ASHonline – published by the Sydney Maritime Museum; home of Sydney Heritage Fleet
On Monday, 20 June 2016, Warwick Turner, the principal founder of today’s Sydney Heritage Fleet, crossed the bar at the age of 74.
The news of Warwick’s passing in Echuca, where he lived for many years, has saddened many, many people who knew him through his passions for steam, history and heritage.
Warwick developed his passion for preserving steam technology at an early age and his interests in steam ranged over road, rail, paddock and water; traction engines, steam trains, steam rollers, steam trucks and, of course, marine steam. Early on, Warwick and his wife, Lesley, bought the old Burnaby Bolton model steam engineering business and operated this from a small shop in Woolloomooloo.
While still a young man, news in the early 1960s that the Maritime Services Board planned to replace their VIP and Vice-Regal Steam Launch Lady Hopetoun with a modern motor launch started Warwick on a lobbying crusade to acquire and save the steamer.
Warwick and a band of like-minded steam-engine and marine enthusiasts were successful. In December 1965 they founded the Lady Hopetoun & Port Jackson Marine Steam Museum (now Sydney Heritage Fleet) and early in 1966 Lady Hopetoun became theirs, and the flagship of the new Museum, which she remains to this day.
Two years later, veteran 1902 Steam Tug Waratah joined the Museum, followed in 1970 by the 1927 buoy tender & pilot steamer John Oxley.
During the early years of the Museum, until Warwick travelled to the UK for a year’s sabbatical, he and Lesley, their dog Angus and cat Pinkey, lived remarkably comfortably in the forward accommodation aboard Waratah. It meant that Warwick (and Lesley) were on 24-hour call and time away from the increasingly busy Museum was hard to find.
Later, Warwick was to again make his mark as director of Lachlan Vintage Village and then Swan Hill Pioneer Settlement, both major outdoor museums, and in Echuca with his steam saw mill. His contribution to Australian heritage activities was immense. He spent a lifetime dedicated to preservation.
When he moved to Echuca Warwick was, among many other community involvements, an engineer on the Murray River paddle steamers.
Until a few weeks before his death he was a regular engineer on paddle steamer Emmy Lou. As fellow SHF member from the museum’s earliest days, Andy Munns, recalls: ‘Warwick was a prodigious collector of steam age equipment. His property in Echuca is a shrine to the steam age. There a visitor can see steamrollers, traction engines, a steam merry-go-round, sundry boilers, many steam engines, dismantled steam tugs, paddle steamer components plus a complete operating 2-foot gauge steam railway. Warwick and Lesley would run occasional steam ‘parties’ where enthusiasts would gather to run steam machinery and party well into the night.’
Throughout his lifetime’s contribution to heritage activities, Warwick had a clear vision of the value of heritage. In 2010, Warwick was the ANMM/SHF Phil Renouf Memorial Lecturer.
‘What is it that brings men and women together to spend vast amounts of time and money to keep what we think is important and valuable from our past and to explain it to future generations?
Quoting, Warwick told his Renouf Lecture audience; ‘. . . We wish to state our credo that historic resources are a part of the national heritage and that consequently they should be run for the benefit of the public at large. We are trustees for them. They are ours to restore and manage and interpret because earlier generations saved them for us; so we, in turn, have an obligation to future generations who have an equal claim to that heritage. Our trusteeship places upon us an ethical commitment to accuracy in restoration, truth in interpretation, and protection for the next generation. The financial support we receive from the public reinforces our obligations to the people. We do not meet that obligation just by saving and restoring a historic site, (object or ship).
‘Only when the essential meaning of the object and of the people and events associated with it are communicated to the visitor can we truly say that we have met our responsibilities’.
And Warwick went on, speaking of the Murray River paddle steamers: ‘So as for me, I’m still at it. The love of a steam engine’s motion, the smell of hot steam oil and redgum smoke, the beautiful workmanship of 100 years ago, the polished steel and brass, the grace and elegance of a well designed hull, the attractiveness of the bright work, the quietness of the power and the knowledge that your stewardship will bring something back to life for others to enjoy and appreciate and that you can pass on an object of beauty and function that helped man achieve his goals.
‘It is nice to be where men have trod before. That’s my personal reason for doing what I do. The only problem is I need to live to be 156 years old if all the projects are to be finished.
‘Sydney Heritage Fleet has gone far beyond our early hopes so thanks for keeping the dream advancing and very much alive. The power of us all through these institutions and our programmes will be unstoppable and I for one, will happily continue mucking about in old boats.’
Footnote: Warwick’s ashes were scattered from a paddle steamer in the Murray River at Echuca and in Sydney Harbour from the deck of Lady Hopetoun.
1 Alderson, William T. and Shirley Payne Low. Interpretation of Historic Sites. 2nd ed. Nashville: The American Association for State and Local History