The printed top L.H. corner of the cover reads J.C. Bull, Boat Builder and Shipwright, Metung. Boats Built to order. (—–) Estimates given. There is an ½d green ‘ Roo on map of Australia’ and a pair of 1d red KGV Head stamps, cancelled with BAIRNSDALE/ 1 30P 18 MR 15/ VICTORIA postmark. There is a purple ‘PASSED’ handstamp, and the cover is addressed to The Rudder Publishing Co., 254 West 34th Street, New York, USA. The reverse was not seen (Figure 1).
This is an abridged transcript of an interview with Dave Bull senior and his son Peter Bull, manager of the Paynesville shipyard.Dave’s grandfather, James Bull, was a seafaring man, who was born in Surrey, England, in 1848. He found his way to Gippsland, Victoria in 1879 where he skippered various vessels including the Magnolia and Dagmar. He then went back to sea, sailing colliers on the Melbourne to Newcastle run. This experience enabled him to sit for a ‘Master Foreign-Going’ certificate.
Captain James Bull sailed the Burrabogie from the Murray River to Lakes Entrance and fitted her out as a floating hotel but, sadly a national financial slump ended that ambitious enterprise. Undeterred, and now in partnership with John Dahlsen, he went on to operate successfully the second Tanjil, a paddle wheel lakes trader. The original Tanjil was lost when she burned at the Bairnsdale wharf.
James married Emily Baker in 1882 and settled in Bairnsdale. They had one daughter and four sons, Ted, Harold, Elizabeth, Robert (the latter killed in WW1) and Joe, who was born in 1894. Joe, or Bossie as he came to be known in later years, was educated in Melbourne and returned to the Paynesville slip as an apprentice in 1905, where the Gippsland, the largest vessel ever built on the Lakes, was under construction.
Bossie started building boats on the site of his father’s Metung Slip in 1913. His first boats were clinker dinghies. The Great War interrupted boat building and Joe enlisted in the Australian Flying Corps, becoming an aircraft rigger with the No. 1 Squadron. He looked after Sir Ross Smith’s Bristol fighter, and served in Egypt with Lawrence of Arabia, after whom he would later name his third son. Following the war, Joe returned to East Gippsland and eventually to Metung where, in about 1921, he picked up the business threads and established Bull’s Marine Industries.
Joe Bull and his wife Beatrice had four sons, Robert (Bob), Dave, Lawrence (Teddy) and James. Teddy was killed in action over Germany in 1945. Dave was born in Paynesville in 1922, and by age 15, after a stint in Melbourne, he was working in the family boatyard until, war called. Dave joined the navy as a direct entry shipwright. He survived the sinking of the HMAS Canberra in 1942 and commissioned HMAS Shropshire.
He left the RAN as a Chief Petty Officer Shipwright after 12 years of service, as did his second son Peter some years later. On his return from the war, the romantic steamer era of the Lakes had given way to road and rail. Nevertheless, the shipyard prospered, building many and varied vessels, including numerous wooden Bass Strait shark fishing boats. Bull’s Marine Industries was very much a family business with Joe, Bob, Dave, and Bob’s sons Edward and Stephen also joined the company.
The recreational-cruiser hire business, identified so closely with Bulls today, was a result of chance. Bossie acquired an unfinished hull, which would become the first Bull’s hire cruiser, the Tanjil. CThe hull lay around the shipyard for some time while they wondered what to do with it. Eventually they decided to complete it as a hire cruiser. cThis first wooden boat was so successful that it was soon joined by the Koolyn. Thus, in 1958, the Bulls hire boat business was born.
The first yard-designed and built wooden pleasure cruiser to emerge from Bull’s slip was the Tarra, a four-berth, 30 foot timber cruiser of hard chine construction and made from Celery Top pine, and she was very popular. The Bull’s shipyard employed traditional shipbuilding techniques. Rather than relying on drawings alone, a boat’s hull was first constructed as a wooden scale half-hull model. This model was refined and then measurements were taken directly from it and scaled up for final construction in the shipyard. The first totally yard built hire cruiser was the six-berth Burrabogie. In all, Bulls built 22 six-berth boats. The boats varied slightly as the design evolved to meet customer demands, but they were all instantly recognisable as ‘Bullies’.
“From its launch in 1891 to the middle of the twentieth century, The Rudder was ‘the greatest American yachting and boating magazine’, says Peter H. Spectre in his Foreword; high praise from an editor who, to me, personifies the best of current American boating magazines. ‘What made The Rudder so special?…It was edited for years by Thomas Fleming Day…He treated his readers as intelligent human beings…recognized yacht design as an evolution, with a connected past, present and future…(he was) of the school that the doing was more important than the having.’
All of these trace elements and more are present in the selected material which Tom Davin has divided into ‘Winter Reading, mainly cruising yarns; Dream Ships, boats described by the leading designers of their day; the Care and Feeding of Yachtsmen, including recipes for Lobsters and Gin, Whelk Stew-Soup and Conch Salad; and, The Hurrah’s Nest, ‘a bilgeful of dogmatic advice, arbitrary opinions, and clever devices and methods.’ The publishing company published at least 16 books from 1898 up to, at least, 1950, all devoted to sailing. The cover of ‘The Rudder’, November, 1953, Price 40c, The Magazine for Yatchsmen, is seen in Figure 2.
The position of Metung in South Eastern Victoria is seen at the red balloon in Figure 3.