Meet Bonnie Hyland

SHIP’S SUB-AGENT, LINESPERSON, DECKHAND, SMALL CRAFT DRIVER AND MUSSEL FARM OWNER

Bonnie Hyland has had a long and varied career working on boats around Australia. 

The Darwin-native moved to Eden, New South Wales, with her husband to take up an opportunity to buy into a local aquaculture business – Eden Mussels, situated in Snug Cove, which is visible from Eden Wharf and the Svitzer tug base.

Bonnie worked up in Darwin in aquaculture for Paspaley Pearls, where she met now husband Dan.

“I did that for about 10 years – started as a deckie on the boats and worked up enough sea time to do my Master Five and that’s how it all started in my seagoing life,” says Bonnie.

“We invested in the mussel farm down here and moved here from Darwin for that. Eden is also my husband’s hometown.”

After moving to the Sapphire Coast, and before joining Svitzer, Bonnie worked for Cat Balou Cruises, taking tourists out for harbour cruises and whale watching

“I just loved going to work,” she says. “Sometimes I would get more excited than the punters when we would see whales.

“I’ve been doing lines work (for Svitzer) for a year or so now, also done a couple of tug runs as a crew mate – to Port Kembla and to Melbourne. It has been great.”

Early in 2020, Bonnie added another feather to her cap, taking up the role of ship’s sub-agent for cruise vessels calling in to Eden. Bonnie’s new role is part of the Twofold Bay Port Agency, which Svitzer now offers as an adjacent service in the Port of Eden.

“A ship’s agent is someone who, when the ship comes into port, provides assistance with whatever is required – ambulances, water, or any food they want to procure. I make sure everything is okay with the paperwork, that they’re cleared to come in. I also liaise with the Customs guys as well.”

The re-establishment of Twofold Bay Port Agency follows the opening of a new cruise ship wharf in August 2019. Since the opening, cruise ships had been calling regularly to Eden, providing a much-needed boost to the town’s economy following devastating bushfires in January 2020.

That is, until COVID-19 forced necessary restrictions on the docking of cruise ships in Australia.

Back in February 2020, Eden was expecting 29 cruise ships to call throughout the year.

Whatever may follow in life after COVID-19, the cruise vessels that did call in 2020 provided a very welcome economic lifeline for many.

“The cruise vessels have really been a saviour,” Bonnie said in February.

“When the Voyager of the Seas came in (on 18 February) the streets were packed. You couldn’t move. They were lined in the streets, in the shops. It was really good for the town.

“It has been good for me, too, because the mussels have been shut down and we haven’t been working. These line jobs and the agency work – it has been a lifeline for me.”

The bushfires over New Year had a profound impact on the region, and a very direct impact on Eden Mussels. Ash in the water and run off from the rain that followed meant that the water quality in Twofold Bay was compromised, putting mussel farming to a temporary halt.

“The mussel farm has been open for one day only since New Year’s Eve,” Bonnie said on 27 February. “We’ve been pretty much closed down for eight weeks now.

“There was a fire burning at the chip mill, and they were spraying saltwater onto that which was going into the bay. That was an automatic closure from EPA (for the mussel farm). Roads were closed, we couldn’t get any stock out. Test after test kept failing because of the water quality.

“We then had a lot of rain, and it flooded the rivers, and the ash all ran into the bay again. It has been a terrible time.”

Like many of the crew in Eden, Bonnie and Dan’s house was at risk during the fires.

“We live just outside of Eden, in Broadwater, so we stayed to possibly defend our house. We heard everyone was down here (at the Eden Wharf), and we had some people onboard our vessels. I think it would have been the safest place.”

Thankfully, no one from our team in Eden lost their homes.

At the time of writing, Eden Mussels is temporarily closed due to the COVID-19 restrictions.

“We were the only mussel farm in New South Wales that was in production,” Bonnie says.

“This is the only farm in New South Wales where you can get a natural spat-catch. All you do is throw a rope out, the mussels attach, you don’t need hatcheries like they do in some of the southern mussel farms. The location, the clean waters – it’s ideal.”

Thanks to Bonnie and the team in Eden for keeping services running over a very disrupted four-month period – and beyond.

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