This is a guest post by Tony Haritos.*

In the late 1980’s myself and five others bought the ‘Selamat Dua‘ from Darryl Rolfe and (now Senator) Nigel Scullion who were ‘Barefoot Marine’.

Dua was a confiscated Indonesian fishing boat and Barefoot had the contract to look after them. All boats were burnt except for two, and I am not sure why these weren’t. Historian Peter Dermody bought the other and spent years doing it up on the hard at Dinah Beach Yacht Club, on an embankment out the front to the left there.

Selamat Dua‘ had a lot of the lugger shape about it because it was built in Dobo in the Aru Islands a few hundred miles NN East of Darwin. There is a long tradition of the Aru Island’s boatbuilders being exposed to the lugger design, and the ‘Dua’ is what Graeme Henderson, Curator of the WA Museums Maritime Archeology area, who co-wrote “Sampans, Belangs and Junkos, The Pearling Boats of the Aru Islands”, (published May 1986) might have described as a “Junko”.

Henderson said there were 46 boats he could describe as ‘Junkos” when he went there.

The hull shape of ‘Selamat Dua‘ looks like a ‘Junko’, especially its nice, rounded stern (hey we all like a nice butt and its was purty) but had a high hull and sides above the waterline, as well as being wide-bellied. This was done so it was an effective cargo vessel no doubt, rather than a pearler.

Australian luggers were operating in the Aru Islands as far back as 1890s, right up to the decline in the pearlshell industry in the 1950s, so there has been long exposure.

I will continue the story of the ‘Selamat Dua’ later but first here is some background on the exposure the Aru Island had to the pearling industry.

The Pearling Industry – James Clark

In the early 1900s, the pearl shelling station was run by James Clark—probably one of the best known and prosperous of the so-called ‘pearl kings’. Mullins (1997: 34) described Clarke as the most significant pearl sheller in Torres Strait and indeed Australia. Clark’s pearling fleet operated in Torres Strait, off the Aru Islands, and out of Broome in Western Australia.

Recent oral histories recorded from shipwrights who worked on the slipways of Thursday Island highlight the fact that the Torres Strait lugger was distinct in design from both the Broome and Aru boats (McPhee, 2002). In summary, each of these vessel types were built to meet the local environ- mental conditions they were working in, the resources they were collecting and the crews that were operating them. The Torres Strait lugger had design features such as a deep draft to stop them drifting in the notoriously strong Torres Strait currents (but also causing problems due to shallow slipways) while the Broome luggers were more suited to the big tides on the Western Australia coast. According to Yonge (1930: 163-164), the Australian pearl shell fishery was the 4th of the great pearl fisheries of the world to be discovered. It extended from Torres Strait and the N end of the Great Barrier Reef, W to the shores of Western Australia and NW to the Aru Islands, SW of New Guinea (Memoirs of the Queensland Museum, Cultural Heritage Series, Vol 3, Pt 1)

Clark lost heavily in the great cyclone of 1899 but recovered rapidly. Like others he was dissatisfied with the innovations in the Federal Immigration Restriction Act of 1901, and what he considered the lavish granting of pearling licenses by Queensland. In 1905 he took 115 of his boats from Thursday Island to the Dutch-owned Aru Islands. There he secured a concession and, since Dutch law required leasing companies to be founded in Holland or the Netherlands Indies, formed the Celebes Trading Co. (1904) with S. E. Munro. The concession was extended for 10 years in 1908. In 1905 Clark was appointed consul for the Netherlands in Queensland.The Aru grounds proved disappointing. Only 130 boats could work there and the company had the right to use 115—half the total number of boats licensed in Queensland. Clark told the royal commission of 1908 that his firm had £100,000 invested in plant and stores and wished to bring some boats back to Torres Strait. Applications in 1907 and 1909 were refused on the ground that no more boats could work the depleted beds (See Clark, James (1857-1933)Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP) by Patricia Mercer).

A story in the Courier Mail on 23 December 1933 says:


Darwin Luggers to Fish in Marauders’ Waters

DARWIN, December 22, 1933.

Mr. V. J. Clark, Darwin’s biggest pearler, has completed plans to combat the pearl poachers by fishing in their own territory.

Early next month his fleet of five luggers and his supply schooner, Petrel, will leave Darwin for the vast pearl beds which stretch eastwards from the Aru Islands for 200 miles, nearly to Dutch New Guinea. There in the home waters of the poachers’ fleets he will fish shell until next May.

The Australian pearling industry is threatened by the presence of Japanese, Koepang, and Aru Islands pearl fishing poachers in Australian waters. Mr. Clark’s enterprise is commended by all in Darwin, as each year poaching is becoming more flagrant and serious.

This season there were 10 luggers from Koepang and the Aru Islands fishing the grounds 45 miles north-west of Bathurst Island. Six of them are manned and owned by Japanese. These foreign-owned vessels are held partially responsible for the financial crisis which threatens ruin to some Darwin pearlers this year.

The quantity of shell they have taken this year and took in the preceding years when schemes for the compulsory and voluntary restriction of output operated caused a slump in the market just at the time Australian shell was sold and brought disastrous price crashes.

Camp on Islands.

Poaching has been possible in Australian waters only because of the lack of any energetic attempts by the Government to prevent it. To carry on so far from their home ports the poachers have been obliged to set up permanent camps on the north of Bathurst and Melville Islands, where fresh water and shelter are available, and depots for sorting and packing the shell can be built.

By landing on the islands the poachers make themselves liable to arrest for breaches of the Customs, Navigation, and Immigration Acts, but officials in Darwin have found it impossible to help the pearling industry by raiding the depots because of the lack of a suitable boat in Darwin.

Annoyance to Mission

These permanent camps on Bathurst Island are a constant source of worry and annoyance to the Roman Catholic mission at Bathurst Island, because the Japanese lugger crews openly traffic in young gins within the mission territory. The Darwin pearlers also fear that the success of the poachers in past years may tempt more foreigners to the Australian pearlshell beds.

Mr. Clark hopes that a successful season by his fleet in the Aru Islands beds will make such inroads into the earnings of the poaching fleet that the Japanese will find it unprofitable to poach any longer. He has a big advantage on his side, as his fleet is modern, and each boat is equipped with engine-driven air supply compressors, which enable his divers to work better and longer, and to take three times as much shell as the Japanese boats, with hand compressors, can take in a season.

Supplies from Darwin

Mr. Clark will be able to avoid any complications with the Dutch authorities at Dobo by keeping his luggers outside the three miles limit from the islands and supplying them with food and water from Darwin by the Petrel.

The Petrel will also bring back to Darwin all shell taken. From Darwin the journey to the Aru Islands beds is approximately 350 miles. With the nearest point to Australia 280 miles away, it is possible that his luggers will be at sea for four months without a break.

But back to the Selamat Dua, which maintained its girth right to near the bow and then swept in, so it was beamy for 80 per cent of its length.

The timber was in good knick when we got it, for a mere $5,000 I think, or maybe even $3,000 … a few of the ribs were a bit soft, so we welded in some steel supports near the bow. Being beamy and with great deck space it was a great fun platform. It had a potentially usable huge cabin below as well, with four bunks, which I built but no-one ever slept down there. Why would you? It was always swags on the deck, wonderful and airy, and the first rule of the boat was ‘When you get up in the morning, roll up your swag and throw it in the corner‘.

We tore off the old cabin and built a new one, steel frame and plywood, with these big shutters lifted up and out on poles, so it was airy in the wheelhouse as well. It was not a graceful cabin but very functional, it was like a saloon in there and it had a bar facing the galley, a big sink and big gas burners. Ronny Ross even put in a freezer below decks.

Possibly the greatest feature was the steel frame we put up and then ran a professionally-made tarp over it, running probably for ten metres, which was this cheap and very effective canopy for life to go on comfortably underneath it.

In the time we had it, the partners we had about 10 children between us, including two sets of twins, so our children spent their first few years doing trips on the ‘Selamat Dua‘. Wonderful early-childhood times for them, and I am sure very healthy for their psyche.

It had an old KD4 Yanmar airstart engine, not a single electronic wire on it at all, and I’m sure it was one of the first Yanmar models made. We pulled it down and bought parts in from Singapore and George Rowe–bless him–put it together for us at his workshop in Berrimah. It was a great, simple engine, a real beauty, and it had this old Indo air-bottle that gave you about 5 starts, and after every start, or maybe two, you would close off cylinder one and pump air back in, then turn the cylinder back on.

To start it you lined up a notch the former owners had sawn into the big flywheel with a mark on the engine block, and that was the position where the rush of air would best turn the cylinders over, and it would start first-off every time.

The water supply was six of those 300 or so litre blue plastic drums strapped to the hull alongside the Yanmar. We dropped a garden hose into a drum with an inline pump, and had running water – for the kitchen sink, and for a shower on a 1.5 meter ledge we built out the back, and a proper sit-down toilet there that opened straight into the sea below. When one drum emptied we put the hose into the next. Simple.

We did trips to Galiwinku–for a fortnight for a Sea Rights meeting as I was doing an ATSIC consultancy called Manbunya ga Rulyapa, the male and female seas of the Yolngu of NE Arnhem Land, then up to the ‘Hole in the Wall’–to Coburg and New Year Island for a fortnight, and the mouth of the Daly for a week, as well as many weekend trips over to Cape Fourcroy/Port Hurd and the east coast of Melville Island.

I remember listening to the radio at Grant Island when Collingwood won the 1990 grand final, their first for so many years. A great day for mankind.

Fred McCue was snorkelling out the back and I was sitting on the back ledge on ‘croc watch’. He stood up on a reef only 30 metres away with this red fish on the end of his spear gun, and called to me.

“What’s this?”.

“That, Fred, is a coral trout.”

“Oh”, he replied with a big grin that contained a sense of accomplishment.

As I said we all had children during this time and it took us many years to get ‘Selamat Dua‘ right. One of the partners Duncan Marcroft had a roofing business, and we had a team of about five in line … one would drill a pre-drill hole into the planks, one dipping a roofing tek screw in black tar so they would not corrode, one routing a recess so the tek screw would sit flush and not protrude, and another with a spatula with the black tar stuff – forget the name – to seal it off flush, and of course one to zip the screw in … so with five people in a line we would get a tek screw in every minute almost, and we did the whole boat like that, and it went from the a creaking loose hull to this thing that was tight as a drum.

Then we routed the planks below the waterline and spent thousands on sikaflex. By the end it leaked not a drop.

Gerald McCue remembers the following quotes that made up the, ah, interesting partnership.

– Let him have his dreams

– I thought this was like a socialist collective

– I would rather rub hot sand in my eyes than attend another meeting

– Too much shade

However, we were all busy with our children and jobs and just when it was a near-perfect beast, simple but perfect, we were all too busy to use it.

A young Maori taxi driver I met did some good work helping us with it, and so I invited him to live onboard, it was tied up a Fisherman’s Wharf. He was a young cool dude and invited backpackers he met while driving onto the boat.

One day, just before Australia Day, maybe 1998, can’t remember, the NT Police came to see me and said this taxi driver was robbing the backpackers, apparently he showed the backpackers where he hid stuff, and then got drunk, robbed them and hid the wallets where he had showed them, clearly forgetting. So they went to the Police. I said to the Police, ‘Okay, I’ll get him off the boat‘.

I went down and said to him he had to get off. It was Australia Day, and the people on the boat behind the ‘Selamat Dua‘ said the guy was blind drunk and screaming at the the top of his voice at 10 pm that night: “It’s not their fucken’ boat, it’s my fucken’ boat!!!’

The next morning at 7 am the ‘Selamat Dua‘ , still tied to the wharf, was sitting on the bottom with just the roof showing, and when we craned it out the sea cock was open and of course the taxi driver was long gone.

We had a meeting and decided we were all just too busy to rehabilitate it, although it would not have been hard, and we got a mere $23K insurance, and they burned the ‘Selamat Dua‘.

It’s one of the great nautical regrets of my life, because two years later I was living and working in East Timor following the crisis and the ‘Selamat Dua‘ would have been perfect over there.

We could have bought the boat back from the insurance company for $5k maybe, and it was in perfect nick, the wiring was simple and I could have rewired it in two days. But myself and Carmel had three young kids and under the hammer, as were all the partners with their young children and work.

I sigh and groan every time I think of what happened then, everyone who ever went onboard loved it … it was a wonderful boat.

Vale ‘Selamat Dua‘ (Too Good).

* Tony Haritos is father of three fine people, owner/manager of the Dili International School which educates future Prime Ministers and Presidents of Timor Leste, operator of remote location nautical logistics operations such as southern East Timor (when a south easterly is blowing in May) for multinational pigs, sailor, adventurer, writer, historian, publisher, layabout and lover of cold beer and Collingwood Magpie tragic.