100-year-old patrol boat has Australian Navy service history

A patrol boat that served in the Royal Australian Navy was already 30 years when it started service in 1942. Over a century later, the boat is still sailing.

Former HMAS Riawe was built in 1912 by well-known Tasmanian shipwright EA ‘Ned’ Jack, at his boatyard on the Tamar River near Launceston, as a workboat for wealthy grazier Captain James Holyman.

The wooden carvel-construction hull was planked in Huon pine, and the boat was powered by a Rugby Red Seal 16 horsepower petrol motor. Riawe displaces nine tonnes and is 11 metres long.

Captain Holyman used the vessel to service his farming properties around Tasmania, including guiding cattle swimming between Robbins Island and Smithton, a practice known as ‘saltwater mustering’.

He sold Riawe in 1924 to Launceston businessman Gordon Allison. Mr Allison used Riawe as a river workboat, carrying various cargoes, including livestock and apples, as well as passengers, on the Tamar River and further afield, until she was requisitioned by the Navy in January 1942 for duties with the Naval Auxiliary Patrol.

Mr Allison signed Riawe over to the Commonwealth for the duration of the war, and on 28 September 1942, he was mobilised as a boat-owner skipper Chief Petty Officer, aged 41.

She was painted grey, had her mast removed, wheelhouse adapted and a .303 Vickers machine-gun fitted to the foredeck.

Riawe was also fitted with a four-cylinder 24 horsepower Invincible engine capable of eight knots, but she usually cruised at five using a gallon of fuel an hour.

Chief Petty Officer Allison served as one of Riawe’s two skippers from 1943-44 and later in Naval Auxiliary Patrol boats HMA Ships Arcadia and Sagittas on the Derwent River from December 1944 to January 1945.

Riawe’s duties included rescue work, minesweeping, and target-towing for the Army, until June 1944 when, with the threat of war waning, she ceased duties and was placed in reserve at Launceston.

On completion of her wartime service, Riawe’s old engine was stripped, fitted with new rings and bearings and reinstalled in as new condition.

Riawe decommissioned on 12 December 1945, the same day Chief Petty Officer Allison discharged from the Navy.

She was returned to Mr Allison, in better condition than new, and continued her role as a ferry across the Tamar River, north-west of Launceston.

When Mr Allison replaced Riawe with the new ferry Dalrymple in 1950, he passed the older boat on to his son Wilfred who, among other tasks, used the boat to deliver films to remote cinemas up the Tamar River.

In 1951, Wilfred Allison sold Riawe to his brother-in-law Dick Curwen, who restored the boat to peak condition and sold her on to Charles Gulliver in 1952.

Mr Gulliver renamed her Lady Pam and converted her to a crayfishing boat. Lady Pam worked in that role for more than 50 years until 2004, being fitted with a Fordson 52.5kilowatt four-cylinder diesel engine in 1968.

Almost 30 years after the Second World War, Mr Allison confided to his family Riawe had confronted a Japanese submarine in Bass Strait off Greens Beach and, without incident, each acknowledged the other with a wave and moved on.

Current owner Lindon Haigh said he first saw Riawe in 2004 when he was driving past a private jetty at Kettering in Tasmania.

“It had a ‘for sale’ sign on it, and I buy things on the spot, so it was an impulse purchase,” he said.

“I was surprised when I learnt of the boat’s history – I was told she was built in 1948, initially.

The boat was believed to be Australia’s oldest working fishing boat in a 2004 survey.

“Riawe has had more adventures and near misses than should be expected of any vessel,” he said.

“I’ve been on the marina doing a clean-up for a few weeks and we get a lot of interest in her.”

Mr Haigh said he planned to keep Riawe well-maintained and promote her history.

“I changed her name back to Riawe, because I thought it was more appropriate, and I listed her on the Australian Register of Historic Vessels,” he said.

“She was in good working order when I bought her and she goes for a run every two weeks or so.

“I take mates out on her and we go fishing, it’s a hobby, a bit like having a vintage car.”