Spectrum 833. The return of the scowmen

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Tono kōrero mai

Only a handful of scows are still afloat and few of the men who crewed them are left but those remaining gather on board the "Ted Ashby", the replica scow, and sail around the Auckland waterfront and Waitematā Harbour to recall the days when scows fetched, carried and helped build the North. Jack Perkins presents the programme.

A merchant fleet of 150 rugged flat-bottomed craft were built and referred to as the bullocks of the sea; carting logs, cattle, cement and sand shingle – anything that could be roped on deck or crammed into a hold. Only a handful of scows still exist, and the replica is a monument to the once thriving coastal trade and tribute to the late Ted Ashby. A brief interview with Ashby. Former friends and shipmen, Frank Aston, Lawrie Soljack, Harry Julian, Clifford Hawkins, Andy Keyworth and others talk about working life onboard.

Keyworth describes how as a boy he started on board as a cook and retells the story of how he caught a kingfish with the intention of cooking it up for dinner, only to have his captain trade it for kumaras and potatoes. One night, he explains, they anchored next to an island and crew told him they were heading ashore “to visit the farmer” however, when they returned with a dead sheep, he knew they had stolen it. They ate lamb chops for some time.

Common sounds of the scow are described. Julian explains two or three hands on deck were required to sail a scow. In the days before cranes, he says wheelbarrows were used to load shingle and describes a specific technique to load and cast off. He worked a lot of salvage jobs with his father during weekends and school holidays, and in the company of ‘Lemonade Fred’ and other hard drinking characters. He and his father didn’t drink but he explains how many a time he had to retrieve his drunken flaked out crew from pubs.

The marine department brought in licensing in the late 1920s but those skippers who’d already been sailing for twenty years received a service certificate. Although there was tough competition sourcing work between fishermen, scower and tugboat men, when it came to a rescue, everyone stepped up and no one ever charged for lending assistance. Keyworth says his job began by lighting the stove for cups of tea at 5am. He recalls loading and securing six-foot diameter kauri logs from Great Barrier Island, until the deck was under water which meant his sail back to Auckland was spent steering, pumping water and cooking.

Another seaman talks about loading shingle in Kaiaua which was used to make all the roads from Brown’s Bay to Albany. He says lime was carried south to Gisborne and posts loaded from there and carried north. The sinking of the ‘Rangi’, scows on rivers and carrying cattle is discussed. The primitive conditions on board are described. A poem from Ashby’s book concludes the programme.
[NB. Original recording ends abruptly].

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Year 1994

Reference number 15114

Media type AUDIO

Collection Sound Collection

Credits RNZ Collection
Ted Ashby (Ship)
Perkins, Jack (b.1940), Interviewer

Duration 00:28:14

Date 24 Jul 1994

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