The Malolo Cat Man

There’s a man in Nadi who nearly everyone in Fiji knows by sight, who many people know as Barry or Mr Barry and only a handful know him as Barry
04 Nov 2017 11:00
The Malolo Cat Man
Barry Sheltrum’s speedboat.

There’s a man in Nadi who nearly everyone in Fiji knows by sight, who many people know as Barry or Mr Barry and only a handful know him as Barry Sheltrum.

A lot of people refer to him as the man in the black leather hat but everyone knows who you are talking about if you say the Malolo Cat man. He has become an icon at the Port Denarau Marina, he always looks after the arriving and departing Malolo Cats and hovers around to make sure that everything runs smoothly.

Barry was born in Australia and spent huge amount of time around his father, who was a very skilled engineer whose passion was working on engines.

His father also loved boats, so much so that he couldn’t find a motor that satisfied him so he built his own, a beautiful outboard called Riptide. He had so much demand for the brand that he built a factory and manufactured them, sold out to Mercury and became a dealer.

He became very ill, when Barry was twenty two leaving Barry in charge of the show, including a service station and a boat shop in the Sydney suburb of Lakemba.

The space suit is what Barry Sheltrum wore when racing and it is meant to keep his body afloat in case of an accident.

The space suit is what Barry Sheltrum wore when racing and it is meant to keep his body afloat in case of an accident.

Outboard Racing

In his spare time he started racing an outboard powered Dancraft, a revolutionary deep V hull which had a plank to make it plane easily. The racing group was called Dancraft Performance Boats and competed all over Australia.

His career and fame really took off and he was spending a lot of time overseas, mainly in the USA, so he sold all the businesses and moved to Queensland. During his time he was sponsored racing driver for Ansett Airlines, team Mercury and OMC racing.

Barry raced in almost every place in Australia that had a reasonably straight stretch of water. He was the Australian Speed Boat racing Champion three times and was Australian Marathon Champion on several occasions, (his father had also been the Australian Champion few times before him). Until today he holds a speed record run at an average speed of a hundred and sixty kilometres an hour on the Tamar River, Tasmania.

Barry raced all types of hull design speed boats including tunnel hulls and hydroplanes as well as the various kinds of V hulls.

In one race in a highly specialised hull his steering broke at 130 m.p.h and the hull turned sideways before totally disintegrating, but Barry walked away without any injury.

Barry was not only a skilled driver but a very highly trained mechanic who could find ways to get his engines to provide just the little bit extra needed to be a consistent winner.

He is also generally a remarkably confident man, calm in a difficult situation, and regarded as a reliable friend by many. But when he was racing he also had a hard determination and a deep aggression that took him to the top of his chosen sport.

Barry Sheltrum.

Barry Sheltrum.

Business in Fiji

After a several years of the exciting life of a speed boat racer, he decided to go to Hawaii and start a business that he had been dreaming of for some time but the idea didn’t work out as planned so he pulled out and came to Fiji.

In November 1985, he bought a vessel called Adi Litia and restarted Day Dream Cruises, doing day and half day cruises to Malamala Island, just a short distance from Port Denarau.

With a fine streak of creativity, the vessel ran as Daydream Cruises for five days and as Fantasy Cruises for the other two at a reduced price to appeal to the back packer market.

The coups in Fiji around that time hit the tourism market quite heavily, his Daydream became a nightmare so he took a partner to inject extra capital, but the deal went sour.

Dick Smith, the owner of Musket Cove found out that Barry was struggling, so Dick offered him a job, He was required to set up a ferry company for Dick and Reg Raffe, the owner of the other resort on Malolo Lailai which was to be called Leeward Island Services.

They launched the company and offered Barry the General Manager position.

Dick and Barry had built an excellent relationship, so he accepted happily and set about building the business up. At that time most of the passengers came to the resorts by a South Seas scheduled service that went around to most of the larger resorts dropping off as it went.

The two resorts had built an airstrip which they shared and Barry looked after that as well. At its peak it was a busy airport, second only to Nadi International Airport in take offs and landings.

The Leeward Island Ferry service started with one vessel, a catamaran capable of transporting sixty passengers which Dick purchased from Australia and drove to Fiji himself.

Followed a year later by Malolo Cat 2 built on Malolo-lailai under Dick Smith’s watchful eye. Encourage by Reg and Dick to keep growing, Barry was given a free hand in the running of the operations.

He grew the fleet to four high speed cats and a large commercial barge.  Malolo Cat 5 is planned again to be built on the island next year.

This vessel will carry a total of a hundred and seventy passengers. The company currently employs fifty two people, with Administration at Denarau and Operations based at Musket Cove.

The company is jointly owned by Musket Cove and Plantation and provides the transport services to both resorts.

Barry is still intimately involved in the operations and remains the highly visible icon of the company.r3

What keeps Barry going and what has made him so successful? He is a man who has a deep respect for his employees and a clear loyalty to his employers and he instils trust in everyone he is close to. He has powerful perseverance, is a gentle man, and a good mate.

And he always gives more than he gets, both to those who care for him and those who try to bring him down.

John Ross is a Nadi-based marketing and advertising specialist with a long background in tourism. For feedback on this article, please email him:



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