Model, Cream Launch, SS Willirie ; 1970s; 2014.006


Wauchope Museum


Model, Cream Launch, SS Willirie

About this object

This model of the SS Willirie made by dairy farmer Frank Little in the late 1970s illustrates the method of cream collection for butter production from the early days of dairying until road transport took over in the 1950s. These steam powered launches were able to navigate relatively shallow areas of the waterways and reach dairy farms on small rivers and creeks as well as major rivers. Dairy farmers depended on them to get their produce to the factory in all weathers, all year round. In a time when visits to town were limited, the cream launch brought regular local news to the river folk.

The model, with its cream cans on the foredeck, the master and deck hand in the wheelhouse, and two women passengers demonstrates that these vessels not only carried cream to the butter factory but transported passengers between properties or to town. A canopy over much of the deck area gave travelers and crew protection from the sun and rain. Some cream launch operators had contracts with stores in town to deliver goods to properties, some delivered parcels, and some were licensed to act as passenger ferries when not collecting the cream.

In order to provide a dependable service in all weather, cream launch operators required an intimate knowledge of the rivers and they were held in high regard. Claude Sheather, was a cream carrier, whose knowledge of the Hastings River was legendary. There were just a few times when he was unable to deliver the cream to the butter factory at Wauchope from its opening in 1917 until road transport replaced river transport in the early 1950s. One occasion was when flood waters lapped the deck of the Railway Bridge in the big flood of 1929.

When cream launches were superseded by road transport, some were converted for other purposes, such as fishing vessels or as passenger ferries.

Although models of boats are common, this model of a cream carrier is significant for its historic link with the dairy industry on the Hastings, its provenance, good condition and rarity. Only two models of boats are known to have been made by Frank Little. The other, a log punt, is also held by the Wauchope District Historical Society.

By the time this model was made, the launches had disappeared from the rivers but it is likely that the more romantic river craft of earlier times still held a special place in the heart and mind of its maker. Though naïve in construction, the well observed vignettes of figures and objects on the deck of the model pass on to us a three dimensional memory not only of the vessels, but of the lifestyles that have disappeared from our waterways.

Mary Wagg
22 June 2014

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