THE FATHER OF WHITTLEY BOATS
During the 1950s the world craved speed and excitement. Boating innovation flourished as displacement hulls gave way to planing hulls and huge horsepower. Boat engines evolved from marinised lawn mower and truck engines to specialised power units. It was exciting times indeed.
Jim Whittley and his brother Ossie caught the boating bug. In 1953, Jim, aged 21, built his first timber boat out of a small shop in the Melbourne suburb of Bulleen. It was a bloody good thing and word soon got out. Enquiries grew and Jim’s passion quickly evolved quickly into a full time job. Jim reflects with typical modesty. “I think we were about the first in Australia to put a production wooden boat on a trailer,” he says. “Then it became popular with the public and the demand automatically came from that.
There was never no intention to become a commercial boat builder. I suppose the business just grew, rather like a tree.” In the following years new materials and techniques were adopted. Building traditions were turned upside down as moulds, jigs and chopper guns replaced block panels, dollies and chisels. Fibreglass replaced timber as Whittley’s material of choice. In the late 1960s Whittley produced two landmark fibreglass models: the Voyager, a genuine live-aboard family cruiser; and the Puma, a rakish, high-sided runabout that later morphed into the Cherokee. The two models put an indelible mark on Australian boating.
Jim met his life-long sweetheart Aileen and the two formed a bond that would spark a family powerboat dynasty. He is remembered as a true gentleman. The outpouring of public tributes after his death on March 12, 2010 flowed. His contribution to the Australian boating industry is evident every time you head to a boat ramp and see his surname on the side of a vessel. Three generations later it shows no signs of slowing down. Grandsons Jake and Alan have fond memories of their grandfather.