By Elizabeth Hart
CREATING keels was an everyday workplace activity for Bob Street of Narre Warren North in 1995.
He had cast about 200 for the Sydney to Hobart yacht races, at the Dandenong foundry where he was the manager.
But a lead keel for a 19th century 70-tonne schooner was the challenge that made Bob a newsmaker in the Gazette on 21 June that year.
The schooner was the Enterprise, one of Australia’s new tall ships, a replica of the ship that brought the first settlers to Melbourne in 1835.
Bob was the manager at Eastern Metallurgical Founders when he received the call. He had to figure out how to accommodate such a mammoth task.
“All up, the keel would weigh about 10 tonnes, so we had to make it in two parts,” he said.
“It was summer time. I had planned to cut a hole in the factory floor. But the job would be finished in wintertime, when it would have been too wet to do that. So I cast the iron boxes above the floor.”
Bob and the team had to melt six tonnes of lead for each half. They melted it over four hours to 400-degree Celsius.
Giant bronze bolts would attach it to the craft every 16 inches. Another 5000 copper nails, five inches long, would be used, the 360-degree twists in them ensuring they would never came out.
The keel was transported to the construction site beside the Polly Woodside in Melbourne.
Bob ’s family and friends were among thousands of visitors to the maritime museum to see the finished schooner, which became the centrepiece for the celebrations for Melbourne Foundation Day on 30 August 1995.
The Enterprise replica was the first square-rigged commercial sailing ship to be constructed in Melbourne for more than 120 years.
The 27-metre ship took six years to build, from keel to launch, and Bob was so proud to be among the team of craftsmen who had a hand in the process that he invited his grandchildren to the factory to see the pouring of the metal.
The week of 21 June 1995 was a normal news week: the local fire brigades were in conflict, the shire rates were higher than expected, residents wanted a better bus service, and plans were underway to connect towns in the foothills to the sewerage system.
As Bob recalls, the Gazette editor at the time, Dorothy Thomas, wanted an unusual article. But he was nevertheless astonished to find his story on the front page.
“Dorothy said there was enough bad news and she wanted a change,” Bob says.
And so the casting of the Enterprise keel was the Gazette’s lead story that week.
The original Enterprise had no keel. It was built in Hobart in 1829 and carried coal and sheep. John Pascoe Fawkner bought it in 1835. It sailed from Tasmania on 4 August under Captain Peter Hunter.
They entered the Yarra on 15 August, moored at the end of the present-day William Street, and on 30 August the settlers began to clear the land.
The ship was eventually wrecked on the Richmond River in New South Wales, with the loss of two lives, and by 1847 had disappeared from the register.
The Enterprise today is a training ship, operated by a trust.
The Dandenong foundry where Bob began his apprenticeship and worked for 50 years has since closed. He was put in charge while still an apprentice and retired in 1996, a year after casting the Enterprise keel.
“We had a great team there,” he says.
The number of foundries in Australia is declining, and imports from India are increasing.
By Elizabeth Hart