Text supplied by Bill’s daughter Maxine White.
In early 1937 Bill was at the wharf in WHK and tied up to the wharf was a magnificent looking vessel, a 70ft private yacht named the Minstral. It was owned by a Melb businessman Mr. W Wallace. The skipper was a Jack Benger and he knew the Barrett family and invited Bill on board. Bill was very impressed and the next thing Capt. Benger is offering Bill a job as Deck Boy, Bill jumped at the offer but first parental permission was required. Nellie had some reservations but gave her blessing only after she was assured that Bill would be safely conveyed to Melb. This was done on the Nichol’s boat, the Lady Flinders. Imagine the shock Bill would see with the plethora of big city lights illuminating the night sky compared to the few street lights of WHK. Bill commenced work on the Minstral on the 7th of July 1937 and the trip was up to Qld waters to do some game fishing. The owner’s son Des was also on board and was great company for Bill. The trip lasted until 15th of Jan 1938 and Bill returned to the island. Jack Benger organised for Bill to be employed by the NSW fisheries research section and he joined the FRV Warreen on 10th of July 1938 as a deck boy. The survey included as far south as FLI and then to Qld waters. Malfunctions aboard especially with the net’s winch gear cut short the trip and Bill was discharged on the 30th of Sept. It was a while before his next job but it came on the 14th of June 1939 on board the Aux Ketch Jane Moorehead a small vessel owned by Peter Grant Hay who had extensive property interests on FLI and who owned the Richmond Brewery. The next assignment was still as deck boy on the Milleeta a 90 ton steel constructed aux ketch built in Germany. He started there on 2nd of Feb 1940, with Australia now at war with Germany. On a night in November and whilst abt 20 miles north of KII a large unlit ship crossed the vessels bow and then slowed to inspect her, before moving off at high speed. The skipper reported this to the authorities in Melb but they took no action. A week later 2 large cargo vessels sank after hitting mines south of WLP. Was that ship a German merchant raider laying mines? In Jan 1941 Bill had accumulated enough time to qualify as an Ordinary Seaman which was his first main step to becoming a skipper,. His time on the Milleeta finished in April and he chose a collier the Wear for his next job. This 2000 ton ship carrying coal was a dusty, messy assignment and Bill didn’t like it so in May he joined the 75 ton Leeta May back on the islands run. In mid Dec 1941 he joined the Holymans aux ketch, Naracoopa for a month. On discharge from her Bills papers were marked Able Bodied seaman, refered to as an AB . A week later he joined the 800 ton SS Woniora also a Holymans vessel and served on her for a month now as a fully-fledged AB. Next Bill joined the Kooringa a 2000 ton ship plying the east coast of Aust as a cargo vessel the date being 11th March 1942. The war in the pacific had now been going for some 3 months. Whilst on-board and in port representatives from the Commonwealth Salvage Board approached the crew to see if they were willing to work on a rescue and salvage vessel which was being built in the USA and would operate in Aust. and near Pacific waters. Bill along with others agreed to work on such a vessel. Leaving the Kooringa on 25th of Sept they were employed by the Board as from the 26th of Oct. However as they were going into an active war zone they first had to join the Aust. Army. Bill signed up on the 5th Nov in Sydney and soon after found himself with others on a captured French warship manned by American Sailors and British officers sailing across the Pacific to San Francisco but the ship was not ready. Three months went by and at last the BARS “Caledonian Salvor” of 3,500 tons was ready and they sailed her back to Aust. Her first assignment was to salvage the Anshun that had capsized in Milne Bay as a result of the battle there. Many more rescues and supply missions were carried out, too numerous to mention now but Bill was in the thick of the action at Oro Bay just 20 kms down the coast from Buna in PNG where at the time the Japanese were making a last stand. It was amazing to see small Tasmanian ketches such as the Jane Moorehead and Leederry up there at the same time taking part in the war effort.
In Nov 1943 whilst tied up at Townsville, Bill along with other crew mates decided to quit the salvage business and return to the merchant marine. They were offered a position on the SS Katoomba which had been converted to a troop carrying ship. Bill commenced sailing on her on the 5th of February 1944. Even though she was troop ship her armament consisted of bow, stern and side mounted anti-aircraft guns which were used on a number of occasions, Bill being involved in the action. The Katoomba carried up to 1200 troops at a time and a lot of equipment which included batteries. On the 8th of October 1944 in port at Townsville and whilst Bill was on watch he noticed smoke coming from a hatch ventilator. He immediately reported this to the first mate and the fire alarm sounded. The fire in the No. 2 hold caused by the batteries being placed on tents was eventually extinguished by flooding same. Bill’s diligence may well have saved the ship from much more serious damage. In late 1945 with the need to repatriate soldiers coming to an end she was ordered back to Sydney and Bill was discharged on the 10th of January 1946. The Katoomba would be the largest ship that Bill served on. A fortnight later he signed on to the Kini, a 1400 ton SS operated by the Union SS Co. which operated mainly between Syd and HBT. and remained with her until the 15th of April.
Bill then joined another Union Co ship, the Kekerangu of 3200 tons. This vessel was a concentrates carrier and operated mainly between Risdon Zinc works in HBT and Port Pirie smelter, South Australia. Bill said that a number of occasions they called into SRN to load copper concentrates from the Mt. Lyell Co. Her remained with her until the 17th of Dec 1947. The SS Talune constructed in 1930 for the Union Co would be the last ship or large sea going vessel that Bill would serve in. The Talune of 2700 tons also operated on the HBT-SYD run. His employment commenced on the 24th of Dec 1947 and lasted till 2nd of Nov 1948. Bill was going to be a very busy man during this period. The first mate encouraged Bill to work towards gaining a Master’s certificate. Bill was able to get some leave from the ship and attended the Richmond Nautical School ikn SYD to do the certificate course. This took about 8 weeks and cost £600, a large sum of money for that time. Then there was the marriage to his sweetheart Margaret in June and whilst all that was going on enter Frank Jackson. Frank was a prominent farmer on FLI and he wanted to build a vessel to compete with Holymans in the island trade. This vessel an aux ketch was being built at Cygnet and would be ready by October. Frank knowing the Barrett family approached Bill and offered him the job as skipper. Bill accepted but was conditional on him on obtaining his Master’s qualification. That came on the 19th of October issued by the Hob Marine Bd to sommand a vessel of not more than 500 tons within Tasmaninan waters. So the 77 ton ketch Sheerwater was ready, Bill signed off the Talune and on the same day 2nd of November took the Sheerwater out of HBT bound for FLI, the era of Captain Bill had commenced. Bill remained on the Sheerwater till the Frank’s son Les, better known as Wallaby took over command on the 30th March 1949. Bill was pleased to say that he helped deliver the first Holden car to island.
Further appointments were not forthcoming, so Bill joined the PMG as a cable jointer. He was there only a short while without a house in HBT the opportunity to relocate to his Auntie Nell Iles house on FLI came up. The PMG agreed to re-employ him there so they moved. Bill stayed with the PMG for some months but then transferred to the Dept. of Civil Aviation working at the WHK airport. Pam their first child was born the island in Nov 1949, Terry Levine who was skipper on the Holymans ketch Loatta approached Bill to see if he would go as first mate on same. The Loatta was 247 tons, much larger than the Sheerwater and as well as freight could accommodate up to 12 pax. So Bill signed on with her from the 30th May 1950 till 5th of Feb. 1951. She sailed to KII as well as FLI. During this trime Bill was seeking further employment as Master. With the help of Captain Jim Burgess an opportunity arose. The prominent HBT family, the Cassimatys who owned fishing trawlers and were fish exporters and café owners also the owner of the Margaret Twaites, a 69 ton aux cutter which they intended to operate to KII taking building materials there for the soldier settlers scheme residences. Bill was interviewed in HBT in the Transport Commission office and Jim Burgess recommended Bill and the govt staff along with Greg Cassimaty agreed. But Bill said he would only take the job on if he could have a house in LST organised. The temerity of the man! But all was good and he could have a brick house in about 2 months or a timber one straight away, he chose the latter so Margaret and Pam could relocate to be near him when he was in port. The house was located in Punchbowl. He commenced on 1st March, 1951 as Master in contract which ended on 15th of January 1952. Soon afterwards the vessel was sold to Les Jackson but that was not the end of Bill’s association with her as you will hear shortly.
For a short period in 1952 Bill was Tug Master on the LMB”s Inveresk but he then took up as Mate on the AK Leprena of 105 tons under the command of J. O’Neill . His service time here was was 13 months ending on 19th May 1953. He returned to LMB’s employ that month and was skipper of the Tug, West Tamar until 16th July 1954.
Bill returned to the ketch Leprena 15th of Sept and would spend nearly 3 years on same as Master. The vessel was now owned by the Straits Shipping Co whose principal shareholders were FLI farmers and businessmen. He finished his time with her on 11th July 1957. The Co. had sold her and acquired the AK Leederry of 126 tons. These vessels are getting slightly larger each time. During time on the Leprena, Bill went back to the Richmond Nautical School to do his interstgate Masters Certificate which would allow him to skipper vessels of similar size to the mainland of Australia. This again cost him £600. But it would be worth it as livestock had a new market for this Co. in Victoria being shipped to Port Welshpool. The Leprena was sold and Bill was in command of the Leederry until 31st Dec 1959. A year earlier a tragic event happened in western Bass Strait when the ketch Wilwatch sank with the loss of all five crew members including the skipper, George McCarthy. Bill was a close friend of this mariner and his death hit home very hard. As a result of the inadequate search effort and its shakeup of procedures and the availability of the Leprena in Sept 1961 Bill would be ever grateful for same. Now it was back to the Naracoopa for a short period. She had been sold by Holymans to the Transport Commission and was carting building materials and superphosphate to FLI from HBT. Her classification was now a MV. Joining in Jul 1960 through to Jan 6th 1961 and serving as Mate for abt 6 months. For ten days following he served as relieving Mate on the 344 ton Sumatra on the same run.
Bill now returns to the Margaret Twaites from mid Jan 1961 to same 1962 as Skipper, It is now owned by a Qld company primararily moving general cargo to the Furneaux group. Early in the morning of the 17th of Sept and Bill was off watch in his cabin he awoke by abnormal running sounds of the vessel. On the bridge the Mate didn’t seem overly concedrned but pressure gauges had high readings. He went below to the engine room to find it nearly flooded as well as the hold. His position was 20nm south of Goose Isl but he elected to turn around and head for the Tasmanian coastline because of the set of the sea. A mayday call was received by several vessels including the Leprena which was now a fishing boat. This was around 5am. As he is being towed towards the calmer waters of Anderson Bay near BDP the Steele of the man came to the fore. It was being suggested by the Leprena’s crew that they come aboard and take over on the basis of salvage, but Billie said “Oh no you don’t, I’ll ride this vessel to the waterline and only step into the life boat when she goes below the surface.” The upshot was that she made it still afloat to the Bay and a LMB tug with pumping gear came out and effected temporary repairs and towed her to LST. The costs of tow and permanent repairs totalled £20,000. Bill had total admiration for those who assisted and also for GM diesel engine that kept going right up till it was completely submerged. In Jan 1962 it was decided to sell the Twaites to a Catholic Mission in PNG and Bill delivered to SYD for the sale.
Utah Uonstructions had won the contract to build a breakwater at the Port of Burnie and oiperations were underway. Their tug the “Utah” required a Skipper and Bill was offered the job. He accepted and started there on 27th of Sept 1962 and would remain as Tugmaster until 25th of March 1965. During this time Margaret and all four children were still living in the home in Punchbowl. Bill bought a caravan for his residence and placed it in the caravan park at Wivenhoe. At the weekend Margaret would pack the kids, all four of them now and drive to Burnie and spend time with Bill. Mutually they were all delighted in these trips and would also explore the surrounds of the town. At the end of the contract Bill was offered a similar position in Port Hedland W.A. The soon to be booming iron ore export business was under way and the remuneration was substantial. Bill thought about it but decided the stability of the family was more important and he declined the offer.
The next offer which was from the Fisheries Div of the DPI would turn out to be the longest continuous period of employment that Bill would enjoy. His public service appointment commenced on the 5th of April, 1965 as a Fisheries Inspector wikth FPR Fiona of 56 tons and sloop rigged. This vessel was based in LST and so Bill was close to home but would still be away for many days depending on the mission. During 1966 the Fiona carried out an E COT scallop survey and over the next 5 years spent time with commercial and other govt. vessels on surveys. In 1972 Fisheries had a new vessel the FPRV “Challenger”was brought into service. At 70ft and 87 tons with a 450hp engine she could travel at 13 knots, a lot fasster than the average fishing boat. In july of that year Bill started comprehensive survey for potential scallop fishing, the result of which started a multi million dollar scallop industry. On the 8th of Sept a Tiger Moth acft enroute from HBT to FLI went missing. Over the next 18 days the Challenger was involed in the sea side of the search. Nothing of significance was ever found but Bill and the crew spent 18 days often in rough and uncomfortablde conditions . They received a letter of thanks from DCA for their effordts. Bill participated in major surveys over the next nine years but they are too detailed to mention here. the protection of fisheries role was the most important aspect of Bill’s work and he applied himself hole heartedly to this task Victorian fishermen who did not hold a Tasmanian licence were poaching in our w2aters enmasse. On the 10th June 1973 the crew on the Challenger made a startling arrest haul of 8 vessels and 14 fishermen poaching near Prime Seal island. Now Bill was invested with powers of a Special Constable and to pull of an exercise of this magnidtude must have taken some courage. It was alleged thatg on one occasion a shot gun was waived in Bill’s direction. He had a .303 rifle on board as his official fire arm.
Bill was now 60 but was certainly not reday to give up his maritime career. Returning North he found employment with the now almagmated Flinders Isl shipping co. They had 3 vessels, Flinders trader, of 167 tons, Lady Jillian of 242 tons and the Katika of 347 tons. Individual trips are too numerous to mention but on the Flinders Trader btn Jan 82 and Dec 87 he served 1 period as Mate the rest as Master, btn May 83 and Jan 89 served on the Lady Jillian as Mate with a 25 day period as Master. Abd the Katika from Feb 1982 to Aug 1986 as Mate and relieving Master. By the early 90’s the Katika and Flinders Trader were gone, only the Jill remaining. It was obvious this old style mono hull deepd draught, excessive crew tyope sling loading vessel was no longer viable. Bill and Margaret had relocated to Bridport and were great friends with Matthew and Coleen Bayles. Matthew a fisherman and boat builder along with Bill could see a future with a shallow draught, drive on-off stern loading vessel, more streamlined hull and with less crew required. It would make the crossing btn BDP and LDB in abt half the time vessels like the Trader btn LST and WHK; would take. Whats more with carefull navigation they could operate in most tial situations. Bill threw himself into the project and did extensive surveys and all his local knowledge produced a report which was favourable to the Govt. A contract was let with along with a building subsidy and the result was the launch of the Matthew Flinders III in in Dec 1995, its firsat sailing on the 20th had as its Mate, you guessed it Captain Bill. In Apr 97 he was upgraded to Master and served in that capacity until May 98. From March 99 for two months until 13th July he reverted to Mate and that was his last sailing.