A Passion for Towage History in Port Kembla

Port Kembla Master Tim Ryan has the privilege of living next to someone that is a treasure-trove of Australian towage history knowledge. So, it was only fitting to provide his neighbour with a tour of a modern tug, the Svitzer Ruby recently.

68-year-old Richard Flanagan’s passion stems from a family history in the industry, with his father, John James Flanagan, a former Master of the original Kiama – based in Port Kembla.

Richard is a walking encyclopedia of tug history, tug facts and more – so Tim took the opportunity to invite him down to the PK tug pen, as well as present him with a gift on behalf of the port.

Ever the expert – Richard reviewed the book: Heroic, Forceful and Fearless – and was quickly able to add some colour to some of the stories contained within. He may even have ‘fact-checked’ a couple of the details in print. 

Richard enjoyed his tour of the Ruby and the modern technology throughout the tugs of today compared to some of the vessels of the past.

He brought along a picture of the original Kiama, painted by one of the Stannards workers at the time, along with his father’s original Certificate of Competency as a Master.

Richard’s dad started out as a deckhand with Fenwick’s Towage Co in Sydney after working on the Manly Ferries – before working his way up, getting his certification and becoming a Tug Master for Wallace Tugs in Port Kembla.

Read more about Richard’s father’s history in his own words below.

Bio – John James Flanagan

My father John started working in the towage industry about 1959 as a deckhand for Fenwick’s Towage Co in Sydney, after working as deckhand on the Manly Ferries.

At the time all tugs in Australia was steam powered triple expansion engines and at the time all Fenwick tug names started with “H” e.g. Himma or Hero.

At the time Fenwick tugs in Sydney were tied up at #10 Walsh Bay.

In 1960 the 1st diesel tug in Australia the Sydney Cove was delivered. All Fenwick tugs have a Cove suffix.

Dad in the 60s worked as a deckhand and also sometimes did maintenance to tugs at Mort’s Dock in Balmain. Dad earned his Harbours & Rivers Certificate to become a Tug Master.

One time while working at the Mort’s Dock during this period, the pilot ship the Captain Cook was being scrapped near by, as she had a very ornate Figure Head, Dad offered to save it but one of people who was doing the scrapping just cut it into small pieces.

Around 1967 Dad was given the job of Tugs Master in Port Kembla for Wallace Tugs which was a 50:50 split between Fenwicks & Waratah’s Tugs. At the time there was 3 tugs in Port Kembla, one from Fenwick’s & two from Waratah’s, later the third transferred from Sydney was the Wallace tug Kurnell.

In 1972 Dad was master of the tug Kiama tied up on the eastern side of #4 Jetty astern of the tug Iron Cove. So after a contractor had done maintenance in the engine room & when he finished he left engine in gear & the controllable pitch propeller in full forward so when the engineer started the engine Kiama lurched forward snapping lines & pushing Iron Cove onto the breakwater of small craft harbour. Dad being in offices mess said that he didn’t remember how he got up a vertical ladder & through a metre square hold to the wheelhouse.

Also about this time the 1st ship to require the use of 4 tugs, the Iron Somersby.

Dad worked as Master in Port Kembla till about 1986 on several tugs when he took ill, he died the next year.

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