Little Ships

A Model of the SS Bergalia

The Illawarra and South Coast Steam Navigation Company (ISNC) was established in 1858 as an amalgamation of three smaller shipping companies which transported goods between Sydney and the south coast of NSW.

The fleet were well-known for carrying live pigs and so were often referred to as the ‘Pig and Whistle Boats.’ Townspeople and passengers often joked about the smell carried by the ships and that the boats would ‘wait an hour for a pig, but not one minute for a passenger.’

This model ship represents one of the final vessels which served the ISNC between 1925 and 1951: the SS Bergalia. The 548-ton steamer primarily transported general cargo and timber down the coast and would return to Sydney with eggs and butter kept in refrigerated holds.

The ISNC played a pivotal role in the economic development of the south coast of NSW by migrant-origin communities. As such, B. McIntosh made this model ship to preserve what he saw as an important symbol of Australia’s settler history.

In a note written by McIntosh kept with his model ship at the Lake Tabourie Museum, he stated:

[At Lake Tabourie Museum] adults and children of this new generation can see and visualise how THE GREAT LITTLE SHIPS helped to colonise and pioneer the South Coast of NSW. I touch my country’s mind, I come to grips with half her purpose thinking of these ships. They mark our passage as a race of men earth will not see such ships as these again.

Today McIntosh’s words are outdated. He presents a celebratory settler-history viewpoint which upholds a one-sided understanding of our history. This is a historical perspective which leaves no room for the stories and experience of the Dharrawal people of the south coast whose cultural connection and custodianship of their Country are invaluable to the history of the region.

A fuller understanding of our past often means that two things can be true at once. The SS Bergalia and the ISNC were important parts of the modern development of the south coast of NSW. Also, this development came at great cost – the active devastation of the longest continuous culture in the world. In acknowledging this, a small model ship can become a vessel for a more complete story of the country.