Raft of options for piece of sailing history

PRESERVE THE RAFT: Ballina Naval and Maritime Museum volunteers Robert Jones and John Colville with the Las Balsas raft on display in the museum. Photo Graham Broadhead / Ballina Shire Advocate
PRESERVE THE RAFT: Ballina Naval and Maritime Museum volunteers Robert Jones and John Colville with the Las Balsas raft on display in the museum. Photo Graham Broadhead / Ballina Shire Advocate Graham Broadhead

RON Creber has no doubt the raft from the 1973 Las Balsas expedition needs to be preserved because it is part of Ballina's history.

He is the curator of the Ballina Naval and Maritime Museum, where the raft is prominently on display.

He was reacting to a decision by Ballina Shire Council last week to visit the museum and hold a workshop following a report presented to the councillors.

In that report - primarily about the preservation of two council-owned vessels in the museum, the historic river boat MV Florrie and the former pilot vessel PV Richmond - staff presented an option to remove the raft from the museum.

The raft is a combination of two of the three balsa wood rafts which, crewed by 12 men of various nationalities, sailed with the prevailing winds and currents from Ecuador across the Pacific Ocean and arrived in Ballina in November 1973.

Two of the rafts were towed into Ballina by the Royal Australian Navy vessel HMAS Labuan and a local trawler. The third raft, which was in poor condition, was set adrift and ended up on a beach north of Newcastle.

Staff reported to council that the raft, "gifted to the people of Ballina" by the crew, didn't meet any of the seven criteria under the NSW Assessing Significance guidelines, so "the raft is not considered to have significant heritage values".

It was also reported that the roof of the council-owned museum needed to be replaced - at an estimated cost of $200,000 - and the tall mast of the raft added to the expense because of the high roof.

One of the options given to councillors was "de-accession" or removal of the raft to reduce the re-roofing costs of the museum, and allow the Richmond to be moved inside. Another option is to keep the raft as a "curiosity".

Mr Creber said the raft had been very much undersold as a tourist attraction in Ballina.

He also said it was a former council decision to build the high roof at the museum to allow the mast of the raft to stand upright.

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