North Head
Barrenjoey/North Head

Type :
Steel screw steamer
Launched  :
08/05/1913, rebuilt 1951 (as North Head)
Builder :
Mort's Dock
Woolwich, NSW
Gross weight :
499 tons
Dimensions :
64.00 x 10.00 x 3.75 (metres)
Passenger capacity :
1520
Speed :
15 knots/ 16 after conversion

The launching in 1913 of the Barrenjoey gave the Port Jackson company their eighth ferry in service & the ability to carry around 10,500 passengers per trip in the booming Manly market. She was the fifth of the Binngarra type vessels & nearly identical to Balgowlah & Bellubera. Ultimately, she was to become the longest serving Manly ferry, easily outlasting the three imported vessels Curl Curl, Dee Why & the so-called "greatest of them all" South Steyne & is currently the oldest Manly ferry still extant.

Barrenjoey is also the name of the landmark on the souther side of of the Hawkesbury River at Broken Bay, her name was also used for a small ferry that the company used to cross between this area & Pearl Beach on the lower Central Coast, like her bigger namesake, this ferry is also still afloat.

As originally built, Barrenjoey was basically the same as her sisters, but after being withdrawn from service in 1948 for a major rebuild, she was to return in such a modified form that company gave her a new name, North Head. The redesign included new diesel-electric engines & a look that was supposed to be similar to that of  the South Steyne. Barrenjoey's first refit occurred in 1930 when she was the first vessel to have her top deck enclosed to provide passengers with better protection from the elements & greater comfort. Balgowlah, Bellubera, & Baragoola were altered in the same fashion between 1931 & 1932. At the same time, her wheelhouses were extended to provide greater crew accomodation.

Less than a year after her introduction , Barrenjoey managed to get lost on the harbour four two & a half hours in thick fog, in the process nearly going ashore & drifting about aimlessly in the Manly area for most of the time. Fortunately, she finally managed to find the wharf at around 1.30am where she was greeted by a large turnout of locals dressesed in their nightclothes.

Barrenjoey had her share of collisions, often with inner harbour ferries, that because of their wooden construction always came off worse. She took on Kareela in 1914 & Kiandra in 1927, Kiandra was to have a more serious tangle with Dee Why a few years later. In january 1940, she had a tangle with Kubu caused by yachts getting in the way of both ferries, when the chaos cleared the two ferries were aiming straight at each other. Fortunately both went hard astern & although there was much damage to the upper deck & railings of Kubu, Barrenjoey came off with nothing but  a scratch. Wood is no match for steel.

Barrenjoey managed to ground herself on rocks at Smedleys Point in January 1942 for no other reason than that they were there, she bobbed around for an hour or so before freeing herself & continuing on with her normal trip, there was no damage. More serious was the cyclone that hit Sydney on April 16, 1946.Both Barrenjoey & Baragoola had injured passengers & both ferries had damage. For the first time that anyone could remember, Manly services were suspended (unlike today's Freshwater class that don't handle rough weather at all & get cancelled fairly regularly). Around 30,000 passengers were inconvenienced. Indeed, the weather was so bad, that Barrenjoey, having returned to Kurraba Point, broke loose from her moorings (these are normally very calm waters) & started to drift along the harbour towards a group of navy ships. Fortunately she missed them all & drifted into the Neutral Bay ferry wharf  & stubbornly jammed herself crosswise over the entrance requiring a tug to pull her free..

For the next couple of years she led a quiet life & was taken from service in 1948. That was the last anyone saw of her until she emerged in 1951 as a brand new ship, the North Head. North Head was significantly different to her earlier incarnation, having only one funnel, diesel-electric engines & a vastly modified hull. Ultimately, she would go on to be the longest serving ferry, easily outlasting the three British ships & ending up with 73 years under her belt. Her conversion was not one of choice, but rather necessity. By 1946, the company realised that they had an ageing fleet on their hands & becuase business was poorer than it had been in years, the option to build a second ship like the South Steyne was simply not realistic. The only effective cost measure would be to convert Balgowlah & Barrenjoey. The cost of converting Barrenjoey was 261,000 pounds - consider that was eight and a half times what it had cost to build her in the first place. Replacement value for an new vessel would have been 400,000 pounds.

The refit was modelled somewhat on the South Steyne, when she came back in to service, she had clipper-inspired bows, fully enclosed decks & her wooden superstructure was replaced with steel. More loading gates were provided giving her the capacity to unload 1,500 passengers in two minutes (a figure never achieved in real life). The company decided they had the equivalent of a new vessel, so they might as well give her a new name too. The travelling public wasn't impressed that the name had been changed, other suggested it should have been called the North Steyne.

North Head kept out of trouble until the night of 28th of May, 1955 when she ran aground of Bradleys Head, once again in thick fog. It was two & a half hours before she was pulled off, by which time the fog was so thick, all harbour traffic had been halted.

In 1964, the company was asked to send the South Steyne to Melbourne for that city's Moomba festival, instead they sent North Head & was so succesful during the six weeks she was there, that they sent her again the next year. At the same time, they sent down the hydrofoil Manly, however Port Phillip Bay isn't suitable for hydrofoils, having very changeable conditions, so that venture was a failure.

By 1973, only North Head, South Steyne & Baragoola were still in service & North Head was doing most of the work, the South Steyne was becoming expensive to run & was on borrowed time & passenger traffic was in decline. Things were reaching breaking point for the Manly company.

In 1976, North Head suffered a fire in her wiring, fortunately it was put out & she returned to Balmain where it was replaced & she went back into service the next day.

By May 1977, Baragoola was out for a refit & Lady Wakehurst was being repaired after a run-in with what was a perennial attraction for ferries, the footpath at Circular Quay. North Head was doing the run alone. It was the lowest ebb for the Manly service.

Three years later in January 1979 she decided that the footpath at Circular Quay held a certain attraction when she ploughed into it. She was taken to Balmain where damage was found to be slight. However, with only Baragoola & the small Lady Wakehurst available, peak hour was chaos. In July of that year she lost one of her rudders near Bradleys Head which caused chaos on the morning run for the 31st. Because she now only had one rudder until a replacement could be made (the navy could not locate the lost one), she was operated sparingly in peak hour only. The burden fell entirely on Baragoola & Lady Wakehurst. The other small relief vessel, Lady Nortcott was not available as she was out on a refit. Things were dire.

In 1984 two new Manly ferries entered service, Freshwater & Queenscliff & there was talk of a third to be built (ultimately two more were). It was decided to retire the North Head from service. However, the UTA had a shortage of ferries for the inner harbour runs & Lady Wakehurst & Lady Northcott could not be spared for the Manly run. Things went from bad to worse when the Karrabee sunk & the UTA decided that the days of the ancient wooden ferries were well & truly over, the last of the old wooden harbour ferries, Karrabee, Kameruka, Karingal & Lady Edeline were pulled from service. This left the steel hulled Kanangra as the last survivor. Kanangra ran on the Mosman route, the second most heavily patronised run after Manly. Then, on the 5th of November 1984, North Head & Kanangra came to blows at the entrance to Sydney Cove. North Head had turned too early & had Kanangra not been there, would have run into the Opera House. Kanangra was badly damaged, but the North Head seemed to have escaped lightly. However, two weeks later she broke down, after being towed back to Balmain, it was discovered that she had broken a propellor shaft, likely damaged in the accident with Kanangara. There were predictions she had made her last trip. Not so, the Manly trade was increasing such that the three Freshwater class ferries were barely coping, North Head was patched up & used as a spare boat for a few years more.

Finally, on the 12th of December, 1985, North Head made her final trip. She was taken to Cockatoo Island where it was decided that it was too costly to refurbish her for what would amount to only a few more years service & she was offered up for sale. On the 26th of March 1987 she proceeded under her own steam to Hobart to take up a new career in that city as a floating restaurant & convention centre. There she remained until 2000 when she was taken to Cairns to be used in the same manner.

While the Baragoola has remained in Sydney, the North Head - once known as SS Barrenjoey - has been traded and transported across the country ever since retirement in 1987.

After 13 years in Tasmania, where it was restored and cruised the Derwent, it was bought by an entrepreneur who wanted to turn it into a floating restaurant in Port Douglas.

But his plans were thwarted by bankruptcy and debt.

The ship rotted in a Cairns dock until 2005, when it was sold on eBay to a landscape contractor, George Fay, for about $20,000. It languishes amid debris on his property on Trinity Inlet. Locals say he wants to restore it. A lone ladder stands beside the ship. But the expensive, laborious job was made even more difficult after it was battered by Cyclone Larry. A consulting marine engineer, Peter Burge, said restoring the old ferries would cost millions of dollars - too much to make a commercial proposition, such as a floating restaurant, viable.  The most viable fate, he said, was for them to end up as museum pieces. The mayor of Manly, Peter Macdonald, said the council had been involved in negotiations to buy relics from the North Head from its former owner, but they fell through.

He described the fate of the old dames as "desperately sad".

Barrenjoey means "Little Kangaroo" in the local Aboriginal dialect.


Navigation