Interviewee: Mr Kerry Michael Trantham
Date of Birth: 1960
Interviewer: Meryl Gardiner
Date of Interview: 18 & 19 Oct 2018
Synopsis: Charlotte Whincup
BOHG No: 2018-011
Total Length: 1hr 48mins
Kerry, son of Bill and Eileen Trantham, was Bunbury born and bred, which probably explains why the Bunbury Jetty had so much of an influence on his life. As a kid, he would cycle from his home in Carey Park, with buckets containing bait and hand lines, over his handle bars, down to the jetty, where he and his mates would fish and trade their catches with the sailors off the ships moored at the busy jetty, for smokes, cans of warm beer and maybe a few sets of chopsticks! He remembered seeing names carved into the piles of the jetty, probably of passing sailors, and ships’ cooks using pressure cookers to cook the local mussels that they caught off the jetty. Little did he know at that age, how the jetty would impact his life!
On leaving school, Kerry eventually gained a carpentry apprenticeship in 1975 with Jack Best, a well known local identity who, years before, was involved in the Carey Park sub-division, and later built many houses in the south west. Kerry has been in the building industry for 43 years and has also worked at Worsley as a supervisor carpenter, but in 2013, Kerry’s occupation would lead him back to the once loved Bunbury Jetty.
The jetty was originally constructed in 1864 using convict labour and local jarrah and karri timber materials, probably originating from Wellington Forrest, about 30kms south east of Bunbury. Over the years the jetty was extended and repaired until 1982 when the once bustling jetty was decommissioned by the Bunbury Port Authority (now part of Southern Ports Authority), in favour of the recently opened inner harbour. It has been stated many times that Bunbury’s growth and wealth was as a result of the Port and essentially the Bunbury Jetty. By 2004, the once 590 metre long jetty was partially fenced off from the public due to its poor condition and was being maintained by the Bunbury Timber Jetty Preservation Society.
By 2012 after much debate between the society, headed by Snookie Manea and Phil Smith, and the City of Bunbury it was decided that the jetty was in too bad a state of repair and had to be demolished. A floating boom encompassed the jetty due to the debris being a boating hazard.
Sydney Marina Contracting (SMC), won the contract to deconstruct the Bunbury Jetty and under the management of Jeff Offer from Brunswick, work commenced in 2013. Kerry approached Jeff to be involved as he had the necessary carpentry skills but also was a sea rescue skipper and held a commercial skipper’s ticket. And so began an 18 month task of removing every bit of the jetty including concrete rubble previously left by the removal of the BP tanks and hunting for and retrieving an electric transformer that had disappeared into the bay after a fire on the jetty.
Initially the company had to make a landing near the jetty abutment in order to bring in the jetty debris and manoeuvre their two working modular barges, prior to any demolition taking place. One barge contained the equipment, initially a crane, but soon replaced by an excavator with a fixed grab, placed on timber, and the other referred to as the dump barge, held the demolished materials. These barges were manoeuvred by a 6 metre boat with an 80 -90 hp engine. Once fully loaded the dump barge held 40 tonne weight.
Old railway tracks were removed first from the karri decking. Some of this decking was saved and given to the City of Bunbury, but despite the karri timber being strong and ideal for the upper structure of the jetty, it also contained a high acid content which eventually corroded the galvanised bolts. The beams which were above tide level were also made from karri timber. All materials below water were made from jarrah and these were the piles (or pylons), head stocks, whalers (horizontal support leading from the piles going the full width of the jetty) and bracing. Considering the jetty’s condition and age, the SMC crew found it difficult at times to get modern high powered equipment in between the joints, as the jetty was well braced (due to the use of whalers), and had to be, to withstand the amount of sea traffic it received over the hundred or so years it was in use.
It soon became apparent that the main damage to the jetty had come from the imported Teredo worm, that hitched a ride via European sailing ships. The worm did its damage in the tidal section of the jarrah piles which had been treated by a tarred and charred method (tar applied then heat to impregnate the wood with the tar to seal it) prior to the jetty construction, combined with wave action and other bugs having a meal, meant there would have been little hope of saving the jetty. Further down the pile to the sea bed there was no damage and with Kerry’s knowledge of timber he could see that a lot of the jarrah could be salvaged. This was achieved by him sorting the timber at site and eventually transported to a mill at Burekup. They also had a mill on site where jarrah was being cut.
They extracted approximately 1800 piles. Initially a dive team used hydraulic chain saws to cut the bracing and sling the piles for the excavator operator to grab the pile and with some clever machine manoeuvring, release the suction of the pile, bring to the surface and onto the dump barge. Divers and excavator operator had communication via a boatman. To prevent debris floating away, the company maintained the floating boom that had been placed around the jetty some years prior, and used a smaller boom around their work area, to provide a quicker clean up at the end of the day.
Initially it was thought that the Koombana Bay dolphin population was going to be a challenge and strict guidelines were put into place when to stop work and dolphin watchers were present, but in the end, man and dolphin co-existed fine. Which couldn’t be the same for the jetty’s rats, who were deserting a sinking ship and the workers were deafened from the screeching of seagulls and pigeons during the nesting seasons!
By the end of 2014, the jetty was gone, the site cleaned and Kerry handed back the area to the site owners, the Department of Transport, who had overarching responsibility of the newly named Southern Ports Authority (formed as a result of the merging of Bunbury and Albany Port Authorities and Esperance Ports Sea and Land).
Kerry continued with SMC whilst they constructed the Augusta Marina, but has since stepped back from that role to concentrate (on behalf of SMC) on the selling and cutting of the timber saved from the jetty. After a certain amount of timber was given to local community groups and City of Bunbury, SMC retained the rest for selling on to the public. On average, the diameter of the jarrah piles were 400mm which means the timber was about ninety to one hundred and ten years old when it was felled. As the jetty was built over one hundred years ago, the jarrah timber being sold on is now over two hundred years old. The timber wasn’t seasoned on felling but being in the water has preserved it.
They have delivered as far south as Augusta (145kms south of Bunbury) and as far north as Eneabba (445kms north of Bunbury). The Bunbury Jetty timber has been featured on Grand Designs Australia programme where Perth architect Ariane Prevost has used the timber in her newly built house. New houses in Margaret River and Yallingup also feature Bunbury Jetty timber and even (reportedly) a dining room table made for retired WA and Australian cricketer Adam Gilchrist, contains timber from the jetty carved with the name of “P Goring 1920”. As Kerry was selling off these items of timber, he asked to remain in contact with the buyers with the view of recording what happened to the Bunbury Jetty. Since the jetty was demolished, Kerry has given a few talks around Bunbury, regarding his experiences with the project and he hopes to follow that up with more presentations on where the timber ended up and what was done with it.
Whilst Kerry was working on the deconstruction, he saw what people were left with in the lack of land based fishing options now that the jetty had disappeared. It struck accord with him when he had to turn three young lads away due to the hazards of the site. He saw himself as a kid being able to fish from the jetty, but these three boys and other Bunbury people now had nothing. He decided with the help of his building connections to raise money and construct a fishing platform in the Koombana Bay area. He received the backing of the City of Bunbury, Recfishwest and the South West Development Commission. Over 12 months they raised $243,000 and a similar amount of in kind donations for materials and labour. However, probably due to the recent Bunbury Waterfront redevelopment, his plan for the community to construct the fishing platform was knocked back in favour of a contractor being involved. Therefore more money will need to be raised, but hopefully not in the too distant future, Kerry’s dream and efforts will be realised.
Whilst Kerry’s story started a wave of emotion in him as he helped to pull down his childhood memories of the Bunbury Jetty, and many other Bunbury residents would have shed a tear to see the old jetty go, Kerry has tried to keep the recognition of the jetty alive. Not only does he hope to use his other passion in life, photography, to capture what the scattered pieces of the jetty have become, but he also took many wonderful photos during the deconstruction of the jetty, showing just what mother nature had done to what was once a living thing.
Many people were sad to see the jetty go, but the man who helped to demolish it, has also helped to preserve a piece of Bunbury’s history.