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1933 Milk Boat “Sunlight”

Sunlight was built in 1933 by the William Ryan Shipyard in Taree. It was launched on the ninth of December 1933 from the slipway at Mitchells Island by the Manning River Dairy Cooperative. For thirty six years until 1969 Sunlight operated as a milk and cream boat on the Manning River under the Lower Manning Dairy Cooperative. 29ft in length, Sunlight was specifically designed for the narrow and shallow reaches of the lower Manning River in the Ghinni Ghinni creek area, regions larger vessels had difficulty navigating.

As of 2023 Sunlight is displayed on the grounds of Cundletown and Lower Manning Historical Society.

Sunlight has a very graceful and easily driven displacement hull form, the deadrise, turn of bilge and flare above waterline make a smooth run for the laminated timber ribs to form. The carvel hull is constructed of spotted gum along very traditional techniques, the deck is very robust in beams, with the fitting of lodging knees to every deck beam and posts to centreline. The deck perimeter is bounded by an unusually stout laminated sponson, these features assumed to be included for duties of both taking the heavy deck loadings of milk churns and the making of dairy farm wharves on many occasions per day. A bronze and/or copper-based metal shoe runs the full length of keel. This transitions into an elegant bronze support for the rudder.

Sunlight had five engines over its working life as a milk boat. The last engine installed was a 49 HP Super Major Fordson now on display at the Cundletown and Lower Manning Historical Society.

The Manning catchment is on the NSW Mid-North Coast and covers and estimated 8,420 square kilometres. The Manning River flows for 250 kilometres rising in the Great Dividing Range to the east of the basin, and moves south east through a coastal floodplain to Taree where it splits in two. The southern arm meets the Pacific Ocean at Old Bar, and the northern arm is joined by the Dawson and Lansdowne rivers meeting the Ocean at Harrington. The Lower Manning River is a delta system with several channels creating large islands like the Mitchell and Oxley Islands.

The Manning River Dairy Cooperative was originally situated on Mitchells Island at the intersection of Manning River and Scotts Creek, and later moved to the banks of the river at Chatham, Taree. From these locations the milk boats Sun, Sunshine, Sunbeam, Sunrise, and Sunlight travelled upriver and into different branches of the catchment, collecting milk cans from shallow stretches of the river and narrow wharves. The design of each milk boats deck with a sheer allowed for a smooth movement of cans, the roof covering ensuring for appropriate temperature control on return to the cooperative. Shifts for milk boat workers were often long and tough, vessels often operated by only one person, their engines often running from dawn to dusk.

This extract from the Manning River Times 22 February 1952 on Sunlights’ sister vessel Sunrise highlights historic significance of the milk boat to the Manning River region:

The pride of M.R Co-op. Dairy Society’s river fleet, this trim Manning-built cream-boat was a landmark in Manning life in the years between the wars. Plying between the old Mitchell’s Island factory and Wingham, the SUNRISE not only made proper use of the waterway for the conveyance of cream, as well as delivering various types of goods, but she also carried passengers. She was the means of many a visitor to the district gaining the best possible impression of the Manning. Staffed by a genial and hard-working crew — Skipper Tom Gale, engineer Bill Carmody, deckhand George McCarthy — The SUNRISE would come steaming up the channel to Tinonee at about 9am pushing up a creaming bow-wave which broke like a young surf along the river foreshore in her wake, often to the discomfiture of anglers in small boats, who would narrowly avert swamping.


Read the full article on the Australian Register of Historic Vessels (ARHV) website – click here