We Australians have always had a close relationship with our cousins across the ditch. As far back as 1890, New Zealand was invited to join with Australian colonies as the seventh state of a new nation independent from Great Britain, but the Kiwis chose to retain their own identity. A mere stretch of water, however, was not to deter trade between the two countries and the Great Lakes area was no exception. Surprisingly it was at Coolongolook where the first ship was built specifically for use in the shallow rivers of New Zealand. She was the Elibank Castle constructed in 1874 by William Peat and Donald Cameron. Sawmilling in Tuncurry commenced in the 1880s when John Wright and Claude Stewart McLaren built the first mill in the Cape Hawke area (Forster and Tuncurry were collectively called Cape Hawke). As reliable shipping was essential to supply the markets in Sydney, John Wright decided to secure his business by investing in his own ships. Wright commissioned William Avery to build two vessels at Tuncurry - the tug Marian Mayfield (1883) and the schooner General Gordon (1885). John Wright then built the schooner Stanley (1891) that served him well until she was sold to New Zealand interests in 1907. Related: The international trade in timber began in earnest when John Breckenridge established his sawmill on the banks of the Wallamba River at Failford. Breckenridge began by purchasing the Aleda - built in 1897 at the shipyards of Messrs. Lane and Brown at Totara North (or more specifically Whangaroa), New Zealand. The Aleda was a 79-ton scow specially designed to handle shallow estuaries. She was built of kauri (Agathis australis), renowned world-wide as a superb shipbuilding timber. The Failford followed shortly afterwards in 1898. It was this link between Failford and Whangaroa that was to develop not only trade in timber but also in making family connections. John Breckenridge, keen to build his shipbuilding capacity sent his son, Henry Miles Breckenridge, to serve his apprenticeship as a shipwright with Lane and Brown. While serving his apprenticeship at Whangaroa he met and married Hannah Mary Lane; they settled at Failford in 1902. With shipbuilding skills and family connections, Henry Miles Breckenridge was the obvious choice to vigorously pursue the New Zealand timber market. In 1904, John Breckenridge signed a large contract for sawn timber with the New Zealand Government. On the strength of the contract, John Breckenridge contracted John Gregory and his son to construct a new vessel at Failford under the guidance of Henry Miles and John Breckenridge's son, Henry Miles Breckenridge. The schooner Jap was launched in 1905 and immediately commenced trading between ports in New Zealand and the North Coast of NSW. Ironbark, turpentine and other durable hardwood logs harvested from the magnificent forests of the Great Lakes District were exported either whole for use as poles or piers, or sawn into products such as railway sleepers and bridge girders. Massive slabs of kauri pine were sent back to be made into a variety of items including boats, furniture, laundry tubs, vats - whenever a timber that was light, uniform, free of knots and easy to work was needed. The connection with New Zealand was not exclusively a Breckenridge affair. Henry Miles had built up the Forster sawmill originally operated by John Breckenridge. He began shipbuilding with the Toogoloo in 1898 and quickly established himself as a skilled shipbuilder. In 1905, Henry was commissioned to build a shallow draft vessel for the rivers of the South Island of New Zealand. The Blenheim was launched in July and delivered to her new owners at Blenheim in October that year. She served New Zealand well for many years, including time as the Stewart Island ferry under the name Tamatea. In 1907, John Breckenridge chartered the Jap to Henry Miles' brothers Josiah and Thomas Miles. The trade to New Zealand was, however, declining and by 1908 Breckenridge decided to convert the Jap to a steamer and concentrate on domestic markets. The long-lasting local connection between the Great Lakes and New Zealand was commemorated by the planting of a kauri tree in June 2016; the kauri takes pride of place at the front of the Great Lakes Historical and Maritime Museum at Capel Street, Tuncurry. For more shipping history from the Manning and Great Lakes, click here. Stay ahead with local news by signing up for the Great Lakes Advocate newsletter here.