Waitoa: from the Torres Strait to Manly Harbour - The Community Leader and Real Estate New and Views
Local History

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This fascinating new publication brings to life the story of the veteran sailing lugger now moored at Manly Harbour.

The story of Waitoa, the veteran Torres Strait sailing lugger tied up at a prominent berth in Manly boat harbour, is told in a new book featuring the maritime life of Queensland.

Arnie Duffield, the “last man standing” from the halcyon days of the sailing luggers and the pearling industry in Torres Strait, has published his memoirs at the age of 95.

He recalls his time as owner of the lugger when she was the name-ship of his company, Waitoa Pearling:

“I have a few mementoes of Waitoa. There is a picture of the boat weighted down a bit with three tonnes of pearl shells in her stern-sheets, and a large model of her in my sitting room today that was made by an employee, an Islander who used plans drawn up by a shipwright on Thursday Island – all featured with pictures in the book. Waitoa was originally part of the Cleveland Pearling Company. All their boats’ names were with a ‘W’. They also had the Waikato, Waikeri and Waimate.

“We acquired Waitoa as part of a flotilla boats used by a pearl cultivation enterprise, started with Japanese investors in 1960, with a laboratory at Escape River near the tip of Cape York. As time went on she became a ferry for Islanders working at Escape River to travel back and forth to TI. When an oil spill wiped out the cultivation business in 1970 we returned this lugger and few others to fishing for pearl shells, called mother-of-pearl, in the Torres Strait.”

The Arnie Duffield memoir includes his time doing war work at Evans Deakin in the 1940s after evacuation from TI to Brisbane, aged 16, repairing allied submarines and Liberty ships, seven days a week – then later finding time to operate ferries on Moreton Bay for a Duffield family company at Bulimba.

Several Torres Strait luggers were constructed in Brisbane including two commissioned by Arnie and his brother Jim in 1954.

The book, an authentic story from tumultuous times, is about pearls from the sea, the boats, the dangers of deep-sea diving, war on Australia’s doorstep, threats to the environment, and the diverse people of the Strait.

It is replete with yarns, about crocodiles or sharks, drunks, bad weather at sea, a near-drowning, a mercy dash in a fast boat to save a downed pilot, and a few close shaves on bush air-strips.

While it is presented as more a memento than a blockbuster, the diverting personal history is woven into the strong historical background and contains details and information of heritage significance, especially about the seacraft.

After more than 70 years in the far North Arnie moved into retirement on the Sunshine Coast living near family.

Arnie: Pearls and Luggers in the Torres Strait has been co-written with Lee Duffield, a cousin and former journalist and academic.

The book is available online through Xlibris.com, and at selected bookshops including the newsagency and bookshop at the Manly 7 Day Market arcade, the Queensland Maritime Museum and the State Library of Queensland shop on Southbank.

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