It might be trumped by our buses and trains in patronage terms, but the humble ferry has a long history in WA.
The State’s first ferry launched in 1831 but was replaced in 1836 by a service that travelled between Fremantle and Perth. The trip took about two hours, a cracking pace for the time.
As the technology improved from sailing vessels to paddle steamers, ferries were considered the only genuine form of public transport available to the early Swan River settlers until the late 1870s.
To celebrate 190 years since WA’s first ferry service began, we’ve dug up some interesting titbits about the State’s ferry history.
The first crossings
WA’s inaugural river crossing was established during the early months of the Swan River Colony and is believed to have extended from the aptly named Ferry Point in Fremantle to North Fremantle.
From 1832 another ferry operated between Preston Point and Rocky Bay, but this and the Fremantle ferry were closed by 1835 and a new one opened up from the Cantonment Hill area in Fremantle.
The colony had very few roads and no cross-river bridges in these days. The ferries were rowed across the Swan River with the help of thick ropes that were strung from bank to bank, which allowed the skippers to counteract the pull of the river’s current.
Mends Street Jetty
It’s not known exactly when the Mends Street Jetty was built, but the first regular ferry service to use the jetty was established in 1897 with two vessels, MVs Queen and Princess.
When Perth Zoo opened in 1898, the jetty became an important piece of infrastructure for patrons wanting to get to the new attraction, warranting the introduction of a new, larger ferry – MV Duchess – two months after the zoo opened.
The Duchess became one of the most-loved ferries of its time. The captain, Jack Game, was said to have made the equivalent of 10 circumnavigations of the earth in the 220,000 trips the ferry made throughout her 30-odd years of service.
So popular was the vessel that in 1927, when she was due to be decommissioned, residents of South Perth banded together to hold a farewell function in her honour.
The MV Valdura, a 76-passenger wooden ferry built in Perth in 1912, was part of a fleet which got its name from its builders’ Scandinavian heritage, with other boats including Valhalla, Valkyrie and Valdana.
Valdura provided one of the area’s primary ferry services, but it was also available for hire for picnics, river excursions, trips to Rottnest and Rockingham, or fishing expeditions.
It was one of two WA ferries to be requisitioned by the military and taken to the Middle East during World War II. The 13m vessel (Transperth’s newest ferry MV Tricia is 23.7m long) eventually found its way back to WA and is now on display at the WA Maritime Museum, the only survivor of the Val- ferry fleet.
The MV Perth, built in Fremantle in 1914, was a twodeck, double-ended vessel (wheel and screw at each end). It made its maiden voyage from Barrack Street to Mends Street on December 20, 1914.
Having started with a steam engine, it was converted to diesel in the early 70s. It worked the river in various capacities (from ferry to party boat) until 2007.
The current fleet – MVs Shelley Taylor-Smith, Phillip Pendal and Tricia – retains several links to our ferry history.
The Shelley Taylor-Smith, which is now the reserve vessel, was launched in 1997 to replace the Princess II which, in turn, was launched in 1973 to replace the Valhalla II. The Phillip Pendal was launched in 2009 to replace the Countess II. The 148-seat, $2.6 million Tricia (launched December 2019) is named after the much-loved Asian elephant at Perth Zoo.
The ferry has been operated under contract by Captain Cook cruises since 1995. In the year to June 30, 561,305 people took the 7.5 min journey across the river. Patronage peaked at 747,881 in 2016-17 when the ferry’s home jetty switched to the newly-opened Elizabeth Quay.
Download a PDF resource.
Images: Australian National Martime Museum website 2021
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