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Dry flotilla popular

Thursday, 10th September, 2009

It's not easy bringing a flotilla of River Murray paddle steamers to the outback, but model-maker Rodney Hibbs is up to the challenge.

Mr Hibbs exhibited his collection of model boats in Menindee over the weekend, and passed through Broken Hill on the way home.

Held to coincide with a fishing competition, Mr Hibbs' handiwork proved popular, but he said that's nothing new. "They prove popular everywhere we go," he said. Mr Hibbs has handmade 23 riverboats during his 28 years in the hobby. He grew up amongst his grandmother's stories of life on the river with the grand old vessels. "She used to work on one called the Alpha. The owners had five children and she was a governess and member of the crew. Her stories are where I got my fascination from," he said.

"My first model was of the Alpha. I made it for her but she passed away before she could see it. "After that I kept making them and now I've got 11 or 12 Alphas. After a while I I thought I would try something new and I went from there." After being asked often how long it took to build a boat, Mr Hibbs timed one of his recent projects and found out the answer - about 540 hours. The models' realism and intricacy makes for a difficult process. Plans of the boats are scarce and so Mr Hibbs is often working with old, blurred photographs as his only guide. He makes them from any material that suits the task - balsa wood, icecream sticks, ice cream containers and gyprock tape have all found their way into the fleet. Despite its painstaking nature, Mr Hibbs said he loved the hobby, and he's still making them today. "It has its moments but I just walk away and leave until morning, and everything just falls into place."

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