Row Row Row Your Boat
Romanticism has often been associated with steamboats and sailing ships. By doing so, this notion has tended to overshadow small working boats such as the clinker skiff. The clinker skiff design dates back centuries. It refers to any small flat bottom craft with a sharp bow and square stern.
Displayed inside the Yamba Museum rests a restored skiff. Built in the early 1900s by William Samuel (Billy) Black. It is typical of small boats used on the Clarence River at the end of the 19th century; one of the very few such crafts remaining today.
Billy’s father, Walter arrived from England in the late 1850s. The family settled in Yamba. Walter and his wife Maria built and became the first licensees of the Wooli Hotel. Billy was born in 1876 and began school in Yamba at the age of eight. After completing 3rd class in 1886 he attended Grafton Public School.
Billy was a fisherman in his early life. Then he established himself as a house and boat builder. He became an active member of the local community, a foundation member and trustee of the Yamba School of Arts and the Grandmaster of the Masonic Lodge in Maclean. He was also a prominent sportsman, recognised as one of the best cricketers of the time on the Lower River.
Billy Black built his large home on what is now the corner of Yamba and Harbour Streets. The small bay opposite was named Billy Black’s Bay. Filling in the bay with sand dredged from the river in the 1930s allowed the Calypso Caravan Park to be established there.
After his family had grown up and his wife died, Billy went to live nearby in his big workshop, which was originally Yamba’s dance hall. Up until he passed away in 1953 Billy concentrated on building and repairing boats from small cockles up to 25ft commercial fishing and prawning vessels.
Before the skiff went on display in the Yamba Museum it had been stored in a shed on Billy’s daughter’s sugar cane farm. Mrs Ella Davies sold the boat in a clearing sale to Milton Lewis of Warregah Island. Mr Lewis donated the skiff to the museum in June 2007. After years of neglect the boat was in need of repair.
The Port of Yamba Historical Society applied for funding for the restoration of the skiff in 2009. The application to the Australian National Maritime Museum was successful. Max Hayes a qualified Marine Engineer and boat builder carried out the work over many months. Max was resolute that the age and integrity of the boat remain intact. So all the materials used and traditional boat building methods were employed.
Visit the Yamba Museum, River St (next door to the Golf Club) for the full story and photographs of Billy’s skiff.