Australia Pearl lugger the Anniki set to sail again under heritage group's restoration plan

04:42  22 july  2021
04:42  22 july  2021 Source:   abc.net.au

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a boat on a body of water: The Anniki traditionally rigged in the movie Australia. (Supplied: Australiamovie.net) © Provided by ABC NEWS The Anniki traditionally rigged in the movie Australia. (Supplied: Australiamovie.net)

A historic ship that starred in a blockbuster movie, carried the Olympic flame and set pearl shell records is set to be restored after sinking in Darwin in 2016.

The Anniki was built in Cairns in 1958 and was one of the last Torres Strait pearling luggers ever made.

The 17-metre boat's crowning glory was when actor Hugh Jackman "rescued" the children of "Mission Island" after a WWII Japanese bombing in Baz Luhrmann's 2008 movie Australia.

The Anniki had spent about a decade as a sunset cruise boat before sinking.

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The Cairns-based Pearl Lugger Heritage Fleet recently bought the Anniki after the group restored its sister ship, the Antonia.

Director Mike Smith estimates restoration costs will be upwards of $250,000 and that it will take up to 12 months to make the vessel ship-shape.

He says fundraising could take about three years.

"With a lot of hard work and determination it can be rebuilt," he said.

Engine mix-up leads to Anniki

The Anniki was built because commissioning owner Jack Zafer found he had a spare engine after building the Antonia in 1956.

The Gardner engine was reported lost in the post after a shipwreck off the Arabian Peninsula.

But after another engine had been bought and fitted, the slightly sandy Gardner engine arrived.

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Mr Zafer's daughter Anne was nine years old at the launch and said the boat's name was a conglomeration of the older Zafer children's names: Anne and Nicholas.

"It was also the nickname which was given by the Thursday Islanders to Dad's Japanese manager Oki," she said.

"I remember the champagne bottle breaking on the bow."

Wind in her sails

The Anniki worked in the Torres Strait right up to the turn of the century.

She was used for harvesting trochus shells but mostly pearl shells, which were used to decorate buttons, jewellery and furniture.

It's believed the Antonio and the Anniki hold a joint record for a 22-tonne pearl shell haul.

The vessels featured in the 1960 documentary Pearlers of the Coral Sea.

Ms Zafer said a 1970 spill from the wreck of the crude oil carrier the Oceanic Grandeur, 20 kilometres from Thursday Island, coupled with the advent of plastic buttons, spelled the end of the shell industry.

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"Rather than trying to resurrect the business, they sold it and moved on," she said.

A light that never goes out

The Anniki's next venture was fishing for crayfish and her final duty in the Torres Strait was when 1,000 people lined Horn Island wharf to watch her carry the Sydney Olympic torch from Thursday Island.

She was then decommissioned, restored and taken to Darwin for her next adventure as a sunset cruise boat in 2002.

Mr Zafer died in 2010 and never saw his former boat in the movie Australia, which premiered in 2008.

"He stopped going to movies as a very young man because he used to fall asleep and he said there's no point," Ms Zafer said.

Dark days before rescue

The Anniki sank in Darwin's Frances Bay Mooring Basin in June 2016.

A month later the boat was refloated and towed 15 kilometres to a Ludmilla Creek boatyard, where she still sits, masts up.

The Pearl Lugger Heritage Fleet is made up of several former working boats, including a tall ship.

Mr Smith said the boats were sailed on sunset cruises, charters, overnight trips, school activities, fundraisers and environmental programs.

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"One of the purposes of our organisation is to try and salvage or rescue as many of the remaining Torres Strait pearling luggers and mission ketches that we know of," he said.

Big decisions on restoration

Mr Smith is still to decide if partial restoration will be undertaken in Darwin so the Anniki can sail to Cairns, or if an extra $50,000 will be spent on road transport.

"Obviously the ultimate goal is to have them sailing and rigged traditionally as they used to be," he said.

"And [so] people can experience the excitement of a Torres Strait pearling lugger.

"It may be better spent on the vessel where she's sitting."

Salvaging a part of history

Mr Smith said that of the 1,000 or so pearl luggers built, only 12 remained.

"In the late '80s and '90s you could go to the Torres Strait and buy any number of luggers for $1," Mr Smith said.

He said the Anniki was of important historical significance.

"It's played a role in Queensland's pearling industry, in the film industry, and has played a role in Darwin.

"There's a lot of history attached to that object and [if] you lose the object, you lose part of that history."

Northern Territory Museum curator Jared Archibald said luggers were integral to the pearling industry in northern Australia.

"It was really important to have ships that could handle the shallow waters and the great tidal influence and be able to sit up on their bottoms and be strong enough when the tides went out," he said.

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