Grand lady’s century: Old steamer’s eclectic career

John Lindsay, who helped get Rowitta to Warrnambool in the 1970s, surveys the steam ferry this week.090109DW04 Picture: DAMIAN WHITE The ship gets transported to Flagstaff Hill in 1974. John Lindsay, who helped get Rowitta to Warrnambool in the 1970s, surveys the steam ferry this week.090109DW04 Picture: DAMIAN WHITE The ship gets transported to Flagstaff Hill in 1974.
HangZhou Night Net

EVEN though she ran out of steam several decades ago, Flagstaff Hill’s Rowitta notched up a century this week and is still going strong.The steam ferry has been the centre point at the maritime village for the past 30 years after its first voyage in 1909 between Hobart and Launceston.For 30 years, the Rowitta became the ‘grand lady of the Tamar’ in her role as a passenger ferry on the Tamar River between Launceston and Kelso.After this she had many purposes, working as a freighter, an army vessel, a luxury charter ferry, a floating restaurant and at one stage was proposed to be a floating casino in Lakes Entrance.Probably its most unruly voyage was its journey across dry land from the Warrnambool breakwater to Flagstaff Hill’s display lake in 1974.Former Chamber of Commerce chairman John Lindsay said getting the vessel into the maritime village was not an easy task.”We were very keen to restore timber hull ships rather than iron hull ones so as to create a maritime village as close in resemblance to what one might have seen in the time just after settlement,” he said.”My wife and I went down to Lakes Entrance and negotiated the purchase of the Rowitta for $20,000 which was being used by the owner for prawn fishing.”The vessel was bought by the Warrnambool City Council and State Government when Flagstaff Hill was in its infancy. The base structure of the Rowitta bore striking similarities to that of the Speculant, which was owned by local businessman Peter McGennan.Mr Lindsay said the inclusion of the Rowitta highlighted the importance that shipping had on Warrnambool’s early social and economic development.”Everything from the floor down is identical to McGennan’s Speculant which was a key part of the port of Warrnambool during the turn of the century,” he said.Flagstaff Hill manager Peter Abbott said the Rowitta was still in demand as a function venue.”It’s a great venue for many types of functions and its also part of our sound and light show so the Rowitta’s definitely got plenty of years left in her yet,” he said.

This article first appeared in Hangzhou Night Net.