When the grand old wooden fishing boat Tacoma returned home to Port Fairy, its skipper Ross Haldane was transported back 72 years.

The 76-year-old grandfather was one of the seven children onboard when the boat left in the early 1950s destined for South Australia to bolster the state’s growing fishing industry.

“I remember the boat going into its first big waves — we quickly ran down into the galley and watched the waves from there,” Ross said.

The families of the three Haldane brothers including seven children aboard the Tacoma as it left Port Fairy on January 6, 1952.(Supplied: Tacoma Preservation Society)

His brother, Roger Haldane, was six and a half years old.

“It was quite a bad day, like a big roll on,” Roger said.

“People I’ve talked to since, that saw her leaving, going through their mind was, ‘We’ll never see them again.'”

Ross and one of the original crew members, 90-year-old Jack Bellamy, made the return trip this year aboard the Tacoma from Port Lincoln to Port Fairy, where it arrived on March 25.

To welcome the 25.6-metre boat home, the mouth of the Moyne River was dredged and 14 tonnes of ballast was trimmed to lighten the vessel, reducing its draught to make the journey upstream.

Bill, Alan and Hughie Haldane built the Tacoma, which recently returned to Port Fairy.(Supplied: Tacoma Preservation Society)

Tacoma Preservation Society president Ross Haldane said the moment was not just significant for his family, but the town.

His father Bill, and uncles Alan and Hughie, built the boat from 1944 when the first delivery of logs from the Otway Ranges arrived.

Original Tacoma crew member Jack Bellamy, 90, made the trip home to Port Fairy.( ABC: Jodie Hamilton)

Jack Bellamy and his twin brother, Keith, who were both on the 1952 voyage, had watched from the kitchen window as the boat was built.

“You’d see the boat growing and all the framework going up, all the ribs and everything, and it was an amazing job to think what they did, the three brothers,” Jack said.

The Tacoma was built in the Haldane’s yard at Port Fairy over seven years from 1944.(Supplied: Tacoma Preservation Society)

A pioneering vessel

The Tacoma helped pioneer the Australian bluefin tuna industry in the 1950s and the Spencer Gulf prawn fishery out of Port Lincoln, South Australia.

“It’s quite possible, if Victoria would have backed the Haldane brothers, there would have been some major fisheries developed here,” Roger said.

The Tacoma was built over seven years using logs felled in the Otway Ranges.(Supplied: Tacoma Preservation Society)

The three Haldane brothers had built smaller vessels before attempting to build the Tacoma with the aim of accessing deeper water to catch tuna.

By the time it launched, however, the boat had a different fate.

The Haldanes ran out of money and were unable to get funding in Victoria.

Hughie, Alan and Bill Haldane helped pioneer the Australian tuna fishing industry at Port Lincoln.(Supplied: Tacoma Preservation Society)

The South Australian government provided a £20,000 loan (the former Australian currency) to finish the boat on the proviso it moved interstate.

“By knocking back my father and his brothers … South Australia stepped in and picked up the baton and so Victoria literally missed the boat,” Roger said.

The Haldane brothers, with their young families, the Bellamy twins, and two cats and a dog, departed Port Fairy on January 6, 1952.

Ross Haldane said when the family departed, the town had about the same size fishing fleet as Port Lincoln.

There is not much of commercial fishing fleet left there today, unlike Port Lincoln.

“Port Lincoln is the seafood capital of Australia, and we catch something like 70,000 tonnes, which is about 20 per cent of all fish in Australia,” Ross said.

‘I had to get my hanky out’

Retired Warrnambool butcher Trevor Dowie saw the Tacoma leave Port Fairy in 1952 and was there to welcome it home in March.

“It was like the Titanic going out the river, it seemed so big,” Mr Dowie said.

Portland fishing historian Garry Kerr said the Tacoma was among Australia’s top 20 heritage vessels.

“She’s been beautifully maintained and she’s quite unique in that regard in as much as most vessels have hard times before anyone realises they should have been kept,” he said.

“It was wonderful to see it coming up the river today back to her home port, where she was launched 72 years ago.

“I was getting a bit emotional. I had to get my hanky out.”

The Tacoma welcomed about 1,000 visitors on board at Port Fairy for tours of the historic boat before returning to Port Lincoln on April 6.

The Haldane family gave the boat to the Tacoma Preservation Society nine years ago when it was retired from the commercial fishing fleet.

Each season it takes tourists tuna fishing from Port Lincoln, more than 700 kilometres or 400 nautical miles from its original home.

Port Lincoln man Andy Haldane has spent more time on the Tacoma than any other family member, fishing for prawns in the Spencer Gulf for 43 years.

He was at Port Fairy to catch the ropes and help tie the boat up.

“There’s not many boats that come back to their original home port after 70 years or something … it was a pretty big deal, you know, emotional,” Andy said.

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