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90-year-old ferry restored from 'firewood'

LOVINGLY RESTORED: Ballina's Dona and Peter Graham with the former Sydney ferry Myrna. They will sail the vessel (also pictured at left) along the Richmond River during the duck races on Australia Day.
LOVINGLY RESTORED: Ballina's Dona and Peter Graham with the former Sydney ferry Myrna. They will sail the vessel (also pictured at left) along the Richmond River during the duck races on Australia Day. Graham Broadhead

A 90-YEAR-OLD former Sydney fantail ferry has been resuscitated and given a new lease on life.

The 1927 MV Myrna has been authentically restored by Ballina couple Dona and Peter Graham.

Myrna was a surprise purchase in 2016 by Dona who bought what was a wreck - sight unseen - on eBay.

A former private pilot, Dona had been encouraged by her husband Peter to "find a new hobby” after electing to retire her wings.

Little did Peter think that would mean restoring a wooden ferry.

"I have to give Peter full credit,” Dona said.

"He was thinking I might take up kayaking or windsurfing, but once he got over the shock of the purchase - and the breathtaking financial commitment involved - he really got on board with the idea of restoring Myrna.”

After electing to use local tradespeople to undertake the restoration, the Grahams arranged to have Myrna trucked from Sydney to shipwright Boatworx Australia at Ballina.

"She was so fragile we had to have her transported up in a full body sling,” Dona said.

"When we finally got to see her up close on the hard stand at the shipyard, Peter joked it was the most expensive bundle of firewood he had ever seen.”

But for Dona it was love at first sight.

"Even stripped raw and rotting, she has the most graceful lines and distinctive features,” she said.

"At 32 feet with a copper-sheathed wooden hull, art deco wheelhouse and 2m fantail at the stern, Myrna is everything on my boat wish list.”

Under the supervision of Michael Cox and his Boatworx team, John Norris of Precision Metal Craft, marine electrician the late Gary Wigmore, and Italian master cabinetmaker Paolo Matruglio, Myrna underwent a comprehensive 18-month restoration and refurbishment.

While she is an historic vessel, she has been fitted with mod cons, including solar panels, stove, fridge, desk and even Wi-Fi.

And she is built for comfort, not speed, being powered by a new 75hp diesel engine.

The only compromise the couple had to make in their aim to make the restoration authentic was to remove the copper sheathing, and place fibreglass over the wooden hull to arrest deterioration.

The couple elected to retain the vessel's original name.

"The name Myrna is Celtic-Irish for 'beloved' - and that she certainly is by us,” said Dona.

In December Myrna was slipped to her permanent mooring at the Ballina Quays to start her new life as a family cruiser and part-time legal office for Disability & Eldercare lawyer Dona - and Dona said that surely gives her the title of having the best office in the world.

"On one or two days a week my clients will have the option of meeting on Myrna at the various Richmond and Wilsons river wharfs rather than just at my Ballina office,” she said.

"I can't think of a better example of mixing business with pleasure.”

But Myrna isn't registered for any public use, so locals won't get to have a ride on her.

Myrna will make her official debut on the Richmond River at Ballina on Friday as part of the Australia Day celebrations, with a christening planned for February.


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