A 300km Canoe Trip when aged 13 or 14

In 1925-1926, Tom L2 and a friend were 13 or 14 years old and both attended Leura State School. Whilst on holidays they decided to build their own canoe. When they had finished building it they took it to the Leura Public Pool to see if it would actually float. It did and with no leaks! It was also surprisingly very stable. Perfect! What next?

Their parents farewelled the 2 boys at the Leura railway station where they boarded a train to Penrith with their new canoe, some basic provisions and very little money. Once in Penrith they launched their canoe into the Nepean River and set off on their epic journey. Firstly they paddled down the Nepean which then joined the Hawkesbury River. They continued to the mouth of this river, past Wiseman’s Ferry, under the Mooney Mooney bridge, approximately 190 kilometres from Penrith to the open sea just north of Palm Beach. As the Hawkesbury River had a reputation for containing some very disreputable fishermen, they slept several nights on different small islands on the river but didn’t light a fire for fear of these unsavoury fishermen.

The boys’ last night on the Hawkesbury River was spent on Lion Island, near the mouth of the river. Their luck had run out and a serious problem occurred with the above-mentioned fishermen. As they genuinely feared for their lives, under the cover of darkness early in the morning, they took off in the canoe by the only safe route from the island which meant paddling out to sea. This meant a change to the assumed plan of returning to Penrith after paddling up to the Gosford train station. But they had escaped and went out to sea, turning right past the Barrenjoey Lighthouse and Palm Beach towards Sydney Heads. They paddled out just far away from the surf breakers to be safe from being swamped by the waves. On their way down the coast, out to sea off the northern suburb of Dee Why, their canoe was suddenly surrounded by several inquisitive sharks. They hit their paddles on the water around their canoe to scare them which apparently worked as the sharks then thankfully disappeared.

After arriving at the Sydney Heads they paddled into Sydney Harbour and headed for The Middle Harbour Yacht Club which is at ‘The Spit’ in the suburb of Mosman. The boathouse at the time was a wooden building on stumps with just sufficient room to slide and leave their canoe in the sand just under the floor. There, the canoe remained for some 50 odd years until the Yacht Club had a big cleanup and the canoe, what was left of it, was discarded. It has been estimated that the distance rowed from the Barrenjoey Lighthouse to the Middle Harbour Yacht Club would have been approximately 40km.

They had now almost run out of money and there wasn’t any modern technology existing at that time such as mobile phones etc. Even the Sydney Harbour Bridge wasn’t built at that stage. The population of Australia then was only about 6 million. So, they then walked, repeat, walked from where they had left the canoe in Mosman to the Penrith Railway Station. This would have been, most of the time, along the roads on the northern side of the Parramatta River. It is estimated that they would have walked approximately 70km.

On arrival at the Penrith railway station, Tom L2 explained to the stationmaster that they were broke but wanted to get back home to Leura preferably by the train as they most likely had severely blistered feet by then. Luckily, the stationmaster knew his mother. The stationmaster then phoned his mother who promised to pay the fare for him and his friend when they arrived at Leura. Six or seven days after leaving, they arrived at the station, much to the great relief of their mothers.

Tom A. M-P (December 2019) based on recollection of his father telling the story of his trip.

  • canoe.txt
  • Last modified: 2019/12/13 12:27
  • by judith