New owners for Brisbane’s wooden hull cross-river ferries after auction process

A boatbuilder, a council ferry driver, young business owners, and a retiree are among the new owners of Brisbane’s former wooden cross-river ferries.

Ranging in age from 30 to 38 years, Koopa, Bulimba, Gayundah, Mermaid, Doomba, Otter, Lucinda, and John Oxley were sold by auction at The Yard in Hemmant in August.

Brisbane City Council dumped a $4 million plan to refurbish them earlier this year, prioritising a $300 million flood recovery and rebuild program instead.

All eight wooden ferries were taken off the water in July 2020 after inspections revealed safety concerns including rotten wood.

Mark Holmes won the bid for Gayundah and said while he was excited to have a “fairly unique hobby boat” there were plenty of repairs to be made to the vessel.

“The hull has a huge amount of issues. It was the first one out of the water and has been out for a long time,” he said.

“It was stripped and partially pulled apart to do some checks.

“In another couple of months, I’ll have it watertight, and use it basically for day cruises and eventually overnight cruises on the [Brisbane] broadwater.”

A shipwright has been employed to do the external works and Mr Holmes will complete the smaller internal jobs on the boat.

Although he paid less than $10,000 for Gayundah, Mr Holmes said the buy did not “seem like a bargain at the moment the way costs are racking up, but once it’s back in the water it’ll be great”.

Locals will still be able to spot the Gayundah as it cruises around Brisbane’s waterways because the paintwork will stay the same.

“There are a thousand people with a thousand different comments and aspects on it all, but for the right people [buying a ferry is] a good thing,” Mr Holmes said.

“I’ll probably be very happy in my divorced state in retirement.”

Otter to become new home
Dan Sasson is currently cruising the Brisbane River as a KittyCat driver and bid on six ferries before finally winning Otter.

While he loved his job, he preferred the wooden ferries because they had “a lot more character”.

With a dream to treat himself for his 50th birthday and a childhood dream of living on a ferry, Mr Sasson said “everything fell into place” when he heard about the ferry auction and eventually bought one of the vessels.

He said Otter, for which he paid $21,000, was in “pretty good” condition and he had sailed to Tangalooma on Moreton Island recently.

“Eventually it will become a live aboard. The kitchen has just gone in, I’m waiting to lay some carpets and install some sofa beds, so it’s not too far off becoming a nice boat to live on,” Mr Sasson said.

“They went for a bargain, they really did.

“Everything settled into place at the right time and I’ll work at restoring it back to its original condition.”

Lucinda holds ‘special place’ in ferry drivers’ minds
Boatbuilder Andrew Hyde said while he was “quite ambivalent” about buying one of the old council ferries, he had “picked the best one” with a winning bid on Lucinda.

Mr Hyde said he paid just over $25,000 for the vessel and had spent another $10,000 fixing wood rot and adding new waterproofing around seals and screw holes.

He said the maintenance was a “bit poor” — the screws were not sealed and the fresh water got in and started rotting the wood — but the hull was sound, and the motor was good.

“She’s probably worth twice that because she’s in such good condition, she’s a good base for someone to build a house boat,” Mr Hyde said.

“I thought people would go silly, so I offered a little bit more than I wanted. Then they called me to say they would give me the bid.”

While some keen-eyed residents might have noticed Lucinda sailing up and down the river recently, Mr Hyde said eventually he would sail her to a new home in Wynnum.

He said the only downside at the moment was that there was no way to anchor the vessel or tie it up alongside docks.

A number of former ferry drivers had asked Mr Hyde if they could go for a cruise in Lucinda, something he was happy to organise.

“It’s good to own a part of history,” he said.

“Everyone seems to love Lucinda, she has a special place in ferry drivers’ minds.

“She’s 36 years old, and in good condition for a working girl.

“I’ve taken all the seats out and sold them to the new owners of John Oxley, who cut them up and turned them into furniture for their ferry.”

John Oxley was bought by Erin Wright and her husband for $22,000, while Rick Boojers bought Doomba.

The ABC has not yet confirmed the owners of Mermaid, Bulimba, or Koopa.

Manheim’s Steffan Lancaster, who managed the auction of the vessels, said all the new owners were based in Queensland.