Green Point Naval Boatyard, Mortlake
This facility, on the southern bank of the Parramatta River and downstream from Halvorsens, built 20 Fairmiles from hulls pre-fabricated in England.
At Green Point, they assembled the hulls then outfitted them with all their necessary equipment and armaments.
It was claimed that when the yard was working at full capacity, it was capable of producing a Fairmile every 16 days. However, this looks a little enthusiastic. If we look at the first Fairmile built there (ML 424), it was laid down 24 September 1942 and launched 29 November (66 days) and was not commissioned until 28 January 1943. The last one built (ML 812) was laid down 16 July 1943 and launched 27 October (104 days) and commissioned 4 December.
“The boatyard’s head shipwright was Darkie Griffin, one of the renowned Griffin Bros boat builders of Sydney,” recalls Jack Ruxton, a Queenslander who worked at Green Point.
“The Chief Engineer was George Horsborough a brilliant naval engineer but little was known of him outside the yard.
Cecil Boden was the … naval architect … and the general manager … George Johnson was the chief electrician and at the time was the course electrician at Harold Park Raceway … He used to sling the boys beaut tips on the trots and dogs.
“My father, called Rucko, was a cabinetmaker but … used to work there as a shipwright. He was also the yard bookie.
I was Young Rucko and the star spinner at the two-up ring operating every lunch hour at the back of the yard.”
On 22 August 2004, a previously unnamed cove between Mortlake Point and Breakfast Point on the Parramatta River was offi cially named Fairmile Cove, Mortlake. It commemorates the building of the 20 Fairmiles at the Green Point Naval Boatyard. Most people know Green Point as Mortlake Point, the name it was first given in 1837. However, by 1857 the point had become known as Bachelors Point and by 1890 was called either Bachelors Point or Green Point. Green Point and Fairmile Cove have been entered into the State’s Geographical Names Register as a permanent tribute to the sailors who manned these mini-gunboats. This has been done after consultation by the Geographical Names Board and was supported by the City of Canada Bay Council and the Fairmile Association of Australia.
There are some wonderful stories associated with the exploits of the Fairmiles, or the exploits of their 16-man crews, during their period of service during WWII. These stories will be the focus of next month’s article.
* Gregory Blaxell is an historian and author. He has been boating offshore and in the harbour for more than 25 years. His latest book is The River: Sydney Cove to Parramatta.