Steam Tug Wattle

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ST Wattle 2013.JPG
Steam Tug Wattle undergoing restoration in 2013
Name: Wattle
  • Royal Australian Navy (1933-1969)
  • Unspecified Sydney-based syndicate (1969-1977)
  • Unspecified Melbourne-based company (1979-2003)
Builder: Cockatoo Island Dockyard, Sydney
Completed: 1933
Status: Undergoing refurbishment
General characteristics
Type: Tugboat
Tonnage: 99 gross register tons (GRT)
Length: 75 ft (23 m)
Speed: 10 knots (19 km/h; 12 mph)
Capacity: 60 passengers (commercial cruises)
Crew: 6 minimum

Steam Tug Wattle is a steam-powered tugboat undergoing refurbishment in Melbourne, Australia.

The tugboat was constructed at Cockatoo Island Dockyard during the Great Depression as a project to keep shipyard apprentices employed.[1] The tugboat was built with a riveted steel hull, but welding was used on the bulkheads and fuel bunkers for the first time in an Australian shipyard.[1] The vessel was the first Australian tugboat to be built with an oil-fired compound steam engine.[1]

Wattle (centre) off Garden Island Naval Base in 1939

On completion in 1933, the tugboat was offered to the Royal Australian Navy (RAN). Named Wattle and operated by a civilian crew, the vessel was primarily used for warship towing and manoeuvring, and was also employed as a target tower.

The RAN marked the tugboat for disposal in 1969, and she was purchased by a Sydney-based syndicate, who operated the vessel on tourist cruises around and outside Sydney Harbour. The syndicate kept Wattle operational until 1977, then sold the ship to a Melbourne-based company, who towed Wattle to Port Phillip in 1979. The tugboat continued to be used for tourist cruises around the bay until 2003, when it failed survey and had to be withdrawn from service.

Wattle was initially moored at Victoria Dock while money was raised to refurbish the ship, then was relocated to Victoria Harbour during the Docklands redevelopment. In 2007, the Sorrento Steam organisation and the Bay Steamers Maritime Museum joined the project: the former using the restoration of Wattle as a stepping stone towards their own plans to restore steam trams in Sorrento. In 2009, the tugboat was removed from the water and placed on blocks in a temporary shipyard in the Docklands precinct. The intention is to bring the vessel back to survey standard and resume passenger operations.

Wattle was listed by the National Trust as being of national historic significance on 16 June 1993.[1] According to the National Trust, Wattle is the only surviving small harbour steam tug in Australia, and one of only twenty-two worldwide.[1] It is also one of only eight Australian-built steam-powered ships of any kind remaining.[1] In addition to multiple 'firsts' in construction, the vessel serves as an important example of Depression-era shipbuilding and the transition of technology occurring at this time.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g "Steam Tug Wattle". National Trust Database. National Trust of Australia. Retrieved 7 November 2015. 

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