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Brian Hutchison

For years, locals have seen trawlers moored along Humbug Reach in Cabbage Tree Creek on Brisbane's northside, or watched the trawlers heading out along the channel into Bramble Bay. Brian Hutchison's book Prawn Trawlers of Cabbage Tree Creek, 1952-2014, sheds light on the historic details of the familiar sight.

The prawn trawlers moored in Cabbage Tree Creek on Brisbane’s northside seem like they’ve been there forever. But the prawning grounds of Moreton Bay were relatively untouched until the early 1950s. That’s when trawlers headed north from places like Evans Head in New South Wales. For example, in early 1952, Reg Massey and his son Gordon arrived in their self-built 35 foot deadwood carvel snapper-boat, Colleen Star, tying up in the mangrove-lined Cabbage Tree Creek. Gordon told the author it was a basic flush-deck day boat, suited to line and trap fishing, with no wheel house and powered by a 30 horse power Southern Cross engine.
There were five prawn trawlers operating out of Cabbage Tree Creek in 1952, it hit a peak of 82 in 1969, and has slowly declined to about 17 now. The book says that prawn trawlers supported about 200 families in Sandgate and Shorncliffe at one stage. Trawling supported other businesses, like Jeays hardware store and hotels.
Brian Hutchison is a walking encyclopedia on the history of the Cabbage Tree Creek prawn trawler operations, ship building and sailing. His 124-page book Prawn Trawlers of Cabbage Tree Creek, 1952-2014, is the product of extensive research into government records, newspaper reports, State Library archives and memories. A fourth generation local, he built trawlers with his business partner Tom Bishop at Hutchison Slipway in Sandgate and later on the banks of Cabbage Tree Creek in Deagon. He’s also a Churchill Fellow with degrees in economics and arts, and certificates in boat building and mechanical engineering. And he is a former teacher of apprentice boat builders and shipwrights at the South Brisbane Technical College.
Mr Hutchison writes about how people would make trawlers in their backyards in Deagon, adjacent to Cabbage Tree Creek. Skippers sometimes converted inappropriate vessels into trawlers to have a go at the new industry. He covers the sorts of accidents that have happened. Sometimes trawlers would come back to the creek overloaded with their catch and would be swamped with seawater. One time a trawler skipper fell asleep at the wheel and ran into another vessel before waking up and taking off. Many crew had miraculous escapes after being hurled into Moreton Bay. But there have been deaths, too. Trawler skippers were competitive and sometimes clashed, but all trawler operators had a code where they dropped everything and went to someone’s aid if required.
Mr Hutchison includes construction plans of the trawlers, like 45-foot deadwood sharpies; and 35-foot hollow heel carvels. There are many photos of locals involved In prawning, and of trawlers in drydock, like the Sea Idler, Dragnet, Sundowner and Moon Spinner.
Prawn Trawlers of Cabbage Tree Creek, 1952-2014 would interest anyone who was interested in history written with a lot of specific information, or enthusiasts of boat building or commercial fishing, or anyone who just wanted to learn about a unique world. He plans on writing a book on the history of R. C. Masters’ Boat Builders where he served an apprenticeship in Deagon in his youth.
As far as reading tips go, one of Mr Hutchison’s favorite authors was Peter Carey, and he had read most of his works. Some lesser known favorite books included Juliet Wills’ The Diamond Dakota Mystery; and J.M. Scott’s Sea-Wyf and Biscuit. Other favorites included the works of Robert Persig, like Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance; They’re a Weird Mob by Nino Culotta; and Raymond Chandler.