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Fleet People – Mori Flapan

Mori Flapan joined the Museum in 1971 and was highly active in the Fleet until 1994, then scaled back to writing articles about the museum’s ships, preparing stability documentation, assisting in research and so on. He was elected an Honorary Life Member for his contribution to the Fleet.

Mori has now taken he and his wife on an extended world tour, needless to say with ships in view.


Mori reminisces with Bill Richards*

In 2002 I wrote a book called Tug Waratah: A Century of Steam to mark the Waratah’s 100th year. I particularly enjoy seeing that the museum’s fleet continues to be in good hands. It is the acid test that work done to restore the fleet is reinforced by the efforts of volunteers who carefully maintain and operate the vessels.

Early days

I started with the Lady Hopetoun & Port Jackson Marine Steam Museum Ltd (the original name of the SFH) at the age of 15.

At that age I was given the opportunity to engage in a whole range of exciting activities including bilge cleaning, boiler cleaning, chipping rust, painting masts and tanks. It was a great experience and I had a lot of support from those who were active at the time including Warwick and Lesley Turner, Bill Livingstone, Alan Edenborough, Cliff Deardon, Ross Cowell, John Shoebridge, Malcolm Menzies, Lester Laird and many more.

At the same time I started crewing on Lady Hopetoun. In those days all the brass and copper had to be polished before we left the wharf. This could take a few hours, but the Lady would look spick and span. We also had canvas awnings to protect the fore deck and aft deck and these had to be taken down. Like many a newcomer, I started on deck but soon gravitated to the black gang as greaser and sometimes assistant to the stoker.

About a year after joining it was decided to get the Waratah going. She had been berthed alongside the old steam lighter Nelson at the “Pens” at Blackwattle Bay and served as the accommodation for watchmen Warwick and Lesley Turner, watchdog Angus and Pinkey the cat and as a storeroom for all manner of museum display and heritage equipment including the timber side screens from Lady Hopetoun. It also served as the boardroom for museum board meetings.

Waratah had not been slipped since 1966 and she had a veritable underwater forest growing from her bottom. One of the members used diving gear to scrape the propeller clean. From the beginning, the Waratah had been my favourite of all the vessels; when we took her for a steam, it was inspiring. But with so much weed, she was very slow and everyone was a bit worried about the heavy rust in the bunkers, on the waterline and in the bilge. She was soon laid up again, back to her old role as accommodation and storehouse.

Late in 1972, I think, the museum held a live-aboard weekend on John Oxley at Nicholson Street Wharf, Balmain. Steam was raised for the first time since I joined, and there was a great effort to conduct maintenance on the vessel with needle gunning and painting being given priority. John Oxley is a wonderful experience when she is in steam.

We were lent a pontoon with painting stage from Storey and Keers. With this and staging planks rigged over the rail, there was a lot action across the whole bow. This established momentum and work continued on Oxley each weekend. At this time there was quite a strong contingent of us teenagers that included Bill and Peter Toohey, Nick Pellier, Henry Tompsitt, Robert Moore and Brian Holden. Some of us started living on board while we worked over weekends and during school holidays.

Members meetings, run by Warwick Turner and Alan Edenborough were held in the pilot’s saloon once a month. ‘Older’ members, David Phippard and John Goulay gave the project moral support, and David ran the bar. When the ship was not in steam, we lived with kerosene lamps.

Month after month we worked needle gunning until the entire hull of John Oxley above the waterline had been needle-gunned, primed and painted. There was, of course, a limit to what you could do to the underwater areas when the ship was afloat.

It was decided that John Oxley would go for a members’ cruise to Jervis Bay. That gave everyone something to aim for. We youths switched our attention to cleaning out the boilers. The soot from the oil fires was so much more penetrating than from coal. You could wash your body clean and a few hours later there would be blackness coming out of your skin.

Mori needle gunning Waratah's boiler about 1976

Mori needle gunning Waratah’s boiler about 1976

John Oxley’s voyages in 1972 and 1973, both north and south of Sydney, are a story in themselves. Suffice to say, I had the opportunity to be Oxley’s greaser and fireman.

Well that covers the first two years! Only another 22 to go.

From 1975 to 1981 I worked with wonderful volunteers and museum employees restoring Waratah. Andy Munns and I thought something needed to be done with her. We raised steam to raise enthusiasm. I must say there were many in the museum at that time who thought Waratah was too far gone, and to start on her would be a waste of time.

Restoring Waratah

However, we persisted. The James Craig project was underway and that seemed to attract most museum attention. However, thanks to the assistance provided by David Phippard, museum manager John Lovell and the board of directors at that time, a budget of $80,000 was secured to start restoration on Waratah. John Davis became part time project manager and we went to Cockatoo Island where Waratah was slipped for the first time in nine years.

Cockatoo’s estimate for a temporary patching of the hull was three times our budget, so we returned her to the water after only a haircut, shave and a quick paint. We were crestfallen but not beaten.

I was a cadet naval architect at Garden Island and started to look at alternatives such as lifting the vessel out of the water using a crane. One day were were chatting inside the ‘pens’ when we decided we would try to recommission what appeared to be abandoned dry docks. By this stage Ray Thorssell had come on board as the project manager, I was honorary naval architect, Andy was honorary engineer, and Glen Keene was also on board giving us the benefit of his broad practical knowledge in the building industry. In addition there was an enormous group of people both within the membership and the community at large that got behind the project donating labour, time, money and materials.

We even had a very active group that helped provide a hearty lunch for the ‘troops’ on Sundays, and the bar after work, run by David Phippard and Peter Jones. My mum even started a garden where you could eat on fine days, and she would bring the occasional apple pie. There was great camaraderie in the project, and it ran seven days a week for about three years. This was in no small part due to Ray Thorssell’s ability to work with a great range of volunteers.

First look at James Craig

Meanwhile the James Craig project continued in Hobart, the work being done by a subcontractor. In 1976 James Craig was put on the Domain slip and a tour to Hobart organised so members could see up close what was happening up. I went on this visit and, along with a majority of the others, was disappointed at what we saw. The work was not up to museum standard.

Extensive doubling plates were being fitted, and welding was being used everywhere. This was in stark contrast to the Waratah where we had gone to considerable pains to restore the ship as authentically as we could.

This was the beginning of a period of dissent in the museum as to the direction in which James Craig was being taken. Alan Edenborough, who had led the project from the start, had been posted overseas and the result was a lack of momentum and the direction of the project was sadly lost.

I wrote to the museum on a number of occasions seeking to change the direction of the work, but with the ship in Hobart and money scarce this fell on deaf ears. It was only after James Craig was towed into Sydney that there was an opportunity for change. At first my suggestion of constructing a pontoon dock to undertake the restoration of James Craig was rejected. I persisted by designing the pontoon dock and showing how it would work.

In time the museum had a new general manager Harlan Hall and curator Barry Groom. Coming from museum backgrounds, both better understood the challenges facing the James Craig restoration. With the support of a new board, the museum decided to run with the pontoon dock idea.

James Craig goes on to Mori's Sea Heritage Dock at Cockatoo Island 1985

James Craig goes on to Mori’s Sea Heritage Dock at Cockatoo Island 1985

I resigned from my job to take up a position in the museum as ship conservator for the James Craig project. As such I superintended the construction of the Sea Heritage pontoon dock by Citra Constructions at Homebush, ran a drafting and research office for the project and established restoration facilities at Rozelle Bay. I also looked after a team of volunteers that worked on the project including Brian Hill, Dave and Murray Wenban, Bill Middleton, Bill Wolfe and many others.

I particularly enjoyed the research and drafting activities which were fascinating. On this we had a good team that included Janet Ash, Geoff Winter, Henryk Wencel, Michael Milne and Mal Fairweather.

My association with the James Craig project continued until about 1994 when I decided that family commitments were just too pressing to continue in the same manner. I subsequently found that my reduced involvement contributed to an undesired effect on the direction of the project and so I left it to others to complete.

This they have done to their great credit, though I might have done some things differently. To have achieved 80%+ of the vision that we had when we began has to be success in anyone’s language. I would just ask that people remember the need to maintain authenticity on the fleet’s vessels. They are, after all, part of a museum collection.

What is/was your occupation outside SHF?

I studied Naval Architecture at the University of NSW while we were restoring Waratah. It was a great way to learn as my lessons in class were, within a few months, being applied to an actual ship. My first job as a naval architect was with M.J.Doherty & Co at Chatswood. They designed a wide range of vessels including bulk carriers, tugs and offshore supply vessels. In 1986, after working on the James Craig project, I joined what was then the Maritime Services Board of NSW as a naval architect surveyor, later becoming senior naval architect looking after a small team of naval architects conducting plan and stability approvals.

In 1995 I joined Phil Hercus’ International Catamaran Designs at Lane Cove. Here they were designing high-speed catamarans and trawlers. It was a great opportunity to see the cutting edge of maritime technology. In 1997 I went to the Australian Maritime Engineering Cooperative Research Centre as Technical Secretary and had the opportunity to interact with a whole range of brilliant minds in academia and industry working on a very diverse range of projects.

An opportunity arose in 1998 to work in the National Marine Safety Committee secretariat revising commercial vessel standards. This most challenging project involved finding agreement between surveyors, States, private industry and other stakeholders on what form commercial vessel standards should take in the future. I had the opportunity to make an input on standards for accommodation and arrangement, watertight and weathertight integrity, construction, fire safety, engineering, intact stability, buoyancy and stability after flooding, lifesaving equipment, operational practices, standards for fast craft and commercial leisure vessels, and for the survey of vessels. I finished with NMSC in 2011, just before its functions went to the Commonwealth.

Mori with two paintings by his artist wife, Kham; a Palm Beach surfboat and the 1910 Murray River paddle steamer Pevensey

Mori with two paintings by his artist wife, Kham; a Palm Beach surfboat and the 1910 Murray River paddle steamer Pevensey

What other recreational interests do you have?

My main interest nowadays is maintaining The Register of Australian and New Zealand Ships and Boats. This started when I was researching James Craig. I would come across information about other sailing ships that I thought might be interesting one day. This developed into a register of iron, steel and composite sailing ships which contains 4,400 vessels. While compiling this register, I came across information for other sailing ships, particularly Australian vessels, that I thought would be of interest, but were not recorded. So in 2001 I started The Register of Australian and New Zealand Ships and Boats. It contains mostly named vessels: over 18 ft length up to 1983; and over 4 ft after 1983. There are exceptions to this broad rule. For example, I have some wooden putt-putts that have been restored and which are under 18 ft.

There are currently over 52,500 records on this register and they date from the 18th century to present time. Today’s newbuilds are tomorrow’s history. I maintain a website at and run a number of Yahoo Groups on the web including Maritime_History_Downunder, AustNZ_WW2boats, and Williams_Boats.

[This article is an excerpt from an interview with Mori which first appeared in Australian Sea Heritage magazine.]

* It is with sadness that we record the passing of Bill Richards in May 2015. An accomplished newspaper and PR person, in his last years Bill played a significant part as a member of the Australian Sea Heritage magazine editorial team.

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This entry was posted on 02/01/2016 by in SHF.
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