Austin (Aus) Childs was born in Lark Harbour, Bay of Islands, in 1947. His father, Llewelyn, was a fisherman and fought in the Royal Navy in the First World War. “My mother [Mary Jane (nee Robinson)] looked after kids. There was thirteen of us so it was a full-time job,” said Aus.
Aus started fishing full-time by the age of twenty. He fished for lobster with his brother Ben and Gordon Wheeler in an area on the west coast known as the Wild Shore. For the duration of the lobster season (9-11 weeks), they stay in camp and fish from Eel Hole, south of the Port-au-Port Peninsula. “Stay for a week [at a time]. Probably come in for a night, or something like that,” he described.
Aus learned how to build dories with Dave Childs. “I think it was in the basement, the first one we built – me and Dave. Then after awhile me and Gord [Wheeler] got at it. I built a couple with my brother [Ben].” Aus and Gordon have been building dories together for nearly forty years, but have not kept track of how many they’ve built. “There was probably 5 or 6 years there in a row, I think we probably built 4 or 5 every winter,” Aus said. While many builders have switched to square lumber for the dory timbers, Aus and Gordon continue to shape their timbers from tree roots, known as the more/moor. For the sides, dory builders in the Bay of Islands once used planks harvested themselves, but like others, Aus and Gordon now use plywood.
From Planks to Plywood
Austin Childs and Gordon Wheeler discuss the switch from harvesting planks to purchasing plywood with WBMNL researchers Jeremy Harnum and Jerome Canning.
“You don’t see that shape dory nowhere else. You can go around the island, you’ll see dories, but you’ll never seen none like the Lark harbour,” Gordon said about the unique dories found in the Bay of Islands.
“When you’re building it, you gotta build it for strength. It’s no good to build it for looks,” Aus said and Gordon agreed, “No doubt. But they look good, and they are strong… Even when I was a kid growing up, there was a lot of pride took into making them. They wasn’t just two pieces of board nailed together. There was a lot of time, making sure everything fit good… almost like a piece of furniture when they’re first built.”