Alex Byrne, Bulletin 6/2022, August 2022

Walkers in Bicentennial Park will have seen dramatic changes across Rozelle Bay in March and April. The pilot ship, John Oxley, which had stood high on a floating dock for 22 years, was painted, floated away and returned to our Bay. Sydney historical ferry, Kanangra, did the reverse – towed to Garden Island, loaded onto the floating dock and returned to Rozelle Bay.

This was the culmination of years of restoration of the Oxley and meticulous planning for ‘The Swap’ – our codename for this complex project. Its complete success was a triumph for the Sydney Heritage Fleet and the hundreds of volunteers at its Rozelle Bay shipyard, the James Craig mooring and the offices at Wharf 7 Pyrmont.

Aquatint of Kanangra passing through Glebe Island Bridge, by Alex Byrne, 2022.

The four stages of The Swap involved two large tugs towing the floating dock (with the John Oxley on it) to Garden Island, refloating and returning John Oxley to Glebe Island and then Rozelle, towing Kanangra to Garden Island, and finally, settling Kanangra on the floating dock and returning with a celebratory flotilla. Early morning walkers may have seen the complex manoeuvres in the Bay and the vessels being taken through Glebe Island Bridge with only a metre clearance on each side.

Kanangra was built in Balmain in 1912 as a steam-powered ferry, later converted to diesel power. It was an inner harbour ferry that served Sydney for decades until retired and passed to the Sydney Heritage Fleet. Volunteers have been restoring the timber-framed decks and saloons while it has been moored next to the floating dock. Now we move into a new phase in which the steel hull can be replaced, the engine restored, and the superstructure completed. We hope to see Kanangra taking passengers to celebrate the centenary of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the ferry’s 120th anniversary.

As can be seen across the Bay, the hull is huge, so its restoration will take great efforts by the Fleet’s dedicated volunteers and considerable funds to pay for the steel plate and other materials. New volunteers and donations are welcome – see Sydney Heritage Fleet for more details.