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"The steam tug Wattle is historically, socially and technologically significant at the national level as the only small harbour steam tug still surviving in Australia."

Restoration Journey 2007-2015

In early 2007 a group of businessmen formed Sorrento Steam to re-establish a steam tram service at Sorrento on the Mornington Peninsula, but the difficulties of this project led them to look at other possibilities, and in 2007 Sorrento Steam initiated discussions with BSMM on ways to save the Wattle.

On 8 April 2008 Sorrento Steam purchased Wattle for $1 and formed an agreement with BSMM for both entities to co-operate and do all that was necessary to restore Wattle to an approved seaworthy state, with Sorrento Steam covering restoration and survey costs. In June 2008, the tug was taken to Westernport for slipping, but it became clear the hull was more badly corroded than previously thought, and Wattle returned to Melbourne.

On 19 September 2008 the Australian National Maritime Museum placed Wattle on the Australian Register of Historic Vessels. But at North Wharf the tug waited beside Alma Doepel, both ships urgently requiring lifting out of the water due to their deteriorating hulls.


Awaiting restoration, Alma Doepel and Wattle. North Wharf, Victoria Docks, 20 May 2008, Jeff Malley
Awaiting restoration, Alma Doepel and Wattle. North Wharf, Victoria Docks, 20 May 2008, Jeff Malley

After careful analysis of skills and finances, and the offer from Parks Victoria of a site at 19 South Wharf for a peppercorn rent, Sorrento Steam and BSMM decided to restore Wattle with a mix of volunteer labour and specialist contractors.

On 22 October 2009 Wattle was lifted out of the water by two large mobile cranes, placed on a low loader and transported under Bolte Bridge to a specially prepared hard berth adjacent to 19 South Wharf.


Lift out for restoration, South Wharf, 22 October 2009, Lindsay Rex
Lift out for restoration, South Wharf, 22 October 2009, Lindsay Rex
Years of marine growth, South Wharf, 22 October 2009, Lindsay Rex
Years of marine growth, South Wharf, 22 October 2009, Lindsay Rex

Once Wattle was settled on her engineering-designed blocks and staunchions the surrounding area became a mini shipyard, with shipping containers converted to workshops for engineering, tools, woodwork, administration, galley and storage.

It became apparent the reason for the hull's very poor condition was the placement in the early years of the ship of concrete ballast with embedded steel ingots along the length of the ship from the waterline down. After some seventy years of seawater penetration between the ballast and the ship's frames and plates the result was extensive corrosion from the inside out.


Restoration commenced, South Wharf, December 2010, Jeff Malley
Restoration under way, December 2010, Jeff Malley
Cutting out forward starboard plates, South Wharf, December 2010, Jeff Malley
Cutting out forward starboard plates, December 2010, Jeff Malley

Early restoration priorities concentrated on the hull, engine room components and the salvage and restoration of timber fittings. Major activities included the removal of concrete ballast, corroded plates and frames, and the removal of the rudder and post, steering quadrant and propeller.


Preparing to remove propeller, August 2010, Jeff Malley
Preparing to remove propeller, August 2010, Jeff Malley
Corroded forward frames and plates removed, December 2010, Jeff Malley
Corroded forward frames and plates removed, December 2010, Jeff Malley

For more detail and pictures of the many extraordinary renovation efforts of the Wattle team over the years from 2009 to 2015, see the Newsletters page.


After plate removal, January 2011, Jeff Malley
After plate removal, January 2011, Jeff Malley
Cutting frames and plates amidships, December 2012, Jeff Malley
Cutting frames and plates amidships, December 2012, Jeff Malley

In 2015 the ship's new propellor and rudder were installed, along with work on the boilers and pumps, while topsides a new timber decking was laid. Wattle was undercoated and painted in her new livery with a green hull.

But it was a race against time. The downstream creep of new high rise apartments was continuing, and developers were starting to demolish buildings adjacent to the site. In early 2015 BSMM were told by Places Victoria and Mirvac they would have to vacate by 30 June that year. After negotiations BSMM were able to stay a few months longer, and Wattle's return to the water was planned for the end of September 2015.


Hull restored, ready for launch, 29 September 2015, Jeff Malley
Hull restored and ready for launch, 29 September 2015, Jeff Malley


NEXT → Back in the Water, 2015-Present