Waltzing Matilda was built in the mid 1950s by Ken Lacco at Newhaven, on the shores of Western Port in Victoria. Her original name and the name of her first custodian are not known but it is believed she was built to fish in Western Port.
The boat was custom-built for fishing: constructed without a centre-board or a rig, and planked in New Zealand Kauri. However, she sported all the attributes of a Couta Boat. She is described as being beamy, with a higher freeboard than the similar 20 foot Couta Boats built for fishing in Port Phillip.
Only two years before the build, the San Remo Fisherman’s Co-operative was founded to better service the needs of the local fishermen. It is presumed, during the next decade the boat was part of the fleet that supplied fish to this co-operative, fishing for ‘couta and cray in Western Port and further out to sea.
Custodian: The Fox Family; 1960s
Due to the decline of the fishing industry out of San Remo in the 1960s, the boat was moved to Queenscliff, just inside Port Phillip Heads where she continued to operate as a fishing vessel. At the time she was owned by the Fox family.
Custodian: Alan Hector; Unknown
Local Drysdale identity Alan Hector then purchased the boat from the Fox family for his father and father in-law to enjoy some fishing time together. However, health issues and other circumstances brought to an end their recreational pursuit.
Custodian: Russell Watson; 1999 – 2016
In 1999, the boat was purchased by Russell Watson who named her Ellie Rose after his daughter. Russell always held a romantic notion that he may one day sail out of Queenscliff harbour on his own Couta Boat, on exciting family adventures. On one of his regular walks around the Queenscliff harbour, Russell noticed a dirty old hull laying low in the water with a scrappy plywood sign emblazoned with a ‘For Sale’ sign and phone number. He was instantly attracted to the lovely lines of the boat so he contacted her owner Alan Hector who was a childhood friend from school days.
After the sale transaction, Ellie Rose was hauled out of the water and placed in the old hard stand. Russell spent hours removing years of built-up paint and anti-foul, often under torch light before and after work. He soon came to the realisation that this would take forever so he arranged for local boatbuilder Brett Almond to refurbish her.
Brett cut a centre-board slot through the keel, describing it as the hardest timber he had ever encountered and, in the process he broke a chisel he had since his apprenticeship days. He built the rig and rigged her, and provided an old set of sails.
Ellie Rose was originally powered by an old air cooled Lister engine, refurbished by an old chap in Drysdale. Russell declared that despite the noise it generated and its weight of 200 + kilos, the ‘old girl’ was still very competitive. In this period, Russell raced Ellie Rose competitively out of Queenscliff Lonsdale Yacht Club and competed in the biennial Wooden Boat Festival held in Geelong.
In the early 2000s, Ellie Rose was taken into dry dock, at Russell’s shed in Drysdale where she remained for some years.
Custodian: Courtney Dalton; 2016 – 2018
In 2016, Queenscliff Couta Boat sailor Courtney Dalton who had owned and sailed both Corsair C51 and Drizabone C3227, decided he wanted another Couta Boat. He came across Ellie Rose which had been stripped back to the raw timber but, in recognizing her on-water potential, purchased her and renamed her Waltzing Matilda.
The purchase coincided with Courtney’s relocation to coastal northern NSW where Waltzing Matilda was berthed at his private jetty on the Clarence River at Ashby.
Courtney’s intention was to sail Waltzing Matilda and, maybe, race her in the local fleet in the Port of Yamba Yacht Club. He employed a local boatbuilder Gary McCauley to undertake the necessary maintenance on her, in readiness for sailing. The old Lister diesel was replaced with a small Volvo engine; with the new Volvo installed, she was a different boat back in the water.
It was not long, however, before Courtney realized that wooden boats in semi tropical waters were subject to the saltwater teredo worm, which cause considerable damage. In addition, the intensity of the sun would hasten Waltzing Matilda’s deterioration. Given that the new environs were not suitable, Courtney decided that the boat should be returned to the Couta Boat fleet in Victoria.
In early 2018, Waltzing Matilda returned to Queenscliff. Her return was planned to coincide with the Queenscliff Maritime Festival weekend, with the intention to auction her and give the proceeds to charity. When this arrangement did not eventuate, Courtney sought an interested buyer.
Custodian: Matt Jones; 2018 – Present
Matt Jones from Melbourne became the new custodian of Waltzing Matilda, with proceeds from the sale transaction given to The Smith Family charity.
Matt’s interest in Couta Boats stemmed from his childhood, hearing and reading about the iconic Couta Boat. Until he purchased Waltzing Matilda, however, Matt had not seen nor sailed one. He has not forgotten the moment he first sailed her.
She was true, with a great feel.
Immediately after the purchase, Waltzing Matilda was taken over to the Wooden Boat Shop (WBS) in Sorrento for an overhaul, in preparation for sailing and racing. Matt and his crew, including Jessica Watson the solo circum-navigator, now regularly sail Waltzing Matilda in the Division 2 fleet at Sorrento Sailing Couta Boat Club (SSCBC).
Waltzing Matilda is moored off the jetty at Sorrento Sailing Couta Boat Club.