The Myra + Merinda II: Pittwater Ferries of the palm beach ferry service (commenced 1976)- A Few Other Verrills Ferries Of The 1980'S To Early 2000'S + Palm Beach Boatshed Insights
Step onboard the iconic Palm Beach ferry Myra for a leisurely cruise on Pittwater. The first two stops, Bennets Wharf and Bonnie Doon, are the gateway to Coasters Retreat. They are closely followed by the most popular destination of all, The Basin; offering flat, grassy camping grounds and excellent picnic facilities.
And then you went on to the ferries in 1976. What was the first ferry you had?
I decided I’d get into ferries. I didn’t get the first ferry until 1976. In 1974 I went with a mate of mine called Billy Martin being an absolute hard basket over in the New Hebrides. He was in carting cargo and salvage of wrecks on Middleton reef. We salvaged the Runic, a couple of others off Middleton reef, a couple of Jap trawlers there; then a couple in New Caledonia and then I came back to do the ferries because I’d earned the money to do it. The first boat was one I named after my mother, it came from her mother’s family in Newcastle, from the Walters, the Stockton Ferries, I bought one of their boats. Up there she was called the Arthur G Walter; we brought her down here and rebuilt her and called her the Ellen Anne after mum.
Now the Goddards had a ferry service out here..
They were the originals. There was also Goldthorpe and Smith which became Palmarine.
So yours was a carrying forward of a local Palm Beach ferry service?
Yes, the water was always in my blood, I loved the water, loved boats. So I started Palm Beach Ferry Service; took over from Don MacKay.
Where were you running to?
When I first started the run was to Bobbin Head on a daily basis. I bought the Ellen Anne in '76. Later in '76 I bought the Merinda with the Basin-Mackeral Beach Ferry Service. So then I had two runs, which didn’t leave me with a back-up boat if something went wrong or if we had overloads anywhere. So I figured we needed three boats and of course it just kept growing from there; you had to get your contracts through the Department of Transport, as it was called then, in those days. Then it became the Department of Motor Transport now it’s the Roads and Transport.
How many ferries did you have over that time?
I had 19 ferries. There was Ellen Anne, second one was Merinda, third was Merinda II, 4 was the Hawkesbury, a Brooklyn boat, which I renamed Melissa after my daughter, then the Myra which was my mother in laws name, then we were starting to get everything else; I’d sold the Ellen Anne to build the Merinda II…and everything was starting with an ‘M’ and we didn’t realise it at the time, and ending with an ‘a’. so we kept that going for quite a while. After the Myra came the Mirrigini which was a local boat from here; Don Mackay was the previous owner, then the Mia, which was named after my dog; she was named Mia, she originally came from Brisbane River. She was a little cross river ferry up in Brisbane River and I used her as a backup for The Basin run. Mind you, as I was buying one I’d be selling one, so really we did increase in numbers but after we’d have three or four I’d sell a boat.
Friendly used to drive one; the Ellen Anne; she was a good boat to drive, like the Merinda. Merinda was a good boat to drive but a terrible boat for passengers; she was a well decker where you’ve got to walk down into them, and the Mia was a well decker too; they were the only two well deckers I had.
Photo: Pete with his old business shirt on
Friendly: Melissa II was a heap of junk; that was that twin screw single rudder…
Peter: Melissa II was great; it’s Melissa I you’re thinking of.
Friendly: Don Mackay was always on the southern end with the Marrigini and then we’d come in on the Melissa I from the northern end and it’d be blasting from the south, and as soon as you’d get your stop-go to bring her in the bow would just get blown away and you’d get blown towards Gonzales boatshed because this thing wouldn’t go backwards. You’d give if full stern and it’d still…so you’d have to come in at this angle, and I taught his young son, young Mark (Peter’s son) who was my deckhand at the time, I taught him to take a pylon with the deckline at 70 feet; I’d come at the wharf and he’d give it a hoy, get the pylon and and begin tying up!
Cowboys of Pittwater it sounds like!
Friendly; Geez they were good days.
Tom Gilbert: Friendly certainly was.
Which was your favourite?
My favourite ever…the Myra, she’s still running. She’s just the most beautiful boat to handle. She did everything you asked her; it shouldn’t have been called ‘Myra’, it should have been named after a bloke because it behaved so perfectly.
Friendly, Brian Friend, kindly provided a bit more about Palm Beach Ferries;
As his business flourished and he became more popular, in 1981, Peter bought his 3rd. ferry the HAWKESBURY which he renamed MELISSA after his daughter. This boat was a dog of a thing with twin propellers that, if you used them as a fan, they would not keep you cool on a hot day. Anyway Pete was on a roll and no one could stop this man who was on a mission. After consulting his mates (Martin, Dicko, Goddard etc) in 1983 he decided to actually build a new ferry to HIS specifications.
Now according to Pete, if I can build a house, then there’s not much more needed to build a boat. Norman Wright & Sons of Queensland agreed to Peter’s demands and with a bit of changes here and there (they removed the ensuite and the sauna from the plans) they built the ferry MERINDA II for the Bobbin Head run and of course this vessel was still carrying out those duties until recently.
In 1985 he again requested Norman Wright & Sons to build him another ferry but left the plans up to them. This ferry was called the MYRA which was named after his mother-in-law. Now she must have a wonderful woman because this ferry (with her name there on) is still operating to day as efficiently and effective as the day she went in to service.
And of course the ‘sky is the limit’ when things are going well so in 1986 he purchased the MIRIGINI which he used as a charter boat both here and on Sydney Harbour (at this time he was trying his hand at challenging the ‘legends’ on Sydney Harbour). In 1988 he again went to the bank and purchased another ferry from the Brisbane River area called the GOLDEN GULL and renamed her the MIA after his pet dog. In 1992 we all went to town after he had purchased the PRODUCE from Stannard Bros and sailed her back to Pittwater although after a certain man by the name of Goddard produced a bottle of rum, half the crew have no memory of the vessel entering Broken Bay. In 1996 he bought the FIESTA and used her for mainly charter work but, working the two ports was hard as each charter on Sydney Harbour meant that the crew had to spend 3 hours each way and then carry out the charter which made for a long day so he sold her in 1999.
In October 1999, the brain cells were running amok and he could feel it in his water that a ferry run between Palm Beach and Ettalong would be a viable product. First he would have to buy a ferry that was stable and fast and could handle rough conditions that were often found between Barrenjoey and Box Head. He found an aluminium catamaran by the name of AMAROO up near Forster so he took a gamble and purchased her and renamed her SPIRIT. All of a sudden this ferry service became a popular item as people from the peninsular now had a chance to get to the Central Coast in about 20-25 minutes without driving. They could have lunch up there, wander through the village markets and return the same day. What a great man this Peter Verrills is coming up with such a great idea. Now we have regular commuters each day attending work, school, family visits and shopping.
Anyway, the SPIRIT was an old girl and she needed a backup, so in 2000 he built a new catamaran which he named SILVER SPIRIT which had a top speed of about 25 knots and carried about 220 passengers. Now Pete knew that the Olympics where approaching so this ferry arrived at the right time. Sydney Ferries had seen this ferry in operation and knew the background of one ‘L.S.F.P.’ so they chartered ‘the man and his boat’ for the entire games. Pete was on fire and another ferry was imminent so in 2001 along came GOLDEN SPIRIT, a bit smaller and capable of carrying 160 passengers and a top speed of about 22 knots. This one was a backup for the Ettalong run and the Sport & Rec. camp near Juno Point.
In 2002 he completed the building of a new catamaran which he designed and supervised himself and called her AQUA SPIRIT which had a top speed of about 27 knots and carries about 250 people. This vessel was such a success that it is regularly on stand by for Sydney Ferries and has worked the Parramatta River and Taronga Zoo run on many occasions. The need once again hit home and Peter decided that AQUA was a good vessel so, her sister ship CHRYSTAL SPIRIT hit the scene and of course the rest is history. On the 30th. November, 2004 Peter drove his last ferry and moved in to retirement.
Did you sell any of these to Church Point Ferry Service Pete?
I sold one boat to there, to a bloke by the name of Jack Kirkpatrick; I sold him the last Melissa which he renamed Kuringgai.
So you got out of Palm Beach Ferries. What did you do then?
Went caravanning all around Australia; anywhere a caravan could go.
Peter, which was your first boatshed memory?
Gonsalves Boatshed down at Snapperman, because we were all relatives, all related.
Barrenjoey Road, Pittwater Park prior to being resumed and named as such and Ferry Wharf - Gows Jetty with Pool area built by Barrenjoey Land Company shown - circa 1917. Gow-Gonsalves-Verrills family photo
Gow's-Gonsalve's Boatshed circa 1930 or 1940 - Verrills Family photos
Tom Gilbert (in middle) atop Carl Gow's/Gonsalves Boatshed, 1949. Annual fundraisers were held in the park near the ferry wharf to raise funds to support the Randwick Hospital with the Carl Gow/Gonsalves Boatshed put into use as the 'Beer House'. This became an annual event:
HOSPITAL BENEFIT AT PALM BEACH. The Randwick Auxiliary Hospital will benefit from a deep sea fishing and sporting day at Palm Beach tomorrow. Professional fishermen operating from Palm Beach and private owners are providing the trawlers. HOSPITAL BENEFIT AT PALM BEACH. (1950, March 18). The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 - 1954), p. 5. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article27575067
There are some tall tales still ‘floating’ around about Sunday nights at Gonsalves – any truth to those?
Some truths there. There were some very interesting evenings there – I was only a young bloke then so I hadn’t witnessed all the activities associated with Sunday nights at Gonsalves.
Didn’t a lot of the founders of Palm Beach RSL used to meet there?
That’s right, that’s what started the club, before they had a shed at Iluka Park for a while. Carl Gow was central to this. He’d served in WWI and his brother and father were stationed at Barrenjoey Lighthouse as the war was ending, so he came here.
Carl Gow was the instigator of it all, and his batman from the First World War, Harold Richardson, who had a leg blown off, he became the Secretary of the Club. So between Carl Gow and Harold Ricardson they started the club, in a shed, down where Lucinda Park today is.
How big was the shed?
About 20 feet by 12 feet, and it was all voluntary then. About 4 o’clock in the afternoon someone would put a keg on and back then it was all just donations to pay for the grog. I was too young to be part of the drinking of course. I soon caught up later on.
When they got the premises where the existing club is the shed had to go from the park. I ended up with the shed. I had a block of land on the waterfront up at Wiseman’s Ferry where we used to go water-skiing of a weekend. So the shed went up there and became our little lodge.
Gonsalves is still going – what’s the best memories you have associated with that boatshed Pete?
Back then there was a lot of fishing associated with that shed. My uncle Frank Gonsalves had three beaut trawlers, the Joycee, the Caroline H and the Mary J, that used to fish out the front here, on Pittwater.
The Caroline H is still going – the Mary J is down in cold storage though.
How did she end up in cold storage?
A bloke called Bert Singleton owned it when it met its Waterloo, he only had one leg too. He broke down at sea and they never had two-way radios or anything like that. This coastal steamer came close and they waved it down. The ship came over to the poor old Mary J, and there was a pretty big sea running, and the Mary J got sucked in under the stern of this steamer and the ship went up on a wave and came down and just squashed her. She had a fishing party on her too at that time, quite a few blokes – but no lives were lost, everyone survived.
Friendly: who owned the Rendezvous then?
Pete: Tom Mann – he’s the one that had the taxis.
Who built the Goddard’s boatshed Pete?
The Goddards built that. They were Shipwrights, knew what they were doing. The unusual part about that one was that Wally Goddard, on the block of land beside it, built a timber garage which was so interesting to go into, he’d nailed all the studs to the bottom and top plates and these were morticed in to the top and bottom plates – there were no nails, it was a classic.
Friendly: that’s pretty amazing – shows you what boat builders can do.
Pete: that’s how they did it.
Goddards boat shed Palm Beach with the original general store - behind where Palm Beach Cellars is now. Photo taken in about 1927 when they were installing curb and guttering on Iluka Road. William Joseph Goddard and his family lived upstairs. The building was most likely built by Albert (Bert) Verrills and his crew. Photo: Bill Goddard.
Palmarine commenced as Goldthorpe and Smith originally?
Pete: that’s right.
Do you have any memories of them Pete?
Pete: Tommy Smith was the Engineer and George Goldthorpe used to run it all. They had this beautiful big slipway here….
Russell: They used to build big Tugs and all sorts of boats here.
Pete: yeah – big tugs were built here, two of them – these went to Queensland, right up to Cairns. These were built under contract, in steel.
Friendly: the main slipway was on that side (south) and they had a smaller one on this side (north). It was pretty good to see something of that scale built here.
An unidentified vessel lies beached at Goldthorpe and Smith's - this is beside the slipway and rainwater outlet pipe. circa 1953. Photo courtesy Avalon Beach Historical Society, Geoff Searl OAM
Pete: They rebuilt that classic yacht the Boomerang here as well and re-motored it for when the Royal Family were coming here. She had a hob keel and a broken back when she came here, so they put a new keel in her. George Hannaford the Shipwright worked on her.
Chris: The Barrenjoey used to run out of here all the way to Lord Howe Island with supplies.
Friendly: when they used to do that run they didn’t have all the technology you have onboard today – they’d go via the compass. When they got outside of here they’d pick up the beacon and just keep heading for it. Those who remember Dr. Bill Hock will recall the lady he met up with Judy, she was the cook on the boat – and a brilliant chef at that, an awesome lady.
Pete: the Barrenjoey was a beautiful big boat that was done here too. That one is still running too – she’s in Bali now, doing a tourist trade thing.
Who bought Goldthorpe and Smith’s shed?
Friendly: The Port Jackson Steamship Company. They had Goddards from December 1941, although they didn’t commence until February 1942.
Pete: Goldthorpe and Smith had this one- Port Jackson company took over Goddards. Port Jackson sold to Brambles, who stuffed it up completely. Within no time at all Brambles had lost the ferries as well as all the runs; The Basin run, the Bobbin Head run, the Dangar Island service as well. It all got split up and sold off to private enterprise and individuals. That was the end of Goddard’s.
When did they demolish the wharf?
Pete: the slipway was the first to go. They had a beautiful big boat called the West Head, which they slipped on the cradle, lashed the cradle to West Head and relaunched her, and drove her and the first slipway around the corner to here. Jimmy Goddard did that.
What was Jimmy Goddard like Pete?
Pete: He was a bit of a character, that’s for sure. He liked a rum, and a scotch.
Jayson: he had this boat that would make a noise ‘choof choof’, you could hear him coming.
Pete: and every time it made that noise there’d be a little cloud of white smoke.
So the Bill Goddard who has been helping out with research is Jimmy’s son?
Yes – and there’s Alan too – he moved down to Tasmania when Jimmy did.
Caroline H with a Fishing Party and Jimmy Goddard. Photo courtesy Bill Goddard
Left to right: Chris Alldritt, Jayson McDonald, Russell Walton, Brian Friend, Peter Verrills who helped with the Goddards and Goldthorpe & Smith resaerch
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Observation Point, Palm Beach, Newport Digital Order Number: a106120 circa 1912, Broadhurst Image, courtesy State Library of NSW.