Namesake ferry has jumbo shoes to fill

Geraldton Guardian
Tricia enjoys the attention of being scrubbed by Peter Sweeney.
Camera IconTricia enjoys the attention of being scrubbed by Peter Sweeney. Credit: The Sunday Times.

A competition is running in the Mid West to name three new tugs coming to Geraldton Port next year. Meanwhile, a new ferry built in the Dongara has just been named and PETER SWEENEY describes the ‘girl’ whose name it will carry.

I knew Tricia was “a keeper” when I met her on a June day in 1997.

I thought I was on — as they say at the racetrack — a “good thing”.

After all, I was handfeeding her, sitting on her knee and giving her a nudge, nudge, wink, wink — all within an hour.

Twenty two years ago, Tricia, then 40, was in search of a full-time keeper and I was granted the first job interview with the 3.5-tonne Asian elephant at Perth Zoo.

Zoo staff said Tricia was personally handling the applicants, where short-listed ones would go into her pen to wash, scrub and feed her, muck out the yards and so on.

“Tricia’s very smart, she’s a high-caste elephant,” Wijesuriya Piyasena, then head keeper at Perth Zoo, said.

“She has a sharp brain and will tell us who she wants to work with.”

That message would be relayed to Piyasena via Tricia’s eyes and ears. Prerequisites for the job were an empathy for elephants and physical fitness.

Tricia was a teetotaller and didn’t like being breathed on by boozers. And considering she was such a big eater — and there’s not many places for an elephant to visit between 5pm and 8am — things could get a bit messy in the bedroom.

Tricia’s right forefoot had become badly infected and much time had to be spent bathing and dressing it — and covering it in a black boot made by the army.

But I had “fallen” for Tricia — obviously the feeling wasn’t mutual — and wanted the job.

The editor of The Sunday Times, where I then worked, told me not to be selfish and share the story. Reluctantly, I did.

Perth Zoo took more than 100 telephone calls — and received more than 50 written applications — for the role as Tricia’s keeper.

Down the years, Tricia obvi-ously has not lost any of her appeal, with Transperth’s third ferry to service the Swan River — built in the Mid West — recently being christened the MV Tricia.

The 62-year-old iconic mammal won the hearts of the State during a month-long social media, website and in-person submission period to name the ferry.

The $2.6 million, 148-seat MV Tricia will soon ply the waters of the capital city with the MV Shelley Taylor-Smith and MV Phillip Pendal.

The MV Tricia was built at Dongara Marine, where the 26-tonne vessel is having the finishing touches before sea trials off Geraldton and a ride on a flatbed truck to Fremantle.

That’s where Tricia the elephant arrived in 1963 from Vietnam.

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