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Little dinghy with a big heart

Edition 201_Vanessa

An old clinker dinghy, abandoned in a shed and restored by inmates at Risdon Prison, will be a star attraction at the upcoming Australian Wooden Boat Festival. It is also a special tribute to the late Tasmanian politician, Dr Vanessa Goodwin.

The biennial MyState Australian Wooden Boat Festival is one of the most eagerly anticipated events on Tasmania’s calendar.

In February, more than 200,000 people are expected to crowd Hobart’s waterfront for the biggest celebration of wooden boats in the Southern hemisphere.

And, sitting pride of place amongst the 500 boats on display at the four-day event, will be the Vanessa G – a little dinghy with a big story.

As well as being named in honour of Dr Vanessa Goodwin, the Vanessa G is also a wonderful community project focused on prisoner rehabilitation.

It is a joint initiative of the Australian Wooden Boat Festival, the Department of Justice and the Howrah Rotary Club, that wanted to find a boat inmates at Risdon Prison could restore for February’s event.

The call went out and a ten-foot Huon pine clinker dinghy from the 1940s – sitting neglected in a farm shed at Cradoc – was donated to the cause.

It was taken to the prison, where a small group of inmates has spent the past five months busily bringing the craft back to her former glory, under the watchful eye of Howrah Rotarians who have been passing on important skills along the way.

“We go out to Risdon a couple of days a week to work on the dinghy alongside our small group of inmates,” Glenn Woolley from Howrah Rotary explained.

“And we are all getting so much out of it. It’s a wonderful partnership.

“The inmates are learning valuable new skills, especially in boat building. We are also learning a lot about them, and what we as a Rotary club can do to help stop them going back to prison.”

The project is a big job.

As Woolley says, the whole dinghy had to be pulled apart, and literally rebuilt from the bilge upwards.

There are still three old boards that need replacing, and the group is currently working on new seats. After that, they will start on the oars.

“She is becoming a beautiful little row boat,” Woolley adds.

“The inmates really have ownership over this wonderful project.”

It’s not long until the dinghy leaves the prison for Hobart’s waterfront, where she will be christened the Vanessa G – in honour of the late State Attorney-General – during a special naming ceremony at the Australian Wooden Boat Festival.

Dr Goodwin was not only a passionate advocate of prisoner rehabilitation, but also a long-serving member of the Howrah Rotary Club.

“Vanessa was a great Rotarian, and we all loved her,” Woolley explains.

“We had been looking for a project to honour her for some time, and this was perfect for a number of reasons.

“One, because of the work she did for Rotary; two, for the work she did for the community; and three, because of the work she did at the prison where she was a great champion of prisoner reform and prisoner rehabilitation.”

The Vanessa G will then be auctioned off, with all profits going to the prison workshop to fund a new boat-building course and the next maritime restoration project.

“We really have come full circle with this,” Woolley adds.

Meantime, the countdown is on for the Australian Wooden Boat Festival which is now just weeks away.

And, when thousands of wooden boat lovers congregate around Hobart’s docks, sitting in pride of place amongst them will be a little row boat with a big heart.

The MyState Australian Wooden Boat Festival runs from February 8-11 on Hobart’s waterfront.

Image courtesy of the Howrah Rotary Club

11 December 2018, Edition 201

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