OUR HISTORY

Tacoma's 70 years: A personal perspective

STILL GOING: The MFV Tacoma on the water. The boat celebrates 70 years in Port Lincoln on January 18. Photo: supplied
STILL GOING: The MFV Tacoma on the water. The boat celebrates 70 years in Port Lincoln on January 18. Photo: supplied

Last month MFV Almonta sank on its mooring for a second time. This once proud member of the Port Lincoln tuna fleet now sits forlorn, half submerged in Porter Bay.

It seems likely another part of the 60s tuna fleet is to be lost. I am guessing funds are short and too few people care enough to keep her afloat. This gives me pause for thought.

A short distance away, deep in the Port Lincoln Marina, sits the MFV Tacoma - afloat, fully preserved, debt free, self-funded and heritage listed.

The contrast could not be starker. The Tacoma Preservation Society has been negotiating with the Port Lincoln City Council for a decade to assist this historic vessel to be moored in a more publicly accessible and prominent location in the marina, adjacent to the Fisherman's Memorial.

This location would allow the Tacoma to rightly assert her place as the cornerstone of the city's post war maritime and fishing history. This year ticks a lot of boxes.

The MFV Tacoma was built on the banks of the Moyne River at Port Fairy on the Victorian south coast and launched in November 1951.

It was Australia's first purpose-built purse seiner tuna clipper. It took its builders, the Haldane brothers, seven years to craft by hand from huge logs hewn in the nearby Otway Ranges.

SUBMERGED: MFV Almonta submerged in Porter Bay after sinking on its mooring a second time. Photo: supplied

SUBMERGED: MFV Almonta submerged in Porter Bay after sinking on its mooring a second time. Photo: supplied

Seventy years ago she arrived in Port Lincoln. This single and pivotal event I believe forever changed the lives and shaped the future of the people of Port Lincoln.

The year was 1952 and the date January 18. Robert Menzies was Prime Minister and Thomas Playford was Premier when the 84 foot white wooden boat, the MFV Tacoma, berthed at Brennan's Jetty.

Onboard were three families, led by those three young Victorian fishermen and boat building brothers Bill, Alan and Hughie Haldane, their 18 year old neighbours the Bellamy twins, a dog and a cat with a litter of kittens.

They also brought with them their hopes and vision for a new and exciting industry. Local fisherman and tuna farming pioneer Joe Puglisi OAM told the ABC Landline documentary I produced in 2012, "The Tacoma is responsible for the tuna industry. If they hadn't have come, there wouldn't have been a tuna industry."

As usual, Joe was right. Access to Australia's rich tuna resource is possible from the eastern states, Tasmania or South Australia.

Port Lincoln would be a far less vibrant, wealthy and interesting place if the Tacoma had stayed in Victoria or gone to Tasmania in 1952.

For this reason alone, I believe everyone in Port Lincoln owes a debt to this heritage wooden vessel. The MFV Tacoma raised the technology and safety bar for the Australian fishing fleet 70 years ago and shaped the destiny of current day Port Lincoln.

It's a pity next week's 70th anniversary of her arrival will go largely unheralded. I reckon that's a significant missed opportunity.