in Australia. It has three storeys, with rendered walls, 25 rooms, six bathrooms and four kitchens. A private cinema was constructed in the basement in 1928. This feature is likened to a miniature State Theatre.
The Australian Institute of Architects rates Boomerang as a nationally significant example of 20th century architecture “… exemplifying the Hollywood derived taste for the Spanish mission style in a pastiche of palms, splashing fountains and ‘Spanish’ architectural details.”
After the death of Frank Albert in 1962, the house remained closed with a caretaker until 1978 when it was sold for a then remarkable price of $1.25 million. The mansion has had several owners since that time and is presently the home of trucking magnate Lindsay Fox and his family who bought the property in 2005.
Boomerang on her way to the assist in the start of a Sydney-Hobart Yacht Race.‘Boomerang’ is a seminal Australian name and now a part of contemporary Australian culture; the company trade mark of a famous music family who pioneered many aspects of the Australian music and entertainment industry. That was a grand, creative vision. The mansion built by Frank Albert was a grand, creative vision. Bona was a grand creative vision and as Boomerang reflected the spirit that infused this remarkable family.
Boomerang is available for use but only by members of the Sydney Heritage Fleet. Everybody is welcome to join this incredible organisation.

My thanks to Hugh Lander of the Sydney Heritage Fleet for his reading and commenting on the text for this article.

* Gregory Blaxell is an historian and author. His latest book is A Pictorial History City of Canada Bay.