50 years in the harbour

JOE Meli believes there is nothing better than heading out to sea with his grandson in the little timber boat once owned by his father.

FISHING TRADITION: Brothers Joe (left) and Fred Meli still use the little timber clinker Big John, once owned by their late father, which has been moored in Ulladulla Harbour since February 20, 1964.

FISHING TRADITION: Brothers Joe (left) and Fred Meli still use the little timber clinker Big John, once owned by their late father, which has been moored in Ulladulla Harbour since February 20, 1964.

Big John, named after its first owner and Joe’s father, still bobs proudly in Ulladulla Harbour where it has been moored for 50 years.

The 18-foot clinker is used by Joe and his older brother Fred two or three times a week and almost daily when their grandchildren come to visit.

“I head out fishing whenever I can,” Joe said.

“I think my dad would be looking down and very proud to see that we are still using his boat.”

The boat was built by shipwright Jack Kemp at Tomerong in 1964 and towed by a Vanguard ute to Ulladulla Harbour where has spent the past five decades.

Joe said the vessel was designed by his father based on the fishing boats used in his home country of Malta.

“Dad was an old sea dog back home,” he said.

“He was a police officer and in the water police, so he loved boats.”

John moved to Australia in 1949 and his wife and nine children soon joined him at their new home in Queanbeyan.

Joe was a teenager at the time and recalls coming on holidays to Ulladulla where his family rented a hut on the harbour foreshore.

“We have been coming here for about 58 years,” he said.

“When dad got his boat, we used to spend a lot of time fishing together.

“Ulladulla has always been a special place for us.”

Joe and his wife Mary still live in Canberra, but have a holiday house in Ulladulla and the semi-retired plumber spends as much time here as he can.

His brother Fred lives in Ulladulla and also enjoys fishing in his own boat.

Joe said Big John had been the longest permanently moored boat in the harbour and he hoped it would remain there for many years to come.

“My grandson is the fourth generation to use the boat,” he said.

“He loves going out when he visits from Canberra and it’s great that he is getting out and learning about the sea and the weather and catching fresh fish – it’s a family tradition.”

Both Joe and Fred spend a lot of time maintaining the vessel and its diesel motor to keep it in tip-top condition after their father died in 1978.

Big John has broken its mooring a few times and, about 30 years ago, the pair drove from Canberra to Ulladulla to salvage it off the rocks north of the harbour following a storm.

“My dad was very proud of his boat and we are very proud to be able to keep using it.

“It made him very happy and now my grandkids are happy too.”