Bern Cuthbertson was first introduced to the world of seafaring in 1937 when at the age of 13 he became his father’s deckhand on the trading ketch Weerutta.
This is where he began his training under sail in an older type sailing vessel with rig not unlike that of his Bass and Flinders re-enactment sloop Norfolk.
Owing many vessels over a period of more than 50 years, including one he bought in England and sailed out to Tasmania, Bern retired in 1988 when he sold his prawn trawler working out of Coffs Harbour.
Returning to Tasmania, Bern renewed his interest in maritime history.
With dedicated crew members he has re-enacted significant voyages in recent years in the whaleboat Elizabeth.
While rowing around Tasmania in 1986, retracing the journey of Captain James Kelly, the idea of the Norfolk re-enactment was conceived.
After more than 50 years after he went to sea, Bern embarked on perhaps his most ambitious voyage – re-enactment of the voyage of George Bass and Matthew Flinders in 1798 which defined Tasmania as an island separate from the mainland Australia.
The modern-day Norfolk is a near replica of Bass and Flinders 35-foot sloop. Work on the construction of the replica began in 1994 and relied on the work of a group of volunteer workers, assisting the shipbuilder.
The Norfolk is built from entirely Tasmanian timbers. Huon pine planking and celery top pine framework and keel.
The oars are made from silver wattle. Traditional boat building methods have been used in its construction, painstakingly replicating the techniques used in Bass and Flinders’ day.
A place to breathe.
Bern Cuthbertson was interested in the story of Capt. James Kelly from a very young age at school.
He tried on many occasion to interest local companies in the building of a whale boat to re-enact James Kelly’s voyage around Tasmania in a whale boat back in 1815
Bern decided to build such a boat of 28 ft. 6in and so, the Elizabeth, came into being.
That same boat is now on display in the Bass and Flinders Centre.
James Kelly headed off on Dec 12 1815, but this time frame (in being away for Christmas), was not desirable to Bern, so he moved the start date of the voyage and set sail on Australia Day 1986.
This was just the start and during the trip with his crew, Thomas O’Byrne, Craig Dixon, Rick McMahon, and Geoff Zwar, the Elizabeth faithfully followed in the steps of Kelly which included a trip into Port Dalrymple at the mouth of the Tamar River, and landed in George Town.
The voyage can be read about in detail in Bern’s book, “Around Tasmania in a whaleboat”.
In January the following year 1987, after the successful trip around Tasmania, the Elizabeth set sail from Cowes on Philip Island for Sydney with a crew of five.
This was the same date as George Bass some 189 years earlier, had set out on his whaleboat to return to Sydney after he and Flinders had discovered Bass Strait.
On this trip the crew consisted of Bern Cuthbertson, Graham Dudgeon, Ian Williams, Peter Marion and young young David Wilson.
It was during the trip around Tasmania in the Elizabeth (1986), that the idea of re-enacting the voyage that Matthew Flinders and George Bass completed in 1798 came about.
This was carried out in a sloop that Flinders had command of, called the Norfolk.
A 200 year anniversary would be the aim; all they had to do was build the Norfolk.
Films to see
The Bass and Flinders Centre is operated by volunteers under a trust arrangement and is self funded.