Husband and wife Brent and Cathy Ziersch aren’t letting grass grow under their feet. They have their eyes on the clock five days a week, nine hours a day, and have been doing it for five years. They are the “resident managers” of Australia’s Molloy Island. “Our main job is to run the barge back and forth across the river. We work as a partnership but I let Brent think he’s in charge,” jokes Cathy. “I thought it was the other way around,” replies Brent.
“There is office work to be done, island maintenance, roads cleared and the floating jetties maintained. I guess the main thing for us is we have to ensure the barge runs 24-hours-a-day,” says Brent. “Even when we’re not operating the barge, the homeowners are operating it.”
Photo of Cathy and Brent Ziersch on the Molloy Island barge located in Western Australia
Molloy Island relies on the barge to take homeowners (roughly 150 full time residents and more during holidays) and their vehicles across the Blackwood River to the mainland and back. The trip takes about two minutes at about five kilometers per hour (a little over three miles per hour). The barge is pulled by a cable weighing one-and- a-half tons.
“In all of the documentation we have from the Australia Maritime Safety Authority, it is called a barge and not a ferry, “ clarifies Cathy. “The difference is a barge is on a cable and a ferry is motor-driven.” Before and after hours and on the half-hour, trained homeowners run the ferry themselves. This is the only barge in all of Australia that allows trained homeowners to drive the four-car craft.
Recently, the barge cable snapped while Brent was driving it. “I heard a twang when I went to take off on the other side. That was okay but when I went to take off for the third load, the barge didn’t move, and all the cables just dropped in the water,” says Brent. “I probably made only two phone calls. Then the whole island sprang into action. Everyone was here to help. When we do a normal change-out (of the cable,) it takes us two days to replace the cable. When it broke this time, it took us eight hours.”
“We had to put emergencies procedures into place because we were stranded here,” adds Cathy. They put a people-only emergency boat in the water to take residents across the river and let the police, ambulance and other emergency services, as well as every home owner, know that the barge wasn’t working. There is always somebody willing to help. I had four or five women in the kitchen making sandwiches. We probably didn’t need that because we only had five blokes working on that day. But everyone came and said, ‘Oh what can we do?’”
“We do take (the barge) out of the water every two years. That’s a big job. I’m a mechanic by trade. I do a lot of welding, make sure the skids are okay, nothing is falling off, and I also work on the barge’s electronics,” says Brent “We don’t get any outside contractors in to maintain the barge,” adds Cathy. “It’s Brent and other helpers who have the specific skills to work on it.”
“We have a lot of fun working and being together now. I spent ten years doing 12-hour days away. I’d get home and all I wanted to do was have something to eat and go to bed,” says Brent.”
“It’s been a good change for both of us,” says Cathy. “We love it here, I like the quiet, the river, the sunrises and sunsets. We’ve always been community-minded people and we enjoy that side of it. I’m amazed that if someone is not well, the neighbors will just make sure that the person is all right. They’ve all got their own little pockets of people they keep an eye out for, which is really lovely. There are certainly a lot of people on the island we call our friends.”