History of the MV Banksia

The history of the Banksia is slowly being gathered together. What we do know about her is that she was built in 1952 as a work-boat for Cockatoo Island and originally named Biloela (an aboriginal word meaning ‘white cockatoo’). After a working life of more than 60 years servicing Cockatoo Island, then working a busy Central Coast ferry run, the Banksia now enjoys a relaxed and quiet semi retirement cruising the Hawkesbury River and surrounds.

There are still many blank spaces, so if you can help us fill the gaps it would be greatly appreciated. Contact us to share your stories, and any information you may have.

The old-world charm and heritage style of this vessel brings many fond memories. Enjoy these snippets of history from some old Banksia friends.


The Banksia was originally named Biloela and was renamed Banksia in 1965 when the speedboat Codock Jnr (which dad drove Mon -Fri) was paid off. The new speedboat was named Biloela.

The speedboats were used for the transport of VIP’s to and from the dockyard and in particular transported the Managing Director. Dad drove for at least 4 of them – Mr Fraser, Capt G I D Hutchinson, Capt Roger Parker and Mr John Jeremy.

The Banksia (Biloela) and Corella were sister vessels and were not actually built at Cockatoo Island. From memory, they were built at Woodleys Bros yard in Berry’s Bay; but a number of Cockatoo apprentices were involved in their construction. (My 2 older brothers were both apprentices at Cockatoo and confirm my thinking.) They did undergo refit, I think in about the mid 1970’s, possibly at Cockatoo, when the wheelhouse was raised and the wheelhouse deck was made into a flush deck. I think it was also at that time the manual gear shift was changed to hydraulic shift. (I’m not sure of the actual timing of those refits.)

Banksia was used as a duty boat out of Parramatta wharf (on a 2 cycle shift 7-3 & 3-11) and did the run between Valencia St Woolwich, Hunters Hill and Cockatoo. It met every Sydney Harbour Ferry at Valentia St. It also did a run to Wolseley St, Drummoyne morning and afternoon.

The Drummer was the other duty boat (on a 3 cycle shift (7-3, 3-11, 11-7) and did the Balmain run to Cove St, Elliott St and Bridge St, Drummoyne (including the Dockyard Depot at Balmain Powerhouse at Iron Cove). When Drummer was paid off in the 1970’s the Corella replaced her as the Duty Boat.

The Banksia and Corella were sold when the dockyard closed down and were purchased by a company on the Brisbane Water. They were used on a ferry service between Woy Woy, Davistown and Saratoga for a period of time.

Paul S.

December 2006

Driving the Banksia was my first coxswains job back in the mid 1970’s, I was 18 years old. I used to ferry the shift workers from Balmain and Drummoyne to Cockatoo Island and back again. It was a very busy period in the history of Cockatoo; I believe up to 2,500 people were employed there at that time.

I drove Banksia for the majority of my four and a half years working at Cockatoo, but sometimes I drove the Corella, Banksia’s ‘sister boat’.

I remember the night shifts well, when waiting for the next ‘run’ I used to nap on top of the engine to keep warm. It kept me warm enough, but boy did I stink of diesel in the morning!

When I started the wheelhouse was lower, you had to crawl into it, but during my time all the Cockatoo Island boats had their wheelhouses raised. She was not easy to stop with no passengers aboard, because of the canoe shaped stern if you made a wharf too fast she had a tendency to cavitate. But not making the wharf first time was not a good idea, the workers were literally hanging off the edge of the wharf on Cockatoo, waiting to leap on board for their trip home.

Robert S.

October 2006

Great to see the old launch is still in operation. I used to travel to and from Cockatoo Island each working day back in 1969 through to about 1973 as the paper boy from Robinsons newsagency at Hunters Hill. I’d also wait for the arrival of all the various ferries in the mornings as I was also the paper boy at Valencia Street – much fun and fond memories from down there.

I can remember having to run from the Parramatta wharf across the island to the Balmain wharf – if you didn’t run the all of the workers would have left on their ferries meaning that you had to push your barrow full of papers back again and then return to an angry newsagent!

During my time there I saw many of the RAN’s ships under construction and repair.

Richard C.

October 2006

My first skipper’s job was on the Brisbane Waters mastering both the Banksia and the Corella. I skippered the Banksia 6 days a week transferring passengers along a ferry route from Empire Bay to Woy Woy via Davistown on the NSW Central Coast from 1996-2001.

She (the Banksia) was a great boat to drive and after time I could turn her on “a dime” with the tidal forces around the creeks and rivers.

I’m glad to see her running again and still in survey. I have a vivid memory of going downstairs on the main deck to collect fares from the passengers in winter time and watching them hugging and surrounding the engine box and exhaust stack for warmth.

Banksia likes to drive heavy by the bow so she creates a large bow wash which was a bit annoying for some boat users but the locals loved her plying around the channels like the “good old days” when ferries were very common in the area.

Daniel R.

March 2007

Banksia was bought by a Sydney Harbour charter business. She was glammed up for the odd New Years Eve, watching the fireworks from probably the best spot in the city. During this time the original Gardner 5LW engine failed and was replaced by a 5LW that started life as a backup generator in Sydney, the “new” engine came with a logbook of only 177hrs in the 20 years from ’78 to ’98.

We picked it (the engine) up from the Rural Bank Head Office in Elizabeth Street on (I believe) grand final day 1978 where it had been installed new (June ’52) by O’Donnell Griffin for emergency power (40KvA?). It was used as backup power for the Sutherland Rural Fire Service, Fire Control Centre from 1978/9 through to early 2002 when it was replaced with a higher capacity unit. The unit was regularly run on Sunday mornings (as the log book would show) under load and serviced in the early days by HQ bushfire brigade and then later by Sutherland Shire Council mechanics. When it was de-commissioned it was offered to Shoalhaven RFS but declined and then went back to the person who originally procured who I then believe offered it for sale to the owners of the ferry.

At the time I was the Captain (volunteer) of the Headquarters Bushfire Brigade and we were tasked with running the generator on a regular basis, Geoff Bloomfield was my senior deputy, M Thomas, R Pryer and D Marshall were attached to the Communications unit.

Martyn K.

October 2006

We picked her up in November 2005, in Middle Harbour in a slightly sorry state. A lot of work has been done, and is still being done on her. Most of the work done in the first twelve months is unfortunately out of sight. We replaced the electrics, plumbing, put in a new tail shaft, replaced missing and acrylic windows with glass and replaced six planks starting from the stern. The timber work was done meticulously by Lance and Mike at Lovett Bay Boat Shed (A big big thank you to them!).

A few big licks of paint after scraping back roughly fifty years of colour schemes, some carpet, seat cushions and the odd decoration brought her up to the standard you see before you.

Peter and Caroline Davidson

owners until Oct 2011

My first job as a Master was at Cockatoo Island working the island’s launches. It was 1988 – 91 and at the time the Banksia was the 3 cycle boat. My boat was her twin sister Corella working 2 cycle.

My memory of the twins was that both were very light on the stern and handled better with a load on. The Banksia defiantly stopped better than the Corella when empty.

I spent many days working the 2 boats, mainly on the ferry service, though they also did a share of towing when required. I have nothing but fond memories of the 2 old girls, though winter used to get rather brisk in the rattly wheel houses. Great to see her still plying her trade.

Sam Stroud

NSW Maritime Nov 2011