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The Living Boat Trust Inc is a not-for-profit, membership based community organisation, founded in 1998 by Chris Burke and Pip Gowen and located on the banks of the Huon River in the historic town of Franklin in southern Tasmania. The Trust seeks to recover and celebrate Tasmania’s maritime heritage, not merely as a nostalgic sentiment, but as a practical and sustainable ingredient of contemporary life. It works with individuals, educational organisations and community groups, schools, all three levels of government, young people at risk, families and visitors in the search for authentic cultural and practical experience by providing opportunities for group participation in traditional wooden boat repair, construction, innovation, small boat adventuring with sail and oar and the preservation of plans, manuscripts, books and historic boats for study and practical use.

The Trust provides mentoring programs to engage young people in the use as well as the restoration of historic craft in order to ensure the preservation of not only the artifacts themselves, but also the skills and values that they represent.

The Trust’s first project was the building of a reproduction of the 1860 Tasmanian whaleboat, Swiftsure II, the original of which is housed in the Canterbury Museum, Christchurch, New Zealand. The Swiftsure project began in a temporary shed built by volunteers on land belonging to Shipwright’s Point School of Wooden Boatbuilding (now The Wooden Boat Centre) and the first participants were students from Geeveston District High School. In 2001, the construction of the whaleboat was interrupted in order to erect a permanent community workshop on land, leased by the Trust from the Crown, between the Wooden Boat Centre and Franklin Evaporators, at the north end of Franklin.

In 2002, the Trust received grants from Community Foundation Tasmania and the Tasmanian Community Fund to erect its permanent workshop. A dismantled shed, formerly the carpenters’ shed at Tarraleah, was donated to the Trust by the Hydro Tasmania, through the good offices of Forestry Tasmania, and was transported to the Living Boat Trust’s lease at Franklin by Forestry Tasmania and Hazell Brothers. The Workshop was completed through the generosity of members of the community of the Huon and southern Tasmania who offered considerably reduced quotations for work and materials and donated time and money. The Trust’s workshop was opening by The Hon. Harry Quick, MHR, on 28th November 2004. (Ruth Young has provided a more detailed description of the early days at the Trust: see

Work recommenced on the Swiftsure reproduction in 2003, supported by donations of timber from Huon Valley Council, Zinifex and Jeff Leddin as well as a grant from the Tasmanian Bi-centennial Committee. Volunteers, supervised by boatbuilders Mark Singleton, Adrian Phillips, Anders Thiele, Dave Golding and Trust members met every Monday night for 7 months to build the boat assisted by the daytime work of students from Geeveston District High School and Dover District High School. Swiftsure’s construction is part of a national movement to celebrate this important strand in our maritime history, by re-introducing the art of open boat seamanship, using only muscle and wind, on which the whaling industry depended. Swiftsure II was launched at Franklin on 28 November 2004 by the Minister of Education, Ms. Paula Wriedt and embarked on her maiden voyage on 6th February 2005 from Recherche Bay to Hobart, skippered by Adrian Phillips and rowed by relays of 40 volunteers and support crew, stopping at Southport, Port Esperance, Randalls Bay and Coningham. She arrived at Sullivan’s Cove on 11th of February to be the centre of the Trust’s display at the 2005 Australian Wooden Boat Festival. Following this success RAIDs have been staged over a similar course biennially. This activity has been named Tawe Nunnugah, Tasmanian Aboriginal terms for “going by canoe”, in honour of the mariners who originally explored our waterways.

Since that time busy groups of volunteers get together to build, repair and maintain wooden boats of all shapes and sizes. Major projects included the building of  the St Ayles Skiffs ‘Imagine’ and ‘Billy’, and the success of these  boats both in Raids and for general rowing has been beyond everyone’s expectations.  The Trust held the first major Skiff regatta in Australia, and followed up with a second two years later.  We hope this will become another biennial event.

The Trust has been the recipient of a number of vessels, and manages a small fleet.  Significant among these boats are the Nancy, a hundred year old motor launch, and a Montagu Whaler, restored by the Wooden Boat Centre.

The Trust provides sailing and seamanship courses for local children and their parents, and other community members. Sailing and Camping expeditions are held to encourage the safe use of our spectacular waterways.  The ‘Tawe Nunnugah’ Raid, held every two years to coincide with the Australian Wooden Boat Festival, is a unique opportunity to participate in an extended expedition in small boats, attracts participants from all around Australia and the world, and has inspired others to organise similar events

In the past few years much has been achieved. The On the Water program was originally funded by the Federal Government through a Medicare Active Award and trained 300 schoolchildren in the safe effective and healthy use of boats on the water of the Huon River from 2009-2011 thanks to funding, this time from the State Labour government.  This program continues as a lower key, but still appreciated, rowing program for schools

While doing all this we were fortunate to receive grants from the Tasmanian Community Foundation, and we have built the large verandah on the north side of the shed, and workshop annex on the south side. This has greatly increased the flexibility with which we can operate, and has allowed us to run many and varied programs and activities.

The ‘before and after’ shots shown below illustrate how the North Franklin waterfront grew between 1995 and 2017 – the Living Boat Trust being a large part of this.

Chris Wilson

Richard Forster

 Pics from Bill Wright and Max

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