FEATURE | Celebrating the 160–year history of Eden’s harbour masters
Halfway between Sydney and Melbourne, the Port of Eden is the southernmost deep-water harbour in New South Wales, two strategic advantages that have assured the port’s place as the economic gateway for the South Coast region.
From its early use as a base for commercial whaling, the Port of Eden now supports the region’s timber industry, one of the largest fishing fleets in NSW, a growing number of cruise visits, as well as the Royal Australian Navy.
Over 100 large commercial vessels visit the port each year and it’s the Eden Harbour Master who ensures these ships can safely navigate in and out of port – a role that’s continued for 160 years.
Eden’s Harbour Masters have played an important role in the region’s development and the Eden Killer Whale Museum is commemorating these contributions with a new maritime exhibition, Navigating the Way.
The collection brings together artefacts, photographs, film, objects and logbooks that tell the stories of Eden’s significant maritime heritage and the Harbour Masters’ dealings with incidents, shipwrecks and cantankerous captains, as well as documents signed by Eden’s first harbour master, Bourn Russell Jnr. who arrived in Eden on the steamer Wonga Wonga on August 19, 1860.
While their methods may have changed over time, the collection shows that the responsibilities of the harbour master have remained the same. Today, those responsibilities are held by Port Authority of New South Wales and Eden’s current harbour master, Paul Webster.
Q&A with the Eden Harbour Master
What was your journey to becoming a harbour master?
Paul: I first went to sea at 17, working on a private yacht. Two years later I received a cadetship which took me to the Australian Maritime College to study for my Master Class 1 Certificate.
I then worked my way up on, mostly Australian, cargo ships until becoming Master on a chemical tanker but in 2008, I accepted a position as Deputy Harbour Master/Marine Pilot in the Port of Esperance and became Eden’s Harbour Master in 2011.
What are the responsibilities of the Eden harbour master?
I’m responsible for the safe movement of vessels in and out of Eden, emergency responses within the port, ensuring port security regulations are adhered to and manage the Sung Cove fishing harbour and the cargo storage area in Twofold Bay.
I’m also a marine pilot for Eden and conduct pilotage of all commercial vessels over 30 metres, boarding them at sea to assist their navigation through port.
What does an average day look like for you?
An average day can involve arriving early to board a ship out at sea to bring it into port. The rest of the day can vary from sorting out berths for fishing vessels and/or recreational vessels in Snug Cove to managing, repairing and maintaining navigational aids and port assets.
What kind of vessels are frequent visitors to Eden?
Our main trades are cruise ships, wood chip carriers and bulk carriers loading pine logs. We also get a few larger fishing vessels into Snug Cove and the occasional rig tender.
How do you prepare for visits from the bigger ships?
The process for safe navigation remains the same but every ship has its specific needs which we have to prepare for.
A lot of pre-planning goes into safely bringing a ship in, determining its berthing position, where mooring lines and gangways will be placed, and how many tugs, lines crew and security are needed.
How important are regional ports to small towns like Eden?
Very important. The timber industry is without a doubt the major employer within this region and without the port, the industry couldn’t exist.
The port also helps bring other opportunities to Eden. The town was once heavily reliant on timber and fishing alone but is now growing as a popular destination for cruise passengers which is a huge boost to local businesses.
What’s been one of the highlights for you as Eden harbour master?
The biggest highlight so far is the completion of the Eden Cruise Wharf and bringing large ships into Snug Cove — many thought it could never happen!
What are the key challenges of keeping the port safe?
Living and working in such a small community, many see me as the face of the port alone, however there are many organisations involved, from NSW Maritime to Crownlands, towage providers to the NSW Police Marine Area Command. Ensuring the safety of the port and vessels requires a lot of collaboration.
What do you enjoy most as Eden’s harbour master?
As with most seafarers, we all enjoy the actual hands-on aspect of driving ships! I also enjoy living in a small community and being accepted into that community. Especially, seeing how everyone came together and looked after one another during the bushfires at the start of the year.