A beloved cross-river ferry called Hamilton has permanently dropped anchor at UQ's St Lucia campus after almost 40 years of service, and half a decade in storage.
Formerly known as Pamela-Sue, her return to UQ represents the start of a new chapter in the vessel’s long and storied history.
The ferry was one of the original fleet of the St Lucia to Dutton Park ferry service, which was launched in 1967 after 4000 petition signatures were collected the previous year by the UQ Union and presented to then-Lord Mayor Clem Jones.
It was later learned that many of those signatures were written in jest as part of a student prank at the front bar of the Regatta Hotel in Toowong.
But the service would go on to become a University icon, and the quaint wooden cross-river ferries – like Hamilton – were a quirky and characteristic feature of the campus.
The opening of the Eleanor Schonell 'Green' Bridge – Australia's first pedestrian, cycle and bus bridge – saw the demise of the ferry service in 2006.
The bridge vastly improved access to Brisbane’s southside, and within five years more people were crossing the bridge to campus each day than were arriving via all other access points.
Hamilton was sold for private use at Karragarra Island, and went on to sit in storage at Thornlands for half a decade.
UQ's Corporate Operations Director Jeremy Crowley said Hamilton was now on permanent display at the University, on Sir William MacGregor Drive – near the tennis courts and the all-abilities playground.
“The ferry’s homecoming is the result of the Property and Facilities division managing to turn a challenge from the pandemic year of 2020 into an opportunity,” Crowley said.
“Property and Facilities had capacity to ask two staff members, John Henson and Luke Clark, to work at Thornlands on the bayside for a few months. And so within normal operational budget, they were able to restore this little ferry that has a special UQ connection.”
Clark said the restoration made for a year that he and Henson “would never forget”.
“Both John and I found the work challenging, although enjoyable,” Clark said.
“We are happy with the final outcome, considering the state of disrepair the ferry was originally presented to us in.”
UQ Property and Facilities engineer Sarah Haskmann brought the ferry to UQ’s attention in late 2019.
“I was offered the Pamela-Sue [now Hamilton] for restoration but I made the heartbreaking decision not to take it on and do a return-to-water restoration myself as I didn’t have time,” Haskmann said.
UQ Property and Facilities engineer Sarah Haskmann.
“But I couldn’t leave her rotting away in the boatyard – I had to tell UQ because I knew it was part of the University’s history.”
The boat’s owner generously allowed UQ to acquire it for a nominal sum, and the boatyard waived further hardstand fees in support of UQ’s efforts to give the ferry a new life.
The little UQ ferries were a much-loved part of the University community over their decades of duty.
The privately run service featured two boats, four captains and continuous daily crossings from 6:30am to 10pm.
It wasn’t the location’s first ferry service – in fact, these long pre-dated UQ’s arrival at St Lucia in 1937.
The first lessee, Mr John Cloherty, received £40 annual subsidy for a service that began in 1920.
In 1925, the newly formed Brisbane City Council took over all ferry operations, leasing them out again to private operators in 1931.
The St Lucia to Dutton Park service was seen as vital in the war years, when Australian Commander-in-Chief General Sir Thomas Blarney established the Advanced Land Headquarters in the newly built Forgan Smith building, before it had been occupied by UQ.
The delightful news for Haskmann was that through reconnecting the Pamela-Sue with UQ, she discovered its route-sister ferry – the Vicki-Lynn – which she restored, and is now converting for pleasure cruising.
“I have the biggest soft spot for these ferries, and it was a dream come true when I acquired Vicki-Lynn early in 2020, just before Brisbane’s lockdown,” Haskmann said.
“The Pamela and the Vicki worked the same St Lucia to Dutton Park route, criss-crossing the river though different years.”
Haskmann said people recognised the Vicki-Lynn every time she took her out on Moreton Bay, and she hopes to use the vessel as a pleasure cruiser for herself and her family for years to come.
“People literally paddle or drive over to tell me their history with her – I’ve talked to former students, ex-skippers and maintenance tradies who had worked on her over nearly five decades of service,” she said.
“One person even confided that he was a little seasick on board one late-night crossing after a big night on campus. People have so many fond memories of these boats.
“They are pieces of history and need to be preserved. Many hands lovingly built, maintained and worked on these vessels for over 60 years. They are a work of art.”
Crowley noted that Hamilton now proudly sits in a Recreation Precinct on the St Lucia campus, with a riverside running track, fitness stations, an educational playground and a community garden – all of which are open to the public.