AN old tugboat moored at the southern end of South Bank is such a fixture in the river, it’s easy to overlook that it’s part of a much bigger picture – the Queensland Maritime Museum.
Just as the HMS Belfast is moored in the Thames as a museum ship, Brisbane has its own seafaring tour under the Goodwill Bridge.
Even if you’re not a big fan of all things shipping, it’s an engaging display from boats of various sizes and historic importance to lighthouses, maps and charts, and one of the largest collections in Australia.
It covers Queensland and Australian maritime history, from early shipwrecks to the South Brisbane Dry Dock’s vital role in World War II and just about everything in between.
And so it’s time to investigate. Hugging the bank is Forceful, a brave little steam tug that once negotiated the bends in the river pushing ships to their berth long before Port of Brisbane or even the Hamilton dock was being used.
She was built in Glasgow and during World War II operated in Fremantle, Darwin and Thursday Island. When steam gave way to diesel after the war, the tugs became even more powerful.
One of the many displaysForcefulwas retired in 1970, and soon became part of the collection of the Queensland Maritime Museum which was established a year later in 1971.
And that’s just the edge of this tour of Queensland and Australia’s maritime history. Displays are both indoors and out.
Begin inside where a display of the lighthouses of Australia has plenty of supporting information and examples of the lamps that have safely guided shipping for more than a century.
There is also a re-creation of the smoking room of the Queensland Government Steam Yacht Lucinda, made famous when the founding fathers of the nation met on the Easter weekend of 1891, to draft the legislation of what would become the Constitution of Australia.
The Australian Constitution was drafted on board the LucindaThere are plenty of other stories about the ships that were the lifeblood of the new colony when waterways were the only transport system for passengers and goods.
Cabins complete with beds and sinks show what life was like for passengers.
It’s easy to spend an hour or two wandering around before moving outdoors to the old dry dock where great slabs of stone terrace down below water level. Its vast size is emphasised by the two boats sitting in it.
Visitors can step deep into the dry dock and stand under the big propellors of the Navy warship Diamantina, the pride of the museum fleet.
The dry dock opened in 1881 and became a hive of industry maintaining and repairing all types of ships, submarines, tugs and dredges, particularly during World War II.
The Carpentaria inside the dry dockIn 1899 it was used as a swimming pool by the new Queensland Amateur Swimming Association.
The dock closed in 1972, when the southeast freeway and Captain Cook bridge was built but the heavy stone walls remain a reminder of its glorious past.
Inside the dock is the little red Carpentaria, which was built at Sydney’s Cockatoo Island dockyard in 1917 for the Commonwealth Lighthouse Service.
It was a light ship, used in areas where it wasn’t possible to build a permanent lighthouse structure. It last served in the Bass Strait oil fields, was retired in 1985, and is now being restored by museum volunteers.
It looks small beside the Diamantina, which was commissioned in 1945, built in Maryborough and saw action in the last months of World War II. It played a key role in the surrender.
The Diamantina is open for visitors to climb below decks and see the kitchen and communications room and various cabins. Hammocks hang over dining tables while the captain’s quarters are a little more comfortable.
The little sailboat that teenager Jessica Watson sailed around the world is also nearby, along with a pearling lugger Penguin which shows just how tough it was for the brave souls who went in search of the shells.
(Only about one in 5000 actually had a pearl, the rest provided mother of pearl for jewellery, ornaments and buttons. So much trivia to discover here).
The lighthouse that stood on Bulwer Island at the river mouth guiding ships up the river, is nearby. It was erected in 1912 and moved after a new light was installed on Bulwer in 1983.
It’s easy to spend another couple of hours wandering around the grounds where there’s also a collection of anchors, great views of the river and lots of stories to read.
Admission to the Queensland Maritime Museum is $16. Allow at least four hours for a decent look at maritime history.
It’s non-profit, run by volunteers and great value.