Stinker’s History: Pride of the fleet

The ‘Stella Maris’, built by William and Norm Laman.

THE ‘Stella Maris’ – Star of the Sea was the most recognisable launch in the history of the oyster industry in Port Stephens.

Known affectionately by all as Stella, the 45 foot flagship of the oyster fleet was a grand servant and honest workhorse for many years.

She was built and designed in 1934 by Cromarty Bay oyster farmers, fishermen and master boat builders William Laman and son Norman.

Launched in the same year, during the Depression, the Lamans did not have enough money to complete the building of the boat so she was traded to the Phillips family for a smaller vessel, the ‘Diggers’.

In 1939 both the Stella and the Diggers were commandeered by the Navy for the war effort.

All dressed for war, with a crew of six, Stella motored at ten knots up to New Guinea where she stayed from 1941 till 1945, serving the troops along the river systems.

At the completion of the war she was returned to Australia as deck cargo and Stan Phillips was given the right to buy her back in Sydney – which of course he did.

The Diggers was eventually blown up in the bombing of Darwin.

On her return to Port Stephens, Stella was ideally suited for towing oyster barges and for pushing heavy timber barges to service the Oyster Cove sawmill from as far upstream as Buladelah.

The Stella Maris was back in business.

With the collapse of the oyster industry, as a result of the introduction of the nonindigenous Pacific Oyster into Port Stephens, she was sold at auction in 1989. Sadly the “grand old lady” was badly neglected in the following years.

Finally, the Stella Maris, which had been on the waters of Port Stephens for over 50 years, was pulled onto the shore and burnt to the ground with only the port holes and copper saved.

A sad and undignified end to a boat that came to be recognised as the flagship of the Port Stephens oyster fleet.

In my opinion Stella should be sitting up proudly, restored to her finery, in the comfort of a museum as a reminder of the magnificent period in the history of Port Stephens.

By John ‘Stinker’ CLARKE

Leave a Reply