The Town of Arthur River has a rich history of pioneer cattle droving, hardy ferry men, and west coast fishing. Featuring in all of that was a hand-made Huon Pine boat; an iconic part of Arthur River for seventy
years. “The Thistle” is known to many who visited Arthur River in their youth. Waratah resident Cyril Griffiths came back from the First World War with some boat designs from an American magazine. He was a boat builder, and Waratah was a centre of boat building in the early 1900’s, due to a ready supply of Huon pine. Griffiths built “The Thistle” in the late 1920’s, using the tried and tested design of a North-East American oyster boat. To those who know boats, it was a 16’ hard chined sharpie Chesapeake Bay dead rise oyster skiff, with an inboard diesel motor. Griffiths sold the Thistle to his young relative Eric Bayley. In 1939 Bayley carted the boat on the back of a lorry down the rough road from Waratah to Corinna. There he and wife Freda started one of the first
tourist operations on the West Coast of Tasmania, using the Thistle to run fishing tours on the Pieman River. The Thistle became part of the ferry service across the great frontier of the Arthur River. It was tied to the ferry as a backup in case anything went wrong, and it was often used to direct wayward cattle swimming across the river. Eric Bayley died in 1986, but the Thistle stayed at Arthur River. Willie Gale now owned it, and the Thistle became the “town boat”. Everybody knew the Thistle, and most regular visitors had been fishing in it at one time or another. By 1990 the boat was leaking when left out of the water, so during winters it was
floated in the old well behind the Arthur River Ranger station. When Willie Gale retired from his job at the Ranger Station, the Thistle was retired to his paddock at Green Point. Geoff Winspear of Port Sorell discovered the Thistle in 2010, and bought it from Willie Gale for $500. Winspear was a relative of the original builder Cyril Griffiths. He bought it unseen, and remembers his heart sinking when he realised the condition it was in. Geoff Winspear spent a lot of time and money
restoring the boat, with a complete, see-through fibreglass shell to stop it from leaking. The Thistle was now a totally unique boat, even among its American pedigree. It was the only Huon pine Chesapeake sharpie in the world. The entire 16ft length of the thistle on each side is made from a single giant slab of Huon pine, cut from a living tree. Engine mounts and old exhaust outlets can be seen where a succession of diesel motors were installed in the past.
Geoff happened to be talking to Arthur River residents Cagey Kingston and Greg Cash at the M.V. George Robinson cruise boat in 2014, and mentioned he had the Thistle. Greg Cash offered to buy
it, which made Geoff happy, because it would be coming back to the river where it belonged. While bringing the boat back from Port Sorell, Cash dropped it in to Wynyard to see Eric Bayley’s nephew
Henry Griffiths. Greg Cash happened to own the land which included the old punt track, and he’d just finished opening it up, so a car could be driven down there for the first time in thirty years. Cash also
happened to have a new daughter; the only baby at Arthur River. So the Thistle has come home to where it belongs, and a small, but uniquely Tasmanian thread of history continues. Being made of Huon pine, there is every likelihood the Thistle will stay beside the old punt track at Arthur River for another seventy years.