Battling mud and tides, Henry Fletcher spent over a year building his slipway on the Port River in the 1830s. He added a steam engine in 1857 and a second, larger slip in 1867. By then boatyards hugged the river bank from Fletcher’s Slip to Cruickshank’s Corner.
Some saw beauty in their industry: ‘There the windlass of one ship, the capstan of another, ribs and planking, boilers and spars, funnels and anchors, lie scattered abroad, in beautiful confusion...’ (The Register, 1866). While a few businesses changed hands, for 150 years small family-owned boatyards prospered and forged a community, proud in their craft.
They trusted timber but from the 1960s the tradition of wooden boat building was threatened by mass produced fibreglass and aluminium craft. Road trains superseded the last trading ketches and also reduced demand for shipwrights to secure cargos and repair hulls.
In the 21st century the last shipwrights, with clients still on the books, were told to make way for property development. The material history of over a hundred years was swept away and the skills of the boat builders dispersed.
"Coming to live in the heart of Port Adelaide, it was hard not to be captivated by the magic of the boatyards, one of which had operated through five generations of boatbuilders. In 2009, when all my photographs were taken, the boatyards were scheduled for demolition and I was compelled to photograph them, especially Searles Boatyard, as a record of what would be lost." Sandra Elms