The inaugural Australian Wooden Boat Festival was held in November 1994 by boating enthusiasts and friends, Cathy Hawkins, Ian Johnston and Andy Gamlin. The event followed Andy’s visit to Brest in Brittany a few years earlier, and was made possible thanks to financial assistance from the Tasmanian State Government and sponsors Hobart Marine Board, Hobart City Council, RACT Insurance, Risby’s Timber, Holymans, Spirit of Tasmania and ABC radio.
Held over just two days, the Festival attracted enormous crowds and featured a very successful food component, a French frigate that transported a canoe from Isle de Pins (New Caledonia) and the HM Bark Endeavour Replica on her maiden voyage from Perth, WA.
Held under a warm, clear, summer sky that perfectly complimented the 180 beautiful wooden boats in Constitution Dock, the festival, with its music, dance and nautical demonstrations, was declared an outstanding success.
The second Wooden Boat event was staged in the cold blustery conditions of November 1996, two years after the first. Despite the bad weather, almost 200 boats enthusiastically arrived for another round of celebrations.
The festival was once again organised by its three founders and supported by a number of volunteers. The public response was outstanding. This time a modest entry fee was asked of the public to support the growing costs of staging the event.
The 1996 festival featured an extraordinary vessel known as Charlie, a 25 foot steam-driven mahogany canoe from South Australia. A handful of Couta boats also arrived from Sorrento, Port Philip Bay – an interstate contingent that provided some stiff competition for local division racing yachts.
1998 saw a change in the festival, with the Rotary Club of Salamanca brought into an ownership role. Andy Gamlin, co-founder and formerly co-director of the event, was appointed as Festival Director and began organising the festival on a full time basis.
This year’s feature was the Logan (NZ) built and beautifully restored racing yacht, Waitangi. Some incredible model boats were also brought over from Melbourne, drawing overwhelming praise from the public.
Unfortunately, the unpredictable local weather again intervened and the whole weekend was affected by rain, resulting in a downturn of the largely Tasmanian visitor numbers.
The consistently unpredictable November weather prompted festival organisers to move the dates of the Festival to the February long weekend, and a 3 day event was staged to compliment the long running Royal Hobart Regatta.
The Rotary Club handed ownership to a new, stand alone organisation, the Australian Wooden Boat Festival Inc. with Jayne Wilson as Chair and Andy Gamlin as Festival Director.
The response to this change was immediate and positive, with upwards of 320 boats registering for the event. The Festival was once again visited by HM Bark Endeavour Replica, following its world tour, and also featured Astor of early Sydney to Hobart yacht race fame, and the replica of Flinders’ famous discovery vessel, Norfolk. The decision to move the event to February also paid off, with beautiful summer weather across the entire festival.
The three day format allowed for a new entertainment formula, with the introduction of the “Parade of Sail” and other new events, such as specially written and performed theatre. This gave the Festival the substance to attract more interstate and international visitors to Hobart.
In 2003, a new committee and a new Festival Director, Brian Downes, set the scene for a brand new format and entertainment approach for the festival. Ben Maris took up the role as Chairman of the Board with Steve Knight as Vice-Chairman.
The festival enjoyed another brilliant display of summer weather, and featured the beautifully restored show stopper, the Wraith of Odin (ex Pittwater, Sydney) as well as the historic 22 foot Tassie II which was launched in front of an enthusiastic crowd.
The 2005 event saw an overwhelming response, with 450 boats registered and a similar increase in the number of visitors to the festival. Accommodation in Hobart was filled to capacity for miles around, and the city was abuzz with a swarm of happy visitors. Brian Downes reprised his role as Festival Director and Ben Maris continued to lead the Board.
This year’s features included the 1874 three-masted iron barque James Craig, back in Tasmania after almost 30 years of restoration in Sydney, and the three replica Viking Ships which were transported from Denmark especially for the Festival. Five popular specialist boat builders from the Viking Ship Museum also joined the Festival to demonstrate boat building skills with their ‘authentic’ replica Viking tools and rope making equipment.
Still under the management of AWBF Inc, the 2007 festival was another year for major new developments. Andy Gamlin again took on the role of Festival Director and the event was extended to run over 4 days. The summer weather was glorious and a record 620 boats attended the Festival, with over 70,000 visitors making Hobart once again the spotlight for boating and maritime enthusiasts around the world. Steve Knight was elected Chairman of the Board.
The event was packed with special features including, HM Bark Endeavour, the replica Dutch ship Duyfken, and for the first time in Australia, three magnificent traditional boats from Holland. A special ‘Dutch Village’ was set up dockside and was an absolute crowd pleaser.
An extensive program of entertainment, music, demonstrations, displays, and sensational food added to the vibrancy of the event. The Shipwright’s Village, a Maritime Marketplace, and food stalls showcasing Tasmania’s superb seafood were just a small part of the dockside activity which now extended into Hunter St. A professional marketing and media program was implemented to build on the excellent reputation the festival had already established.
In 2009, Rob McGuire stepped aboard to head up the eighth Australian Wooden Boat Festival. With six years of Targa Tasmania management to his name, a hard-working, mostly volunteer Organising Team and an extended marketing, media and sponsorship campaign, Rob delivered another exceptional festival.
Billed as the “Best of Australia in the Heart of Tasmania”, the event attracted record boat entries, with every state and territory represented. This included four amazing 18ft replica racing skiffs from Sydney, and a dug-out Tiwi Island canoe that was built specially for the festival. The ever popular James Craig made a superb centrepiece, joined by a flotilla of other Tall Ships including Enterprize, Young Endeavour, Lady Nelson and Windeward Bound.
Again held over four days, the dockside was alive with a mix of music, demonstrations, food and entertainment. An on-water program was established, and a Community Boat Building program and Seafood Theatre were introduced as new activities for the first time.
Free entry, superb weather and free bus travel on all Metro services saw a record crowd, estimated to be more than 150,000 people, attend the 2011 MyState Financial Australian Wooden Boat Festival – with MyState Financial becoming the first naming rights sponsor of the AWBF.
The festival site was almost double that of previous years, taking up the whole of the Hobart Waterfront, including the massive Princes Wharf Number 1 Shed.
Feature vessels included the majestic Tall Ships, James Craig, Enterprize, Windeward Bound, Young Endeavour, Lady Nelson, One and All and the magnificent Princess Iluka. Also in attendance was Tacoma, the fully restored fishing trawler from South Australia and Gretel 11, the famous 1970’s America’s Cup Challenger.
Rob McGuire once again headed up the management team with Steve Knight leading the all-volunteer Board. Favourable wind conditions ensured there was a spellbinding display of sail. The theme of the festival was “Celebrating our maritime culture”.
Jessica Watson, the youngest person to ever sail round the world single handed, was the MyState Financial Festival Ambassador. Iain Oughtred, an internationally recognized leader in the field of small boat design and construction, was also a guest speaker at the festival.
As the largest festival in the event’s history, there were more special features than in any other year. International villages from Japan and Indonesia, and the largest display of scrimshaw art ever shown in the southern hemisphere, helped to make the event the best one to date.
The MyState Australian Wooden Boat Festival 2013 was the tenth festival,celebrating nearly 20 years since it was conceived by a handful of wooden boat enthusiasts in 1994. (The festival shifted calendar dates in the early years – it is now produced in February of each odd-numbered year.) The event ran over four days, from 8-11 February 2013. The festival is widely acknowledged to be the largest event of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere and second in the world to the Fete Maritime held every four years in Brittany, France.
In 2013, the festival registered 550 boats of all types and sizes from four-masted tall ships to exquisite hand-finished wooden dinghies. Visitor numbers were in excess of 200,000 (source: EMRS market survey commissioned by Department of Economic Development Tourism and the Arts, April 2013), making it one the principal events on the Tasmanian tourism calendar. With more than 80 exhibitors, 350 volunteer staff and an extensive four-day program of entertainment, the MyState Australian Wooden Boat Festival qualifies as a major festival by any recognised measure. The festival is produced in Hobart,Tasmania, taking advantage of a setting that combines exceptional natural beauty, a deep water port and a picturesque historical waterfront in the centre of an Australian capital city.
The festival celebrates the unique maritime heritage of Tasmania and the world-wide community of those who value the craftsmanship and beauty of lovely craft. The AWBF has a dedicated corps of highly experienced sailors, boat builders, maritime historians and enthusiasts, many of whom have been with the festival since its inception. In fact, the three friends who started the event in 1994 – Cathy Hawkins, Ian Johnson and Andy Gamlin – are still actively involved in designing and producing this internationally recognised celebration of the mystique of the wooden boat. Festival Director (and general manager) Paul Cullen took the reins to produce the largest event to date; Chairman Steve Knight logged his fourth festival as Chairman.
In 2015 the event attracted 220,000 people to Hobart’s waterfront over four days in sunny conditions with the temperatures reaching above 30c on most days of the festival.
The 2015 festival saw the renewal of the International Wooden Boat Symposium, which welcomed some of the world’s foremost experts on wooden boat design, restoration and sailing. 2015 also saw the Big Log Project come to life, with a live bullock team delivering a giant log to the Shipwright’s Village as patrons witnessed it being turned into beautiful shipbuilding timber. The Tasmanian Trading Voyage also took advantage of the bullocks being in town, as they delivered a typical mixed cargo of apples, whisky and wool to the Hobart Wharf. In a scene reminiscent of the 1830’s, the 50ft Huon Pine ketch Stormalong loaded the cargo for conveyance to Port Arthur.
At the Qantas Australian Tourism Awards 2015, the MyState Australian Wooden Boat Festival was named as one of the top three events in Australia, along with the National Flower Festival and the Melbourne Cup. Chairman Steve Knight accepted the award in Melbourne. The festival also won Gold in the Tasmanian Tourism Awards; when it was named Best Major Festival or Event and went on to win the Hobart City Council’s Community Event of the Year Award for its 2015 achievement. General manager Paul Cullen acknowledged the 430 festival volunteers role in the achievement.
In 2017, the not-for-profit organisation that produces the MyState Australian Wooden Boat Festival every two years delivered its 12th festival and its 24th year of continuous growth and success under the leadership of Chairman Steve Knight for the sixth consecutive time. With steady visitor numbers (215,000 – slightly affected by weather) and a full complement of 490 wooden boats, the festival was once again the high point of the Hobart summer on the waterfront. Hobart welcomed a large contingent from the guest nation, the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The Dutch were here to help us celebrate 375 years since Dutch navigator Abel Tasman first sighted the island that would one day bear his name. Eight colourful Dutch boats and 35 Dutch nationals travelled to Hobart. The International Wooden Boat Symposium welcomed a valuable sponsor in the Australian National Maritime Museum and presented a splendid program of international and interstate speakers. A beautiful exhibition, ‘The Early Dutch Explorers’ opened at the Tasmanian Museum & Art Gallery, explaining the 17th century world of the Dutch East India Company. On the water, the Wrest Point Cup was keenly contested and finally carried off by the Franklin-based ketch Yukon. Paul Cullen directed the festival, his third outing in the role.
The remarkable tall ship Tenacious made Hobart her port for a five-day stopover, demonstrating that serious blue-water ocean sailing is not just for the able-bodied. The ship is designed to be sailed by people living with a broad range of disabilities. Tenacious has established an Australian base and plans Austral summer seasons in future.