Times Gone By: Coffs Harbour Co-operative Steamship Company: Onwards and Upwards (Part 2)

BY JULY 1915 the company’s ship Belbowrie had become a favourite with locals for freight transport.

This was confirmed in October with a shareholders meeting confirming company returns had grown over the first four months of operation to 12 ½ percent, equivalent to an increased profit of around £15 per week.

This was despite an earlier newspaper report in May that vessels from three shipping companies, including the North Coast Steam Navigation Company, Langley Brothers and the Coffs Harbour Shipping Company, were in the harbour at the same time.

There were also predictions that hard times lay ahead with a downturn in timber trade, along with the possibility of a ‘freight war’.

Regardless, it was the new company’s plan to acquire an up-to-date fleet of ships for carrying passengers and cargo, which would have special provision of a refrigerated space for carrying butter and other perishable goods.

Belbowrie’s crew soon played a significant role in local fund-raising efforts to help various causes for WW1, including the Belgian Fund and ‘Australia Day’ held on 30 July to assist wounded Australian soldiers, through cash donations.
The ship was admired, not so much for its appearance, but the amount of cargo it could carry, with one report stating Belbowrie had left for Sydney loaded with 65,000 feet of timber and five trucks of miscellaneous goods.

By February 1916 the monthly profit had increased to 20 percent and the Coffs Harbour Steamship Company’s co-operative model was promoted in the Clarence region to businessmen dissatisfied with increasing freight costs of a local private company.

At the Coffs Harbour Shipping Company’s first annual meeting at the end of July it was revealed the company had made a profit of £320 with a turnover of £7390.

Attendees of the packed meeting had many inquiries, but after taking into consideration the downturn in the timber trade, drought conditions over the previous months and an increase in wages and cost of living for the ship’s crew, everyone was satisfied with the results.

In November 1916, coal supply became a major issue in keeping Australia’s steamships going, with Belbowrie and other north coast vessels ceasing to operate in early November.

Luckily, two days after the stopping of services was announced, arrangements were made for the vessel to run on timber supplied by the Coff’s Harbour Timber Company.

As Belbowrie shipped their timber to Sydney, the arrangement was mutually beneficial, however there was one issue.
The men cutting the vessel’s timber went on strike for one day after they were told they were ‘black-legging’ the coal miners (working during a strike), despite coal not being declared ‘black’ by the miners.


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