Karingal and Karrabee

The Karingal and Karrabee were near identical sister ferries operated by Sydney Ferries Limited and its NSW State Government operated successors on Sydney Harbour from 1913 until 1984. Wooden ferries built at the time of Sydney Ferries' rapid early twentieth century, they were the smallest of the round-end "K-class ferries".

Karingal as a steamer in 1936
Name: Karingal, Karrabee
Port of registry: Sydney
Builder: Morrison & Sinclair
Launched: 1913
Out of service: Karingal: 1984, Karrabee: 22 January 1984,
Fate: Karingal sank Bass Strait 1986(?), Karrabee broken up November 2005
General characteristics
Tonnage: Karingal 106 tons, Karrabee 107 tons
Length: Karingal 31.7m, Karrabee 32.8m
Decks: 2
Capacity: Karingal 608, Karrabee 653

The ferries were built as coal-fired steamer and were converted to diesel in the 1930s - the first Sydney Harbour ferries to be so converted. Unlike many early twentieth century Sydney Ferries, they survived the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge in the 1930s, and the State Government takeover in 1951.

Karrabee sank at Circular Quay after taking on water during the Great Ferry Race in 1984 - an incident that received extensive media coverage - and did not return to service. Karingal, and the other three remaining old wooden ferries, were taken out of service shortly after Karrabee's sinking. In service for 71 years, they were among the longest-serving ferries on Sydney Harbour.

"Karingal" and "karrabee" are Australian Aboriginal words meaning 'happy home' and 'cockatoo' respectively.

Service history

Karingal and Karrabee were built by Morrison & Sinclair, Balmain for Sydney Ferries Limited, being launched in 1913. They were the smallest of the round-ended K-class Sydney ferries,[1] and could carry 608 and 653 passengers respectively.[2]

Karingal's original Bow, McLachlan and Company-built steam engines came from the ferry Alathea when it was converted into a lighter in 1913.[3] The 28 hp steam engines pushed Karingal at up to 11 knots.[2] Karrabee's original Hawthorn Leslie and Company-built steam engines were sourced from Pheasant (1887), the second biggest Parramatta River single-ended ferry and Sydney's triple-expansion steam ferry.[4][5] The 36 hp steam engines could push Karrabee at up to 11 knots and are currently in the custody of the Powerhouse Museum.[2][6][7]

In 1936, Karrabee was converted from steam to diesel-electric power, the first of the Sydney Ferries fleet to be converted. The new six-cylinder Henty and Gardner diesel engines generated 440 bhp and gave her a speed of nine knots.[2] She was re-engined in 1958 with a six-cylinder Crossley Brothers diesel provided 450 bhp and a top speed of 11 knots.[2] Karingal soon followed with a 1937 diesel conversion[8] and she was re-engined 1961. The conversion from steam to diesel saw their tall funnels replaced with short stout funnels; tapered in Karingal's case and straight in Karrabee's.[1]

Karingal was used on the Parramatta River run in the last few years of that service.[4] In the 1950s, Karrabee was painted red, white and blue and used as a floating promotion for Armed Forces recruitment.[1] In 1966, the Sydney Ferry Company used Karingal and Karrabee on a weekend and holiday service from Circular Quay to Watsons Bay, however, despite initial success, the service ceased due to lack of passengers.[9]

For most of their service lives, the ferries had only a few minor incidents. Karrabee collided with Kameruka in 1951 and with the smaller Radar in 1979. In 1975, she failed to stop at Circular Quay and rammed the concrete seawall.[10]

1984 Great Ferry Boat Race

The end of Karrabee's career as a ferry came to an end with her sinking at Circular Quay, an incident which received extensive news media coverage.[11] Having just returned to service from an overhaul at the Urban Transit Authority's Balmain yard, on 22 January 1984, the Karrabee took part in the annual Great Ferry Boat Race. With passengers crammed forward pushing her bow down, and the harbour chopping with the wash of pleasure craft following the race, the vessel took on water through a number of places. She finished a distant third (she came first in the inaugural event in 1980). The amount of water pouring into the vessel went unnoticed for some time, however, when Captain Archer realised what was happening, he took the ferry back early to Circular Quay.

With its nose dipping below the water, all passengers were quickly disembarked at Wharf 4, and the ferry proceeded to quickly sink as the last of the passengers alighted onto the wharf. It was raised two days later by the floating crane Titan. She was towed out of the quay and laid up while investigations into the sinking took place. Ultimately the cause of the sinking was found to be a buildup of rubbish around the bilge pump inlet and this severely restricted the ability of the pumps to clear the water.[6][12]

Retirement and demise

Once floated, Karrabee was laid up and did not re-enter service. The remaining wooden ferries on Sydney Harbour - Lady Edeline, Kameruka, and Karingal - were taken out of service following the Karrabee’s sinking and the commissioning of the first of the First Fleet catarmaran ferries in 1984.[10]

In 1985, another old wooden ferry, Kameruka was sold for use in a proposed fun park at Lansvale and Karrabee was included in the deal free of charge. However, Kameruka sank at the mooring and was broken up by mechanical grab. In May 1986, Karrabee was sold and towed to Gosford for conversion to a floating restaurant. The business did well for a number of years, but the boat's condition deteriorated and in 2003 it settled into the mud at the wharf.[10] In November 2005, it was broken up in place and there is some evidence that her upper structure was relocated to Kulnura.[6]

Having been pulled out of service in 1984/85, Karginal was sold to new owners in Melbourne but sank en route in Bass Strait.

See also


  1. Andrews (1975), pp. 60, 61
  2. Prescott (1984), p. 69
  3. Andrews (1975), p. 19
  4. Andrews (1975), p. 108
  5. Gunter (1978), p. 14
  6. Karrabee Ferries of Sydney
  7. Triple expansion marine steam engine Powerhouse Museum
  8. Gunter (1978), p. 77
  9. Andrews (1975), p. 32
  10. Andrew, Graeme (1 August 2003). "Do You Remember When the Karrabee Sank?" (PDF). Afloat.com.au. pp. 22, 23. Retrieved 23 June 2019.
  11. News reports of Karrabee's sinking
  12. Do you remember when Karrabee sank? Afloat Magazine August 2003


  • Andrews, Graeme (1975). The Ferries of Sydney. AH & AW Reed Pty Ltd. ISBN 0589071726.
  • Andrews, Graeme (1982). A Pictorial History of Ferries: Sydney and Surrounding Waterways. Sydney: AH & AW Reed Pty Ltd. ISBN 0589503863.
  • Gunter, John (1978). Across the harbour : the story of Sydney's ferries. Rigby. ISBN 0727007157.
  • Prescott, AM (1984). Sydney Ferry Fleet. Magill South Australia: Ronald H Parsons. pp. 15–16. ISBN 0909418306.
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