I was visiting the NSW south coast for a school reunion last weekend and decided to stay on the shores of Jervis Bay at a guesthouse in the pleasant village of Huskisson. From the mid 19th century until the 1950s, Huskisson, located on a safe anchorage in a region of straight and tall timber, was a thriving boat building community.
What I didn’t know until my recent visit was that, in the years before World War 2, local boat builder AW Settree constructed inter-island trading vessels for WR Carpenter & Co, a household name in PNG and the Pacific. The vessel pictured, ‘Desikoko’, was built in Currambene Creek at Huskisson and launched in May 1934. She was 232 tons, made of local wood and 120 feet long. ‘Desikoko’ was towed to Sydney to have her engine installed and then carried a cargo of timber on her maiden voyage from Sydney to PNG.
‘Desikoko’ mostly operated out of Rabaul, sailing around the islands every two or three weeks collecting and discharging copra. In May 1936, she was badly damaged when Vulcan erupted in Simpson Harbour. After fleeing Rabaul through volcanic ash and pumice, she subsequently returned to Sydney under her own steam for repairs.
‘Desikoko’ saw service in World War 2 and then was sold to a Chinese company and renamed ‘Yua Hwa’. Under the command of a Captain Baldwin, in January 1947 she sailed from Sydney with a cargo of flour. She encountered heavy weather, sprang a leak and, after the engine room flooded, was unable to use the pumps. The pilot boat ‘Birubi’ took her in tow but ‘Yua Hwa’ listed and sank 8 km south of Newcastle on 5 January 1947. The crew abandoned ship and fortunately all survived.
[Lower photo: Currambene Creek enters Jervis Bay at Huskisson. The local boat building industry that produced trading vessels for WR Carpenter was located right here.]