A proud history

Barry Wiseman | VOLUME 23, ISSUE 5

WA’s Australian Sailing Museum is a fitting celebration of Australia’s greatest yachtsmen and women.

It’s 21 years since the America’s Cup 12m yachts raced off Fremantle, but in another life as a news producer for ABC Radio, I spent many months broadcasting the results of the Louis Vuitton Challenger series and the final races between America’s Stars and Stripes and Australia’s Kookaburra III.

Although the history books record Australia losing that battle in Gage Roads off the port city in 1987 to the tune of 4-0, the Cup being reclaimed by veteran skipper Dennis Connor, four years earlier Australia had won the title with Australia II, severing America’s dominance and breaking the longest winning streak in the history of modern sport.

Fremantle had received a massive facelift for the tens of thousands of Cup visitors and made its mark on the world map, never to be the same old sleepy port again. The legacy of the America’s Cup lives on today, with the successful Australia II housed in the Fremantle Maritime Museum on Victoria Quay.

RIGHTFUL HOME

The new Australian Sailing Museum (ASM) is located at Mandurah, some 70km south of Perth and only a few hundred metres from the Mandurah Offshore Fishing and Sailing Club, which hosts the annual Club Marine Mandurah Boat Show each October.

Mandurah, as one of Australia’s fastest growing oceanfront cities and comprising huge canal-based residential developments, was a natural choice of location for the man behind the ASM project, Western Australian yachting legend, Rolly Tasker.

As a young bloke, Tasker spent many hours polishing his skills on Mandurah’s inland and offshore waters. He and wife, Kerry have a home here, but Rolly spends much of his time in Thailand, where he operates a sail loft manufacturing Rolly Tasker sails.

Tasker has had a close association with the America’s Cup since he was selected to crew Gretel in the Australian challenge in 1962, which turned out to be one of the closest series in the Cup’s history.

SNEAK PREVIEW

According to ASM General Manager, Greg Thomas, I was the first member of the public to walk into the museum, following its official opening by the then Governor General, Major General Michael Jeffery, the day before.

It was certainly a privilege striding across the foyer and over the LED-backlit underwater marine feature floor, but for me those first few seconds inside the huge circular building brought back memories of Fremantle in the grip of America’s Cup fever back in 1987.

After 132 years and countless changes to the rules, the America’s Cup had been wrested away from the New York Yacht Club when the revolutionary winged-keel Australia II defeated Liberty 3-1 some four years earlier off Newport, Rhode Island, and the “Auld Mug” was brought home to the Royal Perth Yacht Club.

The full story of every challenge for the America’s Cup since 1851, from when the schooner America sailed across the Atlantic and defeated the fleet off Cowes on the Isle of Wight, is told on the walls of this new museum.

The ASM also offers a unique and comprehensive display of model yachts, the history of Australian sailing dating back to the 1800s, plus marine art and architecture. Many of the works are from Rolly and Kerry’s own private collection.

TORCHES AND TROPHIES

In 1943, Tasker started researching both the history of the America’s Cup and Australian sailing, and the museum has on display a silver replica of the Auld Mug plus two silver trophies presented to Rolly after winning the Golden Fleece Great Circle Race around Tasmania in 1979 and 1980. Due to the high rate of casualties as boats battled up the west coast of Tasmania, that particular event was cancelled after just two years.

The 2000 Olympic torch that Tasker carried through the streets of Mandurah on its way to Sydney also hangs on the wall, amid the records of our Olympic sailing teams and solo around-the-world sailors, the latter including Jon Sanders, David Dicks and Kay Cottee.

There are countless glass cases housing 132 scale models of each yacht to reach Fleet status in Australia since 1861, and a Sport Australia Hall of Fame flag signed by many Australian sporting legends, including Sir Donald Bradman. The flag was couriered around Australia to get the signatures of Australian sporting heroes and it was bought at auction by Kerry Tasker some years ago. Marine artworks by John Stobard, William Bond and America’s John Mecray also decorate the walls.

At the centre of the 1000 square metres of floor space is a collection of wax figures of sailing icons, including Australia II skipper John Bertrand, Liberty’s Dennis Connor and John Cox Stevens, first Commodore of the New York Yacht Club and prime mover of the America syndicate back in 1851.

As well as celebrating the America’s Cup and Australia’s yachting history, the walls carry the pennants of yacht clubs from around the world, dating back as far as 1718.

The Australian Sailing Museum is located in Ormsby Terrace, Mandurah and is billed as the largest and most extensive sailing museum in Australia. Certainly for those planning to attend the next Club Marine Mandurah Boat Show, or anyone fond of Australia’s yachting history, it’s well worth a visit.


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