A 3D laser cutter whirrs in the corner of Russell Penney’s Willaston home.
Slowly, meticulously, piece by piece, the curved hull for a model ship is taking shape.
Mr Penney, 65, is using the laser cutter to create a 1.2-metre long cross-section model of the City of Adelaide – the huge clipper ship rescued from destruction in Scotland, and now on display at Port Adelaide.
“Ships and model-making have always been in the blood,” Mr Penney says.
“I had models of ships like the Bismarck and the Ark Royal when I was about 12.
“I’m one of those people who doesn’t like to sit still.
“I couldn’t sit down and watch television for the next 20 years.
“When I saw the clipper ship on the news I went down to Port Adelaide to have a look at it.”
Thousands of South Australians can trace their histories to passengers who came out on the City of Adelaide between 1864 and 1887, but Mr Penney isn’t one of them (though, some of his ancestors
came to Australia as sea captains).
A career geologist, he moved to South Australia in 2008, retired in 2012, and only found out about the clipper ship when she arrived in 2014.
Since then, he’s been a member of the ship’s enthusiastic volunteer group, aiming to explore how best to display the story of the City of Adelaide.
“Of course, once you get inside the ship, it’s an empty shell,” he says.
“So the question is: ‘crikey, what did things look like? Where did everything go? Where were the cabins, and what were the windows like and where were the toilets?’ “It was a huge learning curve.
“We didn’t, initially, have accurate historical drawings.”
Mr Penney began by making models of the City of Adelaide’s sister ship, Cutty Sark (moored at Greenwich), and the now defunct tea-clipper, Thermopylae.
They were both ships, like the City of Adelaide, of composite wrought iron and wood design.
“Then, I received an email from the Council for the Ageing, and I thought I’m not that old, surely,” he laughs.
“But, they were offering a course on 3D printing and laser cutting at the Fab Lab.
“So, I thought ‘this looks very interesting – I might be able build a ship model, doing this’.
“I learnt how to use the software and I experimented with materials and I realised I could create a cutaway model and show the inside of the ship.
“I think it’s much more interesting to be able to see inside, too.”
Mr Penney is going to Scotland in May to do further research on the time period when the City of Adelaide was recommissioned as a Royal Navy Ship, the HMS Carrick, for a second cutaway he’s also