Preserving the Dart: a piece of working history from the Murray River

A very clear image of DART with its pile driving machinery set up for work, and moored beside the shoreline at Waikere on the Murray River in South Australia, in 1930. ARHV <a href"http://arhv.anmm.gov.au/en/objects/details/149688/dart?ctx=b346e9c3-7f7a-4113-98fe-e838cd2c5c95&idx=0">HV000221</a>.

A very clear image of Dart with its pile driving machinery set up for work, and moored beside the shoreline at Waikere on the Murray River in South Australia, in 1930. ARHV HV000221.

The traffic on the Murray River owes a big debt to the simple working vessels that serviced the infrastructure that made commercial operations possible. One of these crafts, the barge Dart, lies onshore at Goolwa, shaded and partially protected by the big Hindmarsh Bridge that spans the passage between the port of Goolwa and Hindmarsh Island. Dart is out of the water for a much-needed restoration. Recently I visited the Dart as in-kind support to inspect the Australian Register of Historic Vessels (ARHV) listed barge and write up a Vessel Management Plan (VMP), thanks to a  Maritime Museums of Australia Project Support Scheme (MMAPSS) grant.

Goolwa is just under two hours drive from Adelaide and is part of the Fleurieu Peninsula region of South Australia. Dart is managed by Alexandrina Council and the Friends of PS Oscar W, an operational paddle steamer well known in Goolwa and also listed on the ARHV.  It was restored many years ago, and on one voyage towed a then floating Dart with a small load of wool bales, recreating a scene from earlier times when it was a cargo vessel.

<em>Dart</em> on the shores of the Murray River under the Hindmarsh Bridge at Goolwa. Image: David Payne/ANMM.

Dart on the shores of the Murray River under the Hindmarsh Bridge at Goolwa. Image: David Payne/ANMM.

Dart: a working history

In its original configuration, Dart was a ‘ junior public servant’ employed by the Engineering & Water Services Department of South Australia to assist with lock building and other works along the River Murray. It was fitted with a vertical boiler, a steam pile-driving derrick on the port side and a winch. Pile-driving and clearing snags were its main roles.

Now, there are only a handful of surviving examples of the typical barges towed by paddle steamers working on the Murray and Darling River system. Dart is the only extant working barge example in this group, and currently considered the only one with a potential future for operation again. Wouldn’t it look fantastic being towed along behind Oscar W once again?

PS <em>Oscar W</em>, complete with wine barrels. Image: David Payne/ANMM.

PS Oscar W, complete with wine barrels. Image: David Payne/ANMM.

Dart is, not surprisingly, in need of some work. When it was built in 1914 as a working vessel, it was robust and simple…and did not expect a lot of care, maintenance – or even a particularly long life. It is now over 100 years old, but still carries a considerable amount of original structure, along with its original shape. Wood rot and corrosion have set in, but these issues can be addressed and the craft can be rebuilt.

Stern view of <em>Dart</em> with a typical paddle wheeler rudder shape. Image: David Payne/ANMM.

Stern view of Dart with a typical paddle wheeler rudder shape. Image: David Payne/ANMM.

In the last few years, it has been out of the water and stabilized, sitting under the Hindmarsh Bridge. The group received an earlier MMAPSS grant, which enabled them to start the project. The outcome of this visit is a VMP – a handbook of the craft’s significance and background, how it will be interpreted, how it will be conserved and it can be rebuilt so Dart can eventually be operated to tell its story.

Crafting a vessel management plan

I met with Sarah Kay from Alexandrina Council, Roly Bartlett, Graham Pratt, Dennis Borchart from Friends of Oscar W, along with  Adam Auditori, a vastly experienced Murray River shipwright who is tasked with the practical restoration work. We went over the vessel and the project, discussing the condition and options available for the work ahead and gathering information to put into the VMP.

The old court house is one of many historic buildings still in use at Goolwa. Image: David Payne/ANMM.

The old courthouse is one of many historic buildings still in use at Goolwa. Image: David Payne/ANMM.

Back in Sydney the VMP will be completed and handed on giving the group a comprehensive document to help guide the process. However, in the first instance, it will help with fundraising, providing them with a document that contains the reasons why this is a significant craft and demonstrating that a comprehensive plan of further action is in place to achieve the desired outcome and have Dart back on the water, towed behind Oscar W.

— David Payne, Curator of Historic Vessels. 

Be part of the Maritime Museums of Australia Project Support Scheme

As part of Australia’s maritime heritage community, you can apply for a MMAPSS grant for 2018/19 now. Applications are now open and encouraged from organisations around the country that need support to care for, promote, interpret, display and provide quality public access to objects or collections that contribute to an understanding of Australia, its people and developments, which have influenced its maritime history.  Grants of grant of up to $15,000 or $3,000 for an internship are available. Check the museum’s website for more details on how to apply, you can now apply via a new online system.  Applications are due by 31 March 2018.

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