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Imagination sets sail in the Hills


Sharing his love of the beautiful sailing ships of years gone by has been a lifelong passion for Adelaide Hills parishioner Bob Brooksby.

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Sharing his love of the beautiful sailing ships of years gone by has been a lifelong passion for Adelaide Hills parishioner Bob Brooksby.

In his more than three decades of teaching he would often take his model sailing ships into the classroom to help “bring to life” a History or English lesson. He found that the spectacular props “ignited imaginations”.

Most recently, children attending the annual Adelaide Hills parish picnic were able to experience what life would have been on the high seas and ‘sail’ one of Bob’s ships as part of an impressive fleet, albeit on dry land.

When parish priest Fr Fred Farrugia put out a call for ways to entertain the younger generation at the picnic held at the Oakbank racecourse on February 25, the 82 year old was quick to put up his hand to help.

He arrived with about 50 model sailing ships and set up a display that proved a hit with young and old.

“The adults had a lot of comments, not just about the ships but the old Golden Books I had brought along – copies of traditional stories like Robinson Crusoe, Treasure Island and Moby Dick – which reminded them of their childhood reading,” he said.

For many children attending it was the first time they had seen a model sailing ship so Bob (pictured) took the opportunity to talk about some of the journeys made by the seafaring explorers and how the clippers would roll from side to side slightly and pitch forwards and backwards.

With that knowledge in hand, the children were then given the opportunity to ‘captain’ their own ship and ‘sail’ them in a procession.

“We called the lad carrying the biggest ship the admiral in chief and he beamed with excitement,” Bob laughed.

“They sailed along in front of the pavilion where all the people were eating and received plenty of applause for their efforts!”

During his teaching career Bob often used model sailing ships as part of his lessons.

“When I first took a ship to a classroom it immediately enhanced the book I was reading to the students,” he said.

“So the next day I took in half a dozen ships and the enthusiasm just typhooned. In appropriate lessons I would take a group of ships to classrooms and the response was always excitement, imagination and enthusiasm.”

Bob recalled how he used his model ship collection to re-enact the voyages for South Australia’s 150th and Australia’s bicentenary celebrations. It added another dimension to the students’ understanding of the journeys undertaken.

Sometimes he would gather the students on a tennis court to show them the size of a clipper in real life – the same length of the court but about half the width.

“It was a practical way of giving them a sense of the time, distance and lack of comfort that was involved in migration,” he said.

Bob’s love of sailing ships began at a young age in the South East.

“As a boy I loved reading Treasure Island, Moby Dick, poems like Sea Fever and Chorus of Home-Coming Ships and that helped me form a great love of the sea.

“I grew up in Mount Gambier and we used to go to Port MacDonnell and had little sailing yachts which we would put in the water while the family enjoyed a day at the seaside.”

A holiday interstate was the catalyst for starting his collection of model ships.

“In 1966 I went to Queensland and I brought my first one as a memento of my trip,” Bob recalled.

“When I got back to teaching in Adelaide there were model ships in barber shops, clothing stores, antique shops…for about 10 to 12 years there was a real interest in model ships and they seemed to be everywhere.”

Over the years he received some ships as gifts, purchased others himself and his collection grew to about 70 models of varying sizes. Most are made of wood but a few small ones are built with shells.

Since retiring in 1996, Bob keeps himself busy not only looking after his collection of ships but volunteering for several community groups in his home town of Gumeracha.

A member of the congregation at St Matthew’s Church, Birdwood, Bob said his Catholic faith had always been an important part of his life. He paid special tribute to the influence of the Marists, who taught him at what was then Marist Brothers’ Agricultural College in Mount Gambier.

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