24 October 2006

The Dutton Park Ferry Service may have begun life as a result of student prank but it has more than proved its worth after nearly 40 years’ service.

Brisbane Ferry Service owner, Robert (Bob) Kent, 83, said while he was sad the service would be discontinued with the opening of the Eleanor Schonell Bridge in December, it was “inevitable”.

“Bridges will always be better than ferries as they can transport more people,” Mr Kent said.

Mr Kent, his brother Kevin, late brother-in-law, Dick Hoggett, and friend Vince Downey, were co-owners of the company when approached by Lord Mayor Clem Jones to establish a ferry service between the University and Dutton Park.

UQ’s Student Union had convinced the Lord Mayor of the need for the service through a 4000-signature petition but six months after the service began in March 1967, numbers of passengers were well short of expectations.

“It turns out the petition had been gathered largely at the Regatta Hotel as a bit of a prank,” Mr Kent said.

“We took over the service with a subsidy from the Council but in the days since, it has more than paid for itself.

“The passage of time has proven that the students got it right and Clem Jones was right to get us to build ferry vessel Pamela Sue (named after Mr Downey’s daughter) – our first boat for the Dutton Park crossing.”

The service grew from a fare of five cents, limited running hours and 300 passengers a day in 1967 to two boats, a fare of $1.40, four captains on staff, 1900 passengers per day and crossings from 6.30am until 9.55pm, five days a week.

There have been three boats over the years with a lowlight being the washing away of landings and the destruction of ferries during the 1974 Brisbane Flood.

Mr Kent said he and his partners persevered with the Dutton Park ferry in the early years despite disappointing passenger numbers largely because their own children were studying at UQ.

“Our eldest daughter Susan was studying physiotherapy at UQ and my wife Del didn’t want her using Coronation Drive,” Mr Kent recalled.

Both his family and company have had a long and very positive association with UQ – Susan (one of the couple’s three children) is a graduate as well as five of their 11 grandchildren. He said the company had worked closely with UQ to make travel as safe and as convenient as possible for staff and students.

“We split the cost of running an after-dark bus to take students from the Dutton Park ferry terminal to the Dutton Park and Park Road rail stations and introduced extended ferry hours on Saturdays during University exams,” Mr Kent said.

“It’s been a fantastic experience running the Dutton Park ferry. Being Uni students, the passengers are young and easy to talk to and get along with … a rather select group of people you could say.”

Historian Percy Hanlon said Bob Kent and his partners had shown considerable foresight in their running of Brisbane ferries, in conjunction with the Brisbane City Council, for many years.

“Bob himself was Brisbane’s longest-serving ferry master (60 years) and was proved correct in sticking with the Dutton Park crossing. It was Brisbane’s only wholly privately run ferry service,” Mr Hanlon said.

Mr Hanlon’s self-published book on the history of Brisbane ferries, Oh-ver, catalogues the progress of River public transportation since the city’s inception.

The book’s title derives from the word people shouted from the banks when they needed the first form of public transport – row boats capable of carrying 16 people and powered by just one man – to get them to the other side.

Brisbane’s first ferry was a vehicular ferry introduced between King’s Jetty (now Queen’s Wharf) in the city and Russell Street at South Brisbane.

The first steam ferry was introduced in 1860, motor ferries in the early 1920s and it wasn’t until World War II that diesel-powered ferries began operating.

“Brisbane owes a great debt to ferry pioneers such as Bob Kent – he’s a true living treasure,” Mr Hanlon said.

UQ staff member Andrea Prescott, who has used the ferry service daily for the past six years, praised captains such as afternoon driver, Barry Calder.

“Barry is polite and accommodating and always had smile for all his passengers at the end of our day. It was also great to see him in his captain’s outfit which gave a truly professional touch,” she said.

The river ferries – Loyalty and Vicky Lynn – are now for sale for $45,000 and $40,000 ono. For details, phone Del Kent on 3398 3781.

Media inquiries: Shirley Glaister at UQ Communications (07 3365 2049).