(Water Baby and boats on flooded Grassrtree Creek, Yandilla head station, January 1898. Francis Arthur Gore, architect of Water Baby, was also a photographer. This is an image attributed to him.)
Pictured: H. Clowes in Water Baby, Nickolas McGowan rowing boat. (From Susie & William Gore, England)
Water Baby - The Yandilla Station Steam Launch
Water Baby was constructed in the blacksmith at Yandilla head station in the period 1876-1878 by Frances Gore, the then manager of Yandilla, and his shipwright John Patrick Purcell. It was built to assist in the rescuing of valuable stud sheep during floods as Yandilla was situated on the confluence of Grasstree Creek with he Condamine River. The vessel was not designed to carry the sheep but was used to tow one or more other boats loaded with sheep to give stability against the fast flowing current. This was the only vessel of its type built on the Darling Downs in the nineteenth century.
In July 1983 when Back Creek near Millmerran was in flood, two canoeists "rediscovered" the hull. The hull was restored by members of the Millmerran Historical Society under a grant from the Australian Bicentennial Authority in 1986, and in conjunction with valuable financial support given by Kevin & Jackie McGrath of Toowoomba. (Kevin's great grandfather John Purcell was the shipwright mentioned). The anchor has the initials JPP on it.
The Museum Exhibition
The Historical Society have been successful with funding applications to build a purpose built shed for Water Baby. The Society received funding through the 2017 Millmerran Community Company Ltd/Heritage Community Branch Community Benefit Fund and the Gambling Community Benefit Fund announced on 8 August 2018. A 2017 Toowoomba Regional Council Cultural & Arts Support Grant enabled the Society to have a Significance Assessment of Water Baby carried out by Grant Uebergang and assistance from Lydia Egunnike, Museum Development Officer - southern Inland Queensland. In 2016 Dr James Walters donated a steam engine for Water Baby and the Society purchased a boiler in 2018. The story of floods in the area have been included in the display.
"Water Baby - The Yandilla Station Steam Launch" A history of a remarkable feat in nineteenth century inland marine engineering.
This book, written by Grant Uebergang in 1992, is available for purpose from the Museum.
An extract from its Foreword reads:
"Here is presented a history of a remarkable and unique feat in nineteenth century inland marine technology. Water Baby was the only vessel of its type to be built on the Darling Downs last century. Most of the parts were manufactured in the Yandilla Station blacksmith, displaying great skill on behalf of the architect and shipwright. Designed initially as a management tool in assisting to rescue marooned sheep during floods in the years before a flood warning system, which advised of any impending danger, was in place along the Condamine River Valley. In its heyday, Water Baby saved the lives of hundreds of expensive stud sheep, rescued people and personal possessions and keep the lines of communication open during floods. Neglected for over 70 years, Water Baby was given a new lease of life in 1988 when the Millmerran Historical Society restored the hull..."
A lot of the following information has been sourced from this invaluable book.
Discovering the abandoned Hull
Water Baby was permanently laid to rest in 1955 after being on display, a little worse for wear, during "Back to Millmerran" celebrations. Nearly thirty years later, Andy Plunkett and his mate Greg Bowdla made a surprise discovery on a flooded Back Creek in 1983. Here is Andy's story:
"I remember paddling down a flooded Back Creek with Greg and as usual I was looking out for machinery and vehicle relics which are often found dumped on creek banks by farmers.
We were canoeing around a bend in the creek when I noticed the hull of a large boat on the creek bank. What particularly took my eye was the shape of the hull. It reminded me of ship's hull shapes from the early period of screw (propeller) steamers.
Greg was also curious so we pulled into the creek bank and made a closer inspection of the hull. We were surprised to find the skin comprising of think galvanised sheets with soft solder sealing the lapped riveted seams. Read More
Replacing the Steam Engine and Boiler
The current steam engine in Water Baby was donated by Dr James Walters in 2016. Dr Walters purchased the engine from Mr Ross Horton after the death of Ross' father, Mr Bill Horton in 1979. The late Mr Horton had acquired the engine in the late 1960s. Ross told us his father was an avid steam man, being brought up on the Downs in the Allora district. He used the engine regularly to run a generator for power during blackouts, but it sat in a box unused for many years after his passing. Ross eventually sold the engine to his good friend Dr James Walters. However, a few years back, upon hearing a story about Water Baby on ABC Radio, Ross contacted James who was immediately fascinated by the story and only too happy to see the engine go to a good cause and be preserved for people to enjoy for many years to come.
The boiler was purchased by the Historical Society in 2018.