It isn't often that you hear of a small community having a replica working hull made to celebrate not only the working traditions of the local seafarers but also those of the craftsmen that enabled them to take to the water.
The 28ft Huon pine whaleboat is being built for the local Port Fairy Heritage Boat Group. The builder Garry Stewart says 'working with me on construction is Rob Whitehead who is a member of the group, all timber is huon pine, fastenings copper and bronze, planking is lapstrake, and the design is what was used for off beach whaling at Port Fairy in the early 1800s'.
This pile of Huon Pine is a rare thing now. Like so many wonderful species in the Southern Hemisphere, the huge scale of their availability and their wonderful working qualities fooled our forebears into thinking that the supply was endless. I'm thinking Huon, in Tasmania, Australian Red Cedar in New South Wales, Kauri in New Zealand, and Jarrah in Western Australia- but there are plenty of others that grew aplenty in our neck of the woods. For some, their use is very political and it can be difficult now for good craftsmen to source the timbers that have always served so well.
While in some stands of forest 'clear felling' is still allowed, exposing soils to invasion by weeds and depleted by erosion, in other situations supply of particular species has been very restricted if not banned.
Huon is a marvellous timber to work. It planes like butter and has an incredible aroma that wafts off the blade and fills a workshop. It is resinous and very resistant to rot. These trees need time and space, so their use should be carefully considered. I would argue that traditional crafts that depend upon them should be prioritised.