THE population (c. 120) of the little fishing village of Port Franklin swelled threefold last Sunday for the much anticipated launch of Neil Everitt’s history of the district.
More than 200 people packed into Port Franklin’s little wooden hall to listen to the speeches, while many others had to wait outside. Relaxing in the shade of marquees specially erected for the occasion, they were perhaps the more fortunate, for the heat in the hall was stifling.
It was Foster and District Historical Society which arranged for the publication of the book – ‘They Fished in Wooden Boats: A History of Port Franklin District and the Fishing Families’, to give it its full title.
Society president Dr Graeme Rogers welcomed everyone to the launch and said how very privileged the historical society felt in supporting Neil Everitt to write his book.
“It only happened because of the author’s passion for his subject. He was relentless in his exploration of every avenue,” said Dr Rogers, thanking the many people who had given the author the time, memoirs and photos necessary to complete his history.
He acknowledged the assistance provided by a local history grant from the state government and paid particular tribute to the branches of the Foster and Toora Community Bank, which sponsored the book’s publication.
Llew Vale, a director of the Promontory District Finance Group, spoke on behalf of the Bendigo Bank, saying that the reason the community bank exists is to add to projects such as this which benefit the community.
“This district is very lucky in having people who are willing to write local histories, for they add a huge dimension to cultural life here in Promontory District,” he said.
Dr Rogers then invited local historian Cheryl Glowrey, who is currently completing a PhD on the environmental history of Corner Inlet, to officially launch the book.
Mrs Glowrey reminded the audience that she was formerly Cheryl Hopkins and said she had spent many happy weekends as a child at Port Franklin, where her maternal grandparents lived.
She congratulated Neil Everitt on his history, praising him as a collaborative writer who had successfully gathered the stories of a huge number of people in the Port Franklin community. She likened the writing of a local history to running a marathon or putting together a jigsaw puzzle – no easy feat.
“Local history is about real people and the events that have shaped their lives and the communities in which they live. It is the role of the historian to capture the stories and memories of people and ensure they are not lost,” she said. “Congratulations, Neil, on a brilliant job!”
The author himself then addressed the audience, beginning by thanking a few of the many people who had travelled long distances or made a particular effort to be at the launch. Among those he singled out was Fay Cripps, who had travelled from NZ for the occasion; Pat Duthie (nee Miles) and Elsie Young (nee Cripps), both born into local fishing families and at 80-plus two of the eldest people in attendance at the launch; and 95-year-old Jim Soderlund, who now lives in Foster, but who spent all his working life – since the 1930s – fishing out of Port Franklin.
The family histories of these people and many others – among them Pettersons, Averys, Mattssons and Bergs – are included in Neil Everitt’s 180-page book.
“Unravelling the Cripps family was like doing the worst jigsaw ever!” laughed Mr Everitt. “Some have said this town should have been called Crippsville, but there were other prominent families at Port Franklin. Many Scandinavian families headed to the district late in the nineteenth century in search of the ‘nuggets the size of cricket balls’ reportedly in Foster’s main street. They didn’t find the gold, and instead found their way to Port Franklin.
Mr Everitt said he enjoyed writing the book and saw it as a celebration of 140 years of fishing out of the Port, an aspect of local history which has hitherto been largely neglected.
He had expressed an interest in writing a history of Port Franklin almost 20 years ago, he said, and been urged on by the late Rosie Crawford, but it was only in the last couple of years that he had been able to start his research, and only with the support of his wife, Rita, that he had been able to finish what had been a time-consuming though fascinating task.
He said that his personal association with Port Franklin went back a long way, back to his schooldays in the 1950s when he had fished under the supervision of Lionel Miles. He had entertained an ambition to be a fisherman himself, but his father had had other ideas. Still, he had a great deal of admiration for the pioneering fishermen of the district and his book, he said, recognised the dangers they faced in their wooden boats and the trials their industry has faced over the years, most recently because of government restrictions on fishing in Corner Inlet.
‘They Fished in Wooden Boats’ is predominantly about the fishing industry and the fishing families of the Port Franklin district, but there is much more besides. The importance of the Chinese fish curing operations at Port Albert is emphasised, as is construction engineer’s Andrew O’Keefe’s introduction of an improved transport system, including rail line, wharf and crane, and there are details about some of the other industries in the district.
“The mines have got a lot to answer for,” said Mr Everitt. His book details the polluting effect of the tin mine north of Toora, which silted up the Franklin River to the detriment of the fishing industry for many years, until the government took measures to stop the damage.
Significant events in the district are recorded in the book, and there are about 80 black and white photographs. Thanks to his careful research and to the many people who trawled their memories and told their stories, Neil Everitt has managed to produce a fascinating and eminently readable book.
As well as the people who helped with his research and those who agreed to be interviewed for his book, Mr Everitt thanked Jane Vale (co-author with him of ‘With Mud on their Boots: Toora 1888-1988’) for writing the foreword and Anne Roussac-Hoyne for performing the job of proofreading. He also thanked the historical society and the community bank branches for their support in the publication of the book.
“Buy it for your own enjoyment and hopefully for that of your children and grandchildren, too!” he urged his audience at the launch.
They needed no second bidding. At the close of the speeches, while Port Franklin residents past and present were catching up and enjoying afternoon tea inside and outside the hall, copies of the history sold like hot cakes. Neil Everitt was kept very busy signing copies, and it was not long before the entire print run of 300 had been sold. Plans are now under way for a second printing.
The book is a large format paperback and retails for $28. Orders can be placed with Foster and District Historical Society at Foster Museum.