Restoring old boats requires skills that take years to mast-er


Posted

April 17, 2018 08:00:07

When John Kemister was called to inspect an old boat on a farm in Wagga Wagga more than a decade ago, it was ready to be tossed on a bonfire.

“It had been out in the weather for 10 years, so it was deteriorated, rotten and split,” Mr Kemister recalled.

The former Australian War Memorial (AWM) conservator and mechanical engineer is a member of the Traditional Boat Squadron of Australia.

The weathered boat’s owners were somewhat reluctant to dispose of it without giving a passionate conservator like Mr Kemister the chance to give it new life.

“It was a mess, we we had to re-plank it, re-varnish the whole hull and re-rivet it; 1,200 rivets to be precise,” he said.

“It took a lot of work but it’s in pretty good nick now.”

For Mr Kemister, “messing round with boats” has been a lifelong love.

“I started out in a little tin canoe that I made on the Georges River at Liverpool,” he said.

It wasn’t long before the young John Kemister graduated to a row boat.

“I took my mum and dad out in the row boat and we’ve had various boats ever since.”

Having worked on major AWM restoration projects like Lancaster G for George, Mr Kemister has a unique skill set.

“We want to be able to pass on our skills to the younger generation.

“There’s a lot of skills within the boat squadron club — metal work, timber work, engine operation and maintenance, sourcing of parts — a lot we can share.

“We’re getting older and we really just want to pass that on.”

When Mr Kemister was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2013 he was determined to continue active membership with the boat club.

“Parkinson’s has certainly restricted some of my activities, particularly fine motor movements.

“Being able to screw nuts onto bolts or operating a screwdriver, for instance, can be difficult but it’s good to be able to keep doing it.

“It’s a form of therapy for the Parkinson’s to keep that dexterity going as long as I possibly can.”

As part of the Canberra and Region Heritage Festival, Mr Kemister and members of the squadron will showcase their beloved boats on Lake Burley Griffin.

“We’ve got all sorts of boats — restorations, new boats built using old designs, steam boats, putt-putts, row boats, rowing skiffs, canoes and even ferries,” he said.

“The boats are all at least 30 years old in either manufacture or design.

“Most of the club members just love the combination of wood and water.

“We sail together once a month and you don’t have to have a boat to be a member.”

The Heritage Festival runs until April 29 and celebrates the natural, built and cultural environment of the ACT and surrounding region.

The classic boats will go on show from Lotus Bay on the shores of Lake Burley Griffin on April 21 between 11:00am and 2:00pm.

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