Australian Dictionary of Biography

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William Hamilton (Bill) Haldane (1912–1983)

by John E. Plevin

This article was published:

William Hamilton (Bill) Haldane (1912-1983), commercial fisherman, was born on 28 November 1912 at Newport, Melbourne, eldest of five children of a Scottish-born shipwright Hugh Ross Haldane, and his wife Rebecca, née Hamilton, from Queensland. Hugh later became a lighthouse-keeper and harbour-master at Port Fairy. Completing his schooling at Footscray Technical School, Bill was apprenticed to a builder and cabinetmaker. He attended night classes at Footscray Technical College and qualified as a boat builder. With help from his two brothers he built a 40-ft (12 m) fishing cutter, the Amaryllis. Launched in 1935, it was used next year by members of the University of Melbourne’s (Sir Frederick) McCoy Society to visit Lady Julia Percy Island, 23 miles (37 km) off Portland. In 1939 the Haldanes built another 40-ft boat, the Dolphin. On 12 September 1942 at St John’s Church of England, Port Fairy, Bill married Christina Dorothy Elizabeth Porter. He joined the Royal Australian Naval Volunteer Reserve in March 1943.

In 1944 the brothers decided to construct a larger vessel so that they could fish in deeper waters. Acquiring plans from the United States of America, they selected for felling blue-gum trees in the Otway State Forest and processed the logs by hand in their backyard by the Moyne River. The South Australian government, keen to establish a viable fishing industry in South Australian waters, provided a loan to help finance construction. The Haldanes launched the Tacoma, an 84-ft (26 m) tuna clipper, on 5 November 1951 and arrived at Port Lincoln, South Australia, the following January. They had problems with their purse-seine-nets and in 1956 the government brought out the Jangaard brothers from California to demonstrate the pole and live-bait fishing method for catching tuna. The Tacoma was then refitted for poling. Once the Haldanes had demonstrated the profitability of tuna fishing in the Great Australian Bight, others entered the industry, using the same method.

Bill Haldane helped to persuade the government to erect navigation lights at the end of Eyre Peninsula and a government slipway at Port Lincoln. In 1967 tuna numbers showed signs of declining, possibly because of overfishing, and the Tacoma was converted to accommodate prawn fishing. The Haldanes designed and patented a prawn-grading machine and sorting table, widely used throughout Australia. By 1977 they were catching, freezing and processing prawns on board the Tacoma, ready for export. In the 1970s Haldane chaired the Australian Bight Fishermens Society Ltd, which he had helped to establish in 1969.

Haldane was 5 ft 11 ins (180 cm) tall and of medium build, with dark hair. A keen yachtsman in his youth, in later years he owned and raced a Soling. In 1983 he received an Australian Fishing Industry Council award for service to the industry. Survived by his wife and three of their four sons, he died of cancer on 16 November 1983 at Port Lincoln and was buried with Uniting Church forms in North Shields cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • E. Wallace-Carter, For They Were Fishers (1987)
  • J. E. Plevin, The Haldane Family & MFV Tacoma (2000)
  • Port Fairy Gazette, 26 Aug 1935, p 3
  • Herald (Melbourne), 11 Jan 1936, p 4, 7 Sept 1948, p 3
  • Port Lincoln Times, 18 Nov 1983, p 3
  • private information.

Citation details

John E. Plevin, 'Haldane, William Hamilton (Bill) (1912–1983)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 19 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (Melbourne University Press), 2007

View the front pages for Volume 17

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


28 November, 1912
Newport, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


16 November, 1983 (aged 70)
Port Lincoln, South Australia, Australia

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