Interview with: Lance Paterson
Date of Interview: 5 January 2001
Interviewer: Dianne Warner
Place of Interview: Caloundra
Lance Paterson is an author who writes about shipwrecks in Queensland waters. He talks about a number of different local ships including the wrecking of the Dicky in 1893, the Centaur, shipping graveyards in the Moreton Bay area and the Maheno wreck on Fraser Island.
Lance Paterson's books can be found in the Sunshine Coast Libraries Catalogue.
Image: Author Lance Paterson, January 2001.
Lance Paterson oral history [MP3 72MB]
Good afternoon, Lance.
LP: Hello, Dianne. How are you?
I’d just like to ask you a few questions to start off with, before we get into the interesting topic of the shipwrecks within the Caloundra region. Where did you get your interests from, regarding boats and boating?
First interests in boating – 1956
LP: It would probably all tied up with things mechanical, I think, because, right from… as long as I can remember, I was remembering car number-plates and all kinds of things and knew every car on the road. I motor-raced for twenty years with my own cars: became a heavy vehicle engineer. But always interested in boats and ships and things. Probably, my wife and I came back from Cairns to Brisbane on the Lenora? in 1956, after a trip up there. It was, I think, probably pulling into Brisbane, amidst all the other vessels and tugs and all kinds of interesting things which used to happen in those days. It probably started from there and I kept newspaper clippings, always interested in ships and the way/methods with which they were propelled, what type of engines and so forth they had in them. So it’s just a continuation of that and when I retired - unfortunately I had to retire early but for health reasons, but that gave me more time, I suppose, to concentrate on research. I’ve now got fifteen-hundred and something shipwrecks on computer, which, when I can afford it and maybe with a bit of help from someone, I might be able to put it into book form. Certainly be more than one volume, probably three or four volumes. But, that’s my aim - only Queensland coast shipwrecks though.
I see, so that’s an area that your strength is in the Queensland Coast?
LP: Yes, I’m interested in the other seven, eight thousand that’s round Australia, but mainly, yes - from Coolangatta/Tweed Heads to the Gulf yeah - Queensland Coast.
So Lance, you were telling me that you were able to look out over the shipping lanes off Caloundra?
LP: Yes, we do from where we’ve lived for the last three years on the Headland at King’s Beach. We lived at Kawana Waters on the canal for fourteen years and the last three, we’ve been at King’s Beach. I don’t see all of the ships go past because I’m not there all the time, but I record them actually and their name and port of registration and so forth. I’ve got hundreds of those and I go down to the Port of Brisbane quite often. There’s a chap there, Peter Fripp, who is the PR man for the Port of Brisbane. We correspond quite a bit. That’s another shipping interest that probably takes from away from the time I should be spending on the shipwreck business but yeah it just goes to show that I am a shipping person.
Shipping in Early Caloundra
So this area, Caloundra region, you’ve always been in the area for the shipping lanes. Can you tell me a little bit about the early days of boating along the coastline here?
LP: Well, in the early days, the shipping companies of Brisbane, a lot used to try and come in what they call the South Passage, which is past Stradbroke Island - the bottom of Stradbroke and there was just so many getting wrecked. I think it was about 1840, it was issued from the Harbourmaster in Brisbane to all vessels that they must use the North Entrance, which is the entrance we watch the ships go down today. There’s been several wrecks just north of Moreton, on Smith’s Rock, trying to cheat a bit, come in closer to Moreton than the shipping channel is - the recommended shipping channel. It’s a very interesting thing, to actually have a look at a map of the shipping channel, because I believe and I think I’m right, that other than in port, ships come closer to the mainland at Caloundra Head than anywhere else in coastal Australia and you certainly get a good look at them, there’s no doubt about that. So, what’s that, a hundred and sixty years, the North Channel’s been the recommended entrance to Brisbane and still is and probably always will be.
We would go from the days of sail boats, schooners…. so, that’s a very interesting angle to look at. So I guess because of that extensive period of time we would have quite a lot of wrecks within our area?
Wrecks in the Caloundra area
LP: Yeah, well, mainly small ones, just in the Caloundra-Mooloolaba area, there’s quite a lot. Once we get down into Moreton Bay further, there’s a lot of large boats wrecked there right up until I think, probably the last big one was the Marietta Dowle, which hit Smith’s Rock and broke in half in 1950. She was about 8,000 tonne Norwegian vessel.
Smith’s Rock, off Moreton?
LP: Yeah off the tip of Moreton, yeah. It’s an interesting thing that, because the Arthoüs (sp?) hit that in about 1843 and they blasted the top off it and of course…
To get the boat off?
LP: No, to save other vessels hitting it. Unfortunately, of course, the ships get bigger and have a deeper draught, then the St Paul hit it so they blasted some more off but still not enough for the Marietta Dowle, which was a bigger boat and a later boat with a deeper draught and in 1950 she hit Smith’s Rock. I believe it has now been blasted to smithereens but….
So, that was just a big rock under the water close to Moreton?
LP: Just, sort of, not really a bomi?, bomi? is coral, but this was actually, probably a piece of Moreton well, probably thrust up when Moreton was thrust up, I suppose, yeah.
And when that boat hit there in the 1950s, was that a cargo boat?
LP: Yes. It had a whole load of caterpillar tractors which are still down there. I talked to divers a few weeks ago, who said you can still actually see the tractors sitting on the bottom. Ah, a whole heap of large tyres. It had a varied cargo, but mainly tractors.
And was there any loss of life?
LP: Not in that one, no.
And would that have happened in bad weather?
LP: No, it was just a Captain’s error and he was suspended I think for several months, that’s his licence.
The wrecking of the Dicky 1893
So, I’d like to go back possibly to the early days of one of our most famous wrecks in our area, the Schooner, Dicky. Can you tell me a little bit about that? Would she have been coming down that course that you were saying? What happened to her?
LP: It was a whole series of things that sort of contributed to the loss of the Dicky. Before that trip was started when she left Brisbane to go to Rocky to load meat, eventually didn’t load it and came back empty. Before that happened, she had clipped a rock with her propeller and it damaged the propeller. In those days, the engineering wasn’t as forward or as good as it was later, as far as cavitation and the shape of the propellers and things. So, they just whacked another prop onto it and it wasn’t the right type. So that was one of the things, because she had sails and an engine, a fairly low-horsepower engine. But when the engine was going and the propeller was turning, it wasn’t actually giving the thrust that it would have had she still had the normal propeller. That’s another thing. She struck horrendous weather, 1893, the big flood in Brisbane, you know what that weather was like. The captain who took her up refused to bring her back, so Captain Beattie was seconded to bring her back. They forgot to load enough coal so she ran out of coal for the engine, you know...
A series of events?
LP: It was a series of mishaps that caused the Dicky to run aground and they got her off about three times I think and she came back on again each time. But Landsborough Historical Museum, as a society commissioned Charlie Mann to really research the Dicky in the 1980s, early 80s and he has produced a little book called, ‘The Wreck of the Dicky’, which is for sale at the museum and the Dicky Beach Life-saver’s Club had them for sale as well and he really did a good job. The Dicky was surrounded by so many interesting and well, half-truths, I suppose, that Charlie really dug into these. He talked to the people who actually really knew what they were talking about and for anybody to really know the Dicky’s story should read that book. It’s really cheap, only five dollars, or something. It goes into every aspect: the type of sails; it’s got the invoices from the makers in Germany. It proved that she was registered as ‘D-I-C-K-Y’ and not an ’E’ in it, which a lot of people and a lot of signs around the place initially had.
Dicky Beach was actually spelt with an ‘E’ at one stage.
LP: At one stage. And yet, the name of the ship never ever had an ‘E’ in it. That, I suppose, shows us just how history can change.
History can change and how people can change it.
LP: Actually, I came up and I think I may have mentioned to you. The Eucalough Street is spelt with a ‘G’ here and when I was in London, I got into Lloyd’s Shipping Register there and there is still a Duke of Eucalouch living on an inherited estate in northern England. But it’s a ‘C’, not a ‘G’.
Could you spell that for me?
LP: No. [laughs] Not without looking at something.
LP: I don’t think I’ve probably got anything here but it’s just the ‘G’ needs to be a ‘C’.
So, things can change with different people’s interpretation. So, when the Dicky foundered on that day in 1893… We now see that she’s laying - there’s not much of her left and she’s laying quite a ways up the beach. Would the shape of the beach and everything have changed since that time? How - she must have come right up…
LP: Yeah, well, it’s – I mean - I’m one of those people who believes that nature looks after itself pretty well and I don’t think the beach has changed, well, it’s changed, sure, but it changes and then it comes back, it changes and it comes back. It would have been last year, early 2000, we had some rough seas. I took some photos of the Dicky and it’s the most of the Dicky I have ever seen. It really washed a lot of the sand away and I’ve got photos at home of it and now of course, the sand’s all back again so it’s back to normal. I’d say the beach would have been pretty much like that when she came up.
Similar. One of the things I did read and I don’t know if it’s fact or fiction, is that the name Dicky Beach - being named after a shipwreck – it’s probably only one of the only beaches in Australia, a recreational beach, with the name of a shipwreck. Do you know?
LP: It’s the only surf beach that is actually a designated swimming, surfing, patrolled beach that’s named after a shipwreck.
Well, that’s an interesting point there as well. But now, leading off now from the Dicky, you’re encouraging anyone who is interested to look at that book that we’ve just discussed. Can you tell me a little bit about any other early wrecks that you might know of in our area?
The wrecking of the Reliance – The Holcroft Brothers
LP: Yes, there’s the Holcroft brothers.
[brief interruption] Yes, Lance.
LP: [Reading] The brothers Holcroft, James and William, bought the Reliance from its builder, Harry Prentice and used it to carry cargo from Brisbane to various ports in North Queensland. They left Brisbane, while sailing north a few miles off Caloundra’s Moffat Beach. The vessel suddenly capsized and sank, throwing the three men (they had a deckhand with them) and all the deck cargo overboard. The men saw that the dinghy floated close by and where able to swim to it and paddle to the beach near Caloundra. They walked up the hill to Wilson’s guest house where they asked for help to get back to Brisbane. But Mr Wilson, seeing them in only ragged clothes, thought they were escaped prisoners and he refused to help them and threatened to turn them into the police. They quickly left and without shoes or hats, walked to Landsborough, where they met a friend, Mr Henry Dyer, who owned the Club Hotel. He arranged for them to go to Brisbane and the following day they embarked on the government steamer and sailed to where the Reliance had sunk, but they could find no sign of anything.
Harry Prentice sees another ‘Double-ender’ sink
Soon after building the Reliance, Harry Prentice built another boat on the same lines, which he named the Confidence and with his two sons, they carried cargo from the same area as the Holfcroft boys. On a return trip from Maryborough, loaded with cargo, they crossed the Wide Bay Bar and the Confidence also capsized and sank. Now, they were never ever seen again, any of them. So the Holcrofts were probably lucky they got out of theirs. But they were a strange type of boat. They were called ‘double-enders’ and from what I gather, the people of the time obviously thought there was something wrong with the design that they had both for no apparent reason, capsized and sank. So that’s one that’s off Caloundra.
The Kirkdale, 1892
LP: Another one…
LP: Another one is the Brigantine, Kirkdale. She was beached at the mouth of Black Gully, which is thirty miles north of Cape Moreton, on the 19th of the 7th, 1862. The master of the Phoenix, reports that on July 20th, when between Glass House and Double-Island Point, he observed some blacks ashore he stood in to communicate with them. As he approached the shore just before sundown, the blacks launched the boat off the Kirkdale and endeavoured to cut off his vessel. The Kirkdale was driven ashore during heavy south-east weather and at once started to break up. Unfortunately, she struck on a sandy beach and by means of a horse affixed to the short-board, were able to reach land. Later, the vessel caught fire and was burnt to the water’s edge. The Master Captain, Evan Williams and five of the crew rowed the longboat to a pilot station at Moreton Island. The remainder of the crew landed at some point on the coast. We don’t really know where but they were all…
LP: No, they all…survived. I have a photo of the burnt-out wreck, the bottom of the Kirkdale, it’s name, which will be included in the book if and when I eventually get it out.
Dhana Maria, 1965
LP: Then we have the Dhana Maria. She was a lugger - sixty foot lugger. She was wrecked November 25th, 1965, which is not that old, on the northern tip of Bribie Island. She was ran aground and started to break up. Her owner, Robert Casey, said that heavy seas had battered the vessel during the last few days and his brother Bernie watched as waves smashed through the deck into the engine room, filled the engine with sand thus destroying the only salvageable part of the vessel. The Dhana Maria is a total wreck and Robert Casey, the owner, on Friday, December the 3rd, 1965, said “I have no plans at this time, as the lugger, which was valued at £3000, was not insured.”
So, that’s where she’s stayed.
And a boat like a lugger, that would be a timber boat?
LP: Most likely, yes, in those days especially, yeah.
The Sylvie : The Bribie Cross
And the tip of Bribie - I’ve heard that there was other incidents there. I recall a lady coming into the library, bringing us information which I passed onto you, Lance, called the Sylvie. Could you tell me a little bit about the Sylvie?
LP: Yes, well, the Sylvie was a small fishing boat. A group of young people, actually, came up to the northern end of Bribie to fish and so forth. I believe they were probably going to stay overnight and there was three lost their lives. They went into the surf and I believe they were Vernon Castledine, George McCallum and Eric Charles Lear?. There, what we call the Bribie Cross, was erected in memory of their death and it appears it was washed away at some stage of the game. After you spoke to me about the lady who approached you, I wrote an article in the local Sunshine Coast Daily, requesting that anybody who knew anything about the cross or anything to get in touch with me. I did have several people ring. All who rang remembered the cross being there, but all were of the opinion that the thing was washed away and I thought maybe someone had found it or something - quite often you…
Was it up high on the dunes?
LP: It was, yes. It must have been…
A big sea.
LP: It must have been a big sea to have washed away, but we have photos of that. You’d have photos of those too, in your Local Studies area.
Yes, we do. So, the seas can be quite treacherous in these parts. Can you tell me a little about what the scenario… we’ll go back to the 1800s now. Caloundra boasts one of the oldest lighthouses in Australia and it’s been taken back to its rightful home which is on Caloundra. It was at Golden Beach, I think, up to about two years ago and then we had lighthouses on Moreton. Can you tell me a little about the lighthouses on Moreton to start with?
LP: Well, one little bit is that the lighthouses at Caloundra are not used anymore of course and there’s a beacon on, or a radar signal station on top of a block of units on the Headland at Kings Beach there.
What’s the name of those units? Is it the big tall units?
LP: No, it’s Seapoint, or one of those, I’m not sure but I think it may be Seapoint.
I thought it might have been Westaway Towers.
LP: No, it’s Seapoint, right around on the Headland. Now, from that to the lighthouse on Moreton. From there south, is Port Brisbane. Once the ships go past that line from there to Moreton Lighthouse, they’re actually booked and have to pay port dues. That’s why, until their berths are actually vacant in Brisbane, they sit off Mooloolaba. Soon as the berth is vacant of course, they proceed to port. But, they don’t go past the line into the Port of Brisbane.
Oh, so they pay daily fees, would they?
LP: Yeah, yeah.
I see, so that’s why they sit off the Coast, to save some money?
Wrecking as a consequence of no lighthouse and high pilot demand
LP: That’s right, that’s why sometimes you’ll see up to fifteen of them sitting off Mooloolaba, there’s no way they’re going to go in and pay. I’ll tell you what, I got a book from Port Brisbane the other day and they’re fairly hefty fees, so I can understand why they do that. But, Moreton Lighthouse, yes, there was - it’s amazing to read back to how much drama it was to get a lighthouse in the early days. I guess that, well, we know that Queensland was broke until Gympie gold came along and I guess it was just a matter of there was no money. But the amount of ships that were wrecked simply because there was no lighthouses or they had, in Brisbane - the pilot steamer was replaced by a little sailing cutter to save money, at one stage. There was at least half-a-dozen large, overseas sailing ships that got wrecked simply because the weather was so bad that pilots couldn’t get out to bring them in, so they were sailing around and hit various things or else just got battered about trying to wait until the pilot got out there and it was… I just can’t remember the vessel, but it was after, there was a very serious accident and several lives lost, there was such a hullabaloo kicked up that they put steamers back on the pilot service again, I think in 1880 or something.
The progression of pilot vessels
So, that’s when they had been…
LP: Yeah, yeah.
Would that have been like sailing boats would have been like pilots in those days?
LP: Yeah, well, they were and then they went to steamers, but then they found that they couldn’t afford or reckoned they couldn’t afford the steamers, so they went back to small sailing ships, but they couldn’t get out in bad weather. So…
And nowadays, we have the very modern pilot boats that go out from Mooloolaba.
LP: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
And so you were saying that the pilot station was on Moreton before…
LP: No, no, no, they used to come out from Brisbane.
LP: Yeah, in the very early days. Yeah, yeah and then I think there was a bulra?, they were there for a while. They were sort of in various places, all over the place, because ships would come from the South Passage, although they weren’t supposed to and some got through… but, nowadays of course Mooloolaba operates the…
The Pilot Station.
LP: The Pilot Station, yeah. But, the Port of Brisbane is there….
So, those pilots, they wait and they get on the boats this end and then go to Brisbane that way? Are they local people? I’ve always wondered.
LP: Ah, well, a lot of the time they would be. They’re very highly trained in navigation of course and of course they have a tremendous variety of ships that they’d have to take in. One interesting thing is that Australian warships, all their Captains are accredited pilots, so they don’t have to have a pilot but the American nuclear subs and aircraft carriers that come in here, they have to go and get a pilot on, but they don’t go up to Mooloolaba, they have a Navy Pilot comes out.
I saw one about three months ago, I think, off Kings Beach. Did you see that sub? It was very early one morning.
LP: That happens all the time, when there are a lot of American ships, New Zealand warships and things come in. They all do the same thing that they drop their pilot off and a little grey navy ship comes out.
Yes, I saw that.
LP: And when the American subs come out, they are barely below the surface. All you see coming up the shipping channel is a great white bulge of foam, and they come round past NW2, which is the beacon that they turn around before hitting Bribie. They go out about a kilometre, they stop and come to the surface. And you’ll see a ‘rubber duckie’ (inflatable dinghy) come out, take the pilot back to this little grey boat and the submarine will immediately go under again and off. You can just see this white thing really travelling.
It was about six o’clock, about three months ago and I looked out to sea and there was this submarine half-up and then I saw this naval boat come up. So that’s what it was. Because, not many people believed me when I got to work.
LP: Exactly right. And some of those submarines are really massive when they come out, they are really big boats. The New Zealand ones, they do the same thing.
So, the Australians have their own pilots.
LP: The Australian Captains have had to do a pilot’s course and they don’t have to have a pilot.
So, do you think our waterways here… they’re quite dangerous to maneuver such big boats coming and going. How do you feel about that?
Anro Asia wrecks on Bribie 1981
LP: We don’t have many problems, do we? So, except for the Anro Asia going straight on in 1981, I think that was, ah…
How long did she stay there for?
LP: A few days, I can’t really remember. But, they unloaded a lot of the containers off her onto the beach with Iraqouy? helicopters.
So, where was she positioned when she ran aground?
LP: Oh well, when she came around Caloundra Head, instead of turning left to go down the channel, she continued straight ahead onto the end of Bribie, just near the bar.
And that was Captains’ error?
LP: That was pilot’s error.
LP: Yes. I don’t think that pilot’s piloting any longer.
LP: There was an enquiry, but it’s not available at this stage. I suppose in thirty or fifty years when the guy’s not around anymore, they’ll release exactly what happened.
*So, that could have ended in quite a last disaster, environmentally, had she broken up?
LP: Oh, yeah… probably, yes. Being there, they could probably have got out most of the diesel and fuel and that stuff. The nearest thing that I’ve seen that didn’t happen was when they were towing the aircraft carrier Melbourne out. She broke loose, out off Kings Beach and floated around there for, I forget now how long, but I was sure she’d come and be a real tourist attraction, right where who knows, out on Fraser Island. But ,they managed to get hooked on again, get her out again. They fooled around for days, with the Melbourne.
DW: They scuttled here, didn’t they?
LP: No, they took her to Japan.
DW: Japan! So, she couldn’t get anywhere if she hadn’t been hooked up again?
LP: No, they’d taken the propellers and everything off.
DW: So, that would have been a very interesting thing.
LP: Oh, yes. There were people on Kings Beach Headland the whole time she was there, because she’d drift in, they’d pull her back out and she'd drift in again.
DW: Just as well we didn’t have any bad seas.
LP: Yes, they were lucky, actually.
DW: The seas off the coast here, are we in a fairly protected environment, as far as shipping channels go?
LP: It’s a very… providing the pilot knows what he’s about, it’s a very safe thing, because they dredge with the St Thomas Hiley. You’ll see it out near NW2, doing a bit of dredging, but generally speaking, the channel doesn’t change much. The navigational aids they’ve got today, it’s sort of like aircraft on autopilot. They almost just set the computer on the course and so forth and it almost does it itself.
DW: And the lights and so on… regarding, going back in time to the early 1900s, the boats that would come past this way. What about going in behind Moreton there and in behind Bribie, how big were the boats that would go into Brisbane through the passage?
LP: Before the war… The ones not using the North passage, you mean? Well, some large sailing boats managed to get through there. The Sovereign, there’s a whole stack of them that didn’t get through… It just wasn’t deep enough, that was… What happened with the channel we use, the North Channel, there was no shifting sand, whereas the Southern channel was never the same, so that was the big problem. A boat might get in today, then tomorrow the whole thing would be…
LP: Changed, yeah. Maybe there wouldn’t be a channel there at all. So, that was the big problem. There were lots of lives and lots of large… When we say ‘large’, in sailing boat terms, they were large…
DW: What size would that be?
LP: Probably 1200 - 1500 tonnes.
DW: In length?
LP: No, in capacity.
DW: Yes, but I mean how long was that size?
LP: Probably 52 metres, give or take a few.
DW: And if you go through the back ways nowadays, do you see wrecks?
1840: South passage use declines
LP: No. You see, most of them were wooden. There would be pieces of them there, but they’re covered in sand, every so often… In Southport, if you go down to the museum… I can’t think what you call it… At Southport, they’ve quite a bit of stuff there from wrecks. Every so often, there’ll be a big sea, and they’ll find a bit of one of them. They put it on display there, same with Bowen museum. A very good piece of the Brockenberg, at the museum at Bowen. After 1840, there was virtually nothing using the South passage.
DW: Going onto the Second World War years, the Centaur. This is one of our most famous boating tragedies of the Australian coast in the Second World War. Can you tell me a bit about the Centaur?
LP: The most interesting thing about it, or two, I suppose. Did she, as a lot of people claimed, have arms on board? The Japanese claimed she did. They claimed that their spies or whatever you’d call them, observed people carrying guns ashore. Then the Australians countered with the fact that, “Sure there were guns on board, but that’s okay because it was a hospital ship and needed guns to defend it.” The thing that makes everybody a bit… Well, makes everybody grumble a bit, is that the correct position that she was lost is always given by the Navy as off Stradbroke. The people of Caloundra always claim that she went down off the end of Moreton. And when she was found, of course, that’s where she is.
DW: Off Moreton.
LP: Yeah. So, there’s been three or four monuments around the place. There’s an old one, the very first one, up at the Landsborough Museum, which is correct. The second one, which is possibly the one that’s still there, is wrong.
DW: What do you mean, still there?
LP: You know the monument on King’s Beach, there? I’m not certain in they replaced it since it was actually proved where she is, but the Gold Coast also have a monument. They claim she was off from there, where the Government thought she was, where the Navy said she was. We know now, of course, we know she’s not there.
The Centaur is found 1997
DW: When was she found?
LP: Not long ago, about 1997, I think. The guy was out there, looking supposedly for aircraft that were dumped and came across the Centaur and two (?). So now, we know exactly where she is.
DW: People can’t do anything to try and salvage her?
LP: Immediately as the wreckage was found, there was a War Graves, what would you call it, they have a name for it… A War Graves…? But she’s declared a War Grave and nobody’s allowed to go near her. But again, some people are saying, “Well, if they won’t let us look in her, there must be some arms in there.” So that’s an ongoing thing. But of course, until some divers look around, I guess the fellows who found her may have looked inside. Or they may know no more than any other person.
DW: Is she in very deep water?
LP: I think in fifty feet, or something like that… not that deep. Maybe more than that, I just can’t think exactly what now. I’ve got all this information at home, but…
DW: When I interviewed Mary Clarke, on the early fishing industry in this area, she told me, three or four days after the Centaur went down, some pieces of that boat… bits and pieces of damaged cargo, I guess, not actually identifying this… And it all washed up on Kings Beach and through Shelley Beach there. But until she was found, it was a mystery where she actually was… and a tragedy. Every year now, people do commemorate that tragic event.
Now, we’re talking… I’m going to be jumping around a little bit. Do you recall any other boats along the coast here, that may be submerged under the sands that every so often… or are known to be there, but we can’t see them?
The Helcombe trawler mystery 1960
LP: The Helcombe is a fishing trawler that’s a bit of a mystery. She actually exploded, blew to pieces, off Caloundra in 1960. She was a thirty-six foot fishing trawler, which would be similar to these fishing trawlers that come out of Mooloolaba now. And pieces of shattered wreckage were found in the sea off Caloundra, near the northern tip of Bribie, so obviously, no trace was found of the seven men.
A Caloundra man, Mr Jack Bennett, reported that while fishing off Shelley beach, he had seen a giant flash which looked like a giant ball of fire… Which looked like an explosion, he said. There was a definite red glow for about a minute, then total blackness. Wreckage positively identified as part of the Helcombe was found the next day by the pilot launch of John Hoxley. Police and fishermen found more wreckage on Bribie which bore evidence to the vessel having been blown apart. Now, they had no idea what caused it and never ever found anything other than bits of stuff. That’s another one that’s somewhere out there, and nobody’s quite exactly sure as to the exact point. But certainly, it’s out there…
DW: Well, you know as well as I do, we had the interesting history side of things, where a lot of our streets are named after boats. That would have been our passenger liners and different boats that used top…
LP: Yes, all sorts that I heard something about. About ten years ago, I think about a third of the streets in Caloundra were named after boats. Now, of course, Caloundra’s just exploded, so we can’t claim that any more. All the Orient liners, the Organese, the Ortanto, and all those that start with ‘O’, they were all Orient liners that passed here and went to Brisbane, in the days of the… Well, they weren’t cruise ships in those days, they were passenger ships, because that was before the aircraft… Large aircraft took over. There’s the Mortan, the Malogia, I think they were from the India-Pacific line… Dozens and dozens of streets…
DW: And those sort of boats that they were named after, would they have been world cruises, or would they have been boats taking people up the coast?
LP: No, most of those were overseas liners. In those days of course, all liners, even the Queen Mary and the Queen Elizabeth carried cargo and they take ‘X’ amount of passengers, they’d pull into Brisbane and load butter and all sorts of things. And Hamilton Wards… So they all carried a quantity of cargo as well as passengers. Although they were strictly passenger liners, called that, they carried cargo.
DW: And mail?
LP: Yes, yes. The mail was very similar to the system of mail carriers here today. It was tendered for and a certain shipping line would get the tender to carry mail from the world to Australia. After three or five years, whatever the time may be, the tenders would come up again, sometimes it was won by other shipping lines. But, the mail was carried by steamers and sailing boats previously. It was always a very strictly controlled business, having a mail tender. They always had to be a very well-known, or one of the better-known lines, to get the mail contract.
Shipping graveyards: Moreton Bay area
DW: Are there any shipping graveyards off our coast, that you know off?
LP: Not off our coast. In Moreton Bay, off Bishop Island. Bishop Island, of course is not a natural island. It was made when they were dredging for the port of Brisbane and Captain Bishop was the guy who operated the dredge. There’s a whole stack of ships that were scuttled and so forth around Bishop Island and other various parts of Moreton Bay. To my knowledge, I don’t think there’s any that’d been scuttled up this way other than those few wrecks we’ve mentioned. But yes, in Brisbane, in Moreton Bay, especially around Bishop Island and the old Crown Dock. There’s a lot of boats been scuttled in Moreton Bay. But they’re referred to as graveyards, they’re referred to as artificial reefs. There’s one at Tangalooma, you see.
DW: Did they actually, as far as the artificial reef, do they encourage fish life? Are they a good thing?
LP: They definitely do. They’re a good thing in a certain… You wouldn’t want them scuttled everywhere, but in certain areas. There’s one, the old Protector, which belonged to the South Australian Government - it was a gunboat - up at Herron Island, it’s just about rusted away, in the same condition as the Dicky. She was put there to break the waves coming in and to encourage fish to live in and around it. Divers that go down to these wrecks in Moreton Bay and beyond Dahlia and the Whitsundays, up towards Townsville and those areas, they say the fish-life around the wrecks is tremendous.
DW: So it’s a good thing, if placed in the right area?
LP: In the right…
DW: Called the Senobia. I know we’ve discussed this, but I’d like to hear a little of this on tape and I just thought you might be able to fill me in a little bit on that boat.
Senobia wrecking controversy
LP: Yes, it’s… again, it’s just a primitive centre-board fishing boat. And a group of young fellows left Brisbane, to come fishing, came up to Caloundra. Got to Caloundra and on their way back, five of them lost their lives.
DW: How did that happen?
LP: Here again, it’s a bit of controversy. The centre board fell out, supposedly, so that meant that the thing could basically just roll over. It’s a strange one, because of all the fellows who drowned, they were very strong swimmers. They were young, healthy characters and so forth. It wasn’t long, only one night and supposedly they had all passed away except for a fellow by the name of Kimba. He ended up drifting with the… on a part of the boat anyway. He came ashore at the frying pan (?), up at Noosa Beach.
I’ve spoken to - got information from a lot of the relatives of the people involved, a lot of photographs and things. In the early days, there seemed to have been animosity between different families over what happened. I don’t think it’s something that I should comment too much on, other than to say… supposedly, the chap by the name of Kimba had almost exactly the same thing happen off South Africa, the previous year. And he was the only survivor as well. A lot of people read into that, a lot of interesting things. But nothing was proved or there was possibly nothing to be proved other than…
The inquiry, there were two inquiries, the inquiries put most of the blame down to the trek they took back. Instead of coming back in calm water, they headed out into the ocean, to go around the outside of Moreton. I don’t know why that’s the way they headed. The original lighthouse keeper was actually involved in the inquiry. There was quite a variance in where he reckoned he last saw the Senobia and where Kimba reckoned the Senobia was when it lost the centre board, ran into trouble.
To read the inquiry, it’s sort of a bit of a muddle. No-one got the blame. It just said that they shouldn’t have taken the course they did and that the gear, meaning, I presume the centre board and frame, was not in good condition. The vessel and gear was not in good condition and consequently, the inquiry said, well, that’s about it. It definitely raged on for quite a long time, because of… I’ve got copies of letters from people to other people and so forth. And they forced another inquiry, but of course they never…
DW: Didn’t have anything proven…
LP: As I was saying, I have dozens of letters from the Attorney-General and who-knows-what and so forth. But, it was never proven.
DW: Well, Caloundra certainly has a long and extensive history in the boating industry as well. We had our fishing industry, was it, in these parts, until it moved up to Mooloolaba? Do you know anything about those early fishing…? How it initially originated down here and then moved?
LP: Not a lot, no. Lloyd Clarke would be the man to talk to in that thing. The only fishing boats I can remember were at Bulcock Beach, the red-and-white fleet. [laughter] In the early days… I don’t really remember anything more than one or two trawlers being here. But obviously, at some stage, there were a lot.
DW: And now, Mooloolaba has many, many large trawlers and it has a thriving fishing industry up there, as well. So, in those times, going back to the Second World War, we would have to have had our foreshores here fairly extensively guarded, because the shipping lines were all right off… I heard there were minesweepers that used to come into the passage every couple of days.
LP: Well, yes. I’ve heard all sorts of interesting things, but that… I think we probably did our best to guard it. I don’t think, had anybody really tried to invade us, that we would have held them for very long. Because, it was only a few gun emplacements on Bribie and Moffat Beach. They had tunnels under King’s Beach and more interesting things. But, had anybody really wanted to come ashore, I don’t think they’d have met too much strife. I remember that the area of Moffat Beach, there was a bit of a scrap. And there was a landing up at Wurtulla or somewhere, they just walked straight up.
Discoveries of wrecks today
DW: There wasn’t much happening in those parts at all and along the shores here, in those early days, I guess there would have been many of those early boats like the sailing boats and things, up towards the Noosa way and further towards Fraser that probably still lay there and have not been found? Do most shipwrecks get found these days, with divers and…?
LP: Oh, yes… every year. I mean, the divers get in there, they’ve been down to the Titanic, which is kilometres deep. But, yes… they’ve found the Llewellyn, now… which was a wreck which there was a whole lot of stack of people, the whole crew were lost there. There was a great strike of… The Mullen… The Government, she was a government boat, and they loaded her with food, and god-knows-what. That was the days before there was trains. They obviously put miles too much on her, because she was taking the food up to the people up there who had been rained out. She was found turned-over and everyone was lost. They found her a few months ago…so, probably, every year, there’s a couple found.
DW: Would the main problems happen, for these sorts of disasters, in cyclonic weather?
Reflections: causes of wreckage
LP: A lot, yes. But, there were many varied reasons. The lack of proper charts, up until… it’s incredible, they were using charts that Flinders made, virtually up until after the Second World War. I suppose that shows you just how good a job he actually did. There was a massive survey effort during and after the Second World War, but every so often, they’ll hit something.
DW: That was unaccounted for?
LP: An uncharted rock, or a coral reef, or something or other. I think sometimes there can be things happening, like earthquakes under the sea, maybe pushing up a bit that wasn’t there before. Decca Rock was probably one of those things. Hundreds and hundreds of things sailed through that passage, but the Decca just happened to hit it.
DW: Where’s that?
LP: It’s up just as you enter Torres Strait. It’s called Decca Rock, but it’s been blasted away. They don’t know whether that was always there and everything else just missed it, or if there was an eruption somewhere and forced it further up than it was before…which can happen. But, the hydrographic surveys and that they do now, with their echo-sounders and all kind of… they can be pretty good. It can save you.
Observations: Caloundra shipping channels today
DW: When you look at ships off King’s Beach, how often would you sit down and do you wait for them? If you know something’s going to come along, what do you do?
LP: From where we live, I can see right down the passage, the Channel. When they turn to go to Brisbane, I can watch them for several kilometres, I suppose. They go down so far and they turn left to head across Spitfire Channel to Moreton Island. They go almost to Moreton, then head right and head down into the leads. I can watch them there and I can with a telescope, watch the pilots climb on board, up at Mooloolaba. I can sort of read the names and so forth on the ships and see the blokes working and so forth. I mean, the telescope… you need the telescope to read the name and the port of registration, which I record. After three years of this… you see an odd new one, but generally speaking, I suppose a hundred ships or something, would be…
DW: The ones that come and go…
LP: That come and go regularly. Every so often, you’ll see one that you haven’t seen before. But I can sort of look at them now, and say, “oh, that’s…”
DW: You know them.
LP: You know them on sight. So, yeah.
DW: So it’s an interesting pastime.
LP: Yeah, you need something. I love it.
DW: And that’s why you moved, to somewhere that you can see the shipping.
LP: Among other reasons. We surf - out about five or six [o’clock] each morning, used to drive to King’s Beach to surf. Save us doing that, just walking down now. But, to see the ships.
DW: It’s an interesting beach, isn’t it, King’s Beach? To be able to look out there, like you say, it’s where the boats come in the closest, anywhere. So, as far as being able to sit and view them, with that interest of yours, it must be, certainly, quite rewarding to be right in the right place at the right time. As for Military movements off the coast, they don’t mind you training your telescope on them?
LP: Yeah, often, especially with the warships, if they wanted to, they could see me, because I can see them. I can actually see the blokes mucking about and you can actually see through the bridge windows and see the guys there… But…
DW: They’re quite clear. And why do you think their submarines go under the surface? Is it because they don’t want to be seen, if they’re nuclear?
LP: Certainly, more go in and out that I see then are recorded in the paper.
DW: Well, no-one had seen that sub I spoke of and it was up there for a little while. Fairly early, and then it was gone.
LP: A lot of time, in the papers, the [Courier-Mail] or the local, in the shipping pages, you’ll see USS something. Generally, it’s not a submarine, maybe a supply vessel or something or other. From where we live, you can… if you’re home, you can see just about everything that comes in now. And they’re massive, those big black ones and that. They’d obviously be nuclear. The speed they go, once they drop the pilot off, it’s incredible. Enormous cruising speeds. And they don’t fool around. I’ve been out there with fellows in fishing boats, trying to catch them, the ships going into Brisbane, and you can’t.
DW: What, you mean the pilots?
LP: No, just the normal boats. The normal boats going into Brisbane.
DW: So, how many knots would they be doing?
LP: I think they do about twenty, twenty-one. Going in, when they’re being piloted, they’re supposed to be like that which is about thirty-something miles an hour. And the submarines, they’ll do twice that.
DW: And when they’re piloted, they’d go under the water with him as well… It’d be very interesting.
LP: I’ve talked to the pilots now and again. But I’ve never asked them about that. It’s an interesting point. Actually… no, I’ve got something wrong here. Because they’re Australian Navy pilots that go out with them. The other guys don’t get in the subs.
DW: So, they’re restricted as far as… Well, it’s certainly been an interesting afternoon. There was one thing I’d read a little bit about, but I haven’t seen too much of… It was a boat called the Rose… Do you know anything about a boat called the Rose?
LP: Only the one that Henry the 8th had.
DW: No, it was a little boat. I must bring that to your attention. It was a little boat that was never recovered. She went down, but they say she was never recovered or ever sighted. So that’s something that might give you a little homework Lloyd. er, sorry, Lance. I read that in one of the shipwreck books, so… It might be… I don’t think it was very big, but…
LP: There isn’t a Rose on my list…
DW: I’ll have to find that for you.
LP: Sometimes, I’ll find that…
DW: There’s something that you haven’t recorded?
LP: Or something that didn’t quite go down where they reckon it went down, as well.
DW: So, as far as this history goes… Did many other people like yourself study this subject, as far as shipwrecks and maritime.
Lance Paterson’s extensive personal research
LP: I don’t think many study it, to the extent I do. I spend hundreds of hours in libraries and mainly the Brisbane, because they’ve got such a range of newspapers. Staring at microfilms of Moreton Bay Couriers and Queenslanders and Bowen Independents and Mackay Mercuries and things, you know, for years. Because, I believe I’ve got the names, except the Rose, of every wreck on the Queensland coast that’s been recorded on the computer. What I want to put in my book, when I have enough for the first book, is the actual story of those. As much information as possible, about the boat. Then, you can buy it and…
The thing that started me, I think, was that I tried to buy a book of Queensland shipwrecks, and there was nothing. Jack Larney, from Victoria, has put out ‘Australian Shipwrecks’, Volumes 1-5. His research in Queensland, I don’t know who’s done it, but he has the Dicky coming ashore at Noosa, and all sorts of things like that.
DW: That’s definitely wrong, since we know where she is.
LP: So, I thought to myself, ‘Damn this, I’m going to try and find out.’. You see… I thought, well, you know, probably only a hundred shipwrecks on the Queensland coast, but there’s almost two thousand.
Environmental changes: Sunshine Coast waters *
DW: Things like the harbours. Not about just to go into Mooloolah, as the Mooloolah River… Why has it changed so significantly, that boats couldn’t do that anymore? What has happened to make things silt up like they have?
LP: Well, all sorts of things, I think. Certainly, the canal development. If you read back when Peter Gruin and those guys had their timber boats coming up from Brisbane, crossing the Mooloolah at Maroochy Bar. There were a couple, Gruin and a few others, who were there. It used to silt up in those days and they’d go for months and they wouldn’t be able to get in. So they’d have to put the logs on something, or tie the logs together and raft them to bring them out. Or put them on lighters that had a very shallow draft to take them out to the boats and the same with the Noosa River. People say boats used to go up and down the Noosa River. Well, they used to, but only at certain times. They’d go up to… where was it?… Goldcrest. They’d go eventually… got lost on the Noosa bar, but they’d go up. At the right time, they could go up and load. But ninety-nine percent of the time, they’d anchor out at sea and the logs would be taken out to them. So, there’s a lot of things that people say, ‘aw, in the old days, it used to happen.’ But it didn’t happen. Things would silt up in those days same as they do now.
DW: And what they’re saying about the beaches up at Maroochydore now, how they’re exposing rock.
LP: With pincushion and all that. That’s happened before too. Just look at Bribie, how Bribie changes. Right now, Bribie is back to its normal length now with sand, but in six months time, it’s likely to be cut in half again. They’ll be sailing through down where the trees are. You know? Nothing is ever…
DW: Nature doesn’t stay the same.
LP: Right. As soon as you start fooling with [Nature], it’ll turn around and bite you.
DW: So, you don’t think these man-made reefs, where they think they’ll be able to save sand? They’re talking about putting one off Noosa Heads.
LP: The Gold Coast - they put them off the Tweed and it wrecked Kirra beach immediately.
DW: So, you don’t tamper with nature.
LP: I don’t believe so. I mean, there’d be plenty of people with more brains than me that’ll put up an argument that they should, but… I’ve read a lot and been to a lot of places where they’ve tried to things… and as I said before, it turns around and bites them every time.
DW: What about… Well, this one was not a boat, more of a raft. But, the La Balsa, when she came, that was an interesting concept to this area. Do you know a little bit about that?
LP: A little bit, yes. The actual raft - the canoe part that they towed all the way to New Zealand. Unfortunately, someone got it and grew strawberries in it for the first five years, before anyone found it. It was rotted, pretty well, in bad shape. Well, there’s Byron Bay, is it, that…
DW: Yes, someone told me that it was back on the coast, in someone’s garage. That they didn’t want it any more. Ballina…
LP: Ballina… They have, well… We still have the one at Landsborough, that they cowed out. But the raft itself, I think, is at Ballina.
DW: Well, supposedly. But someone told me the other day that someone got it from Ballina and brought it up here.
LP: I would hardly think so….
DW: That’s what I thought too.
LP: We’ve got letters. We’ve corresponded a lot. W
e’ve got this one with the Ballina people… They…
DW: It’s in the museum… The Maritime Museum at Ballina… And what actually there, Lance, with the La Balsa? What did she do?
LP: Well, they tried to prove that people from Ecuador could have got into these parts by strapping balsa logs together. And it’s not only been La Balsa. Thor Hayadall had one made out of rushes.
DW: The Ra?
LP: The Ra, yeah. There’s been a few thing like that. I don’t know what they prove… I mean…
DW: They follow the currents.
LP: Oh, yes, yes… I suppose they have proved… And these islands in the pacific that have got rock carving that are identical to ones in Ecuador. That was what Thor Heyerdahl was trying to prove, that they could have come from there. The La Balsa was towed by a fellow who… I can’t remember his name - lives up at Mooloolaba. They called it La Balsa Park, where she actually came ashore in the Mooloolah River. They must have went on… I’m a bit cloudy on this… I came across it all in the Courier-Mail when I was searching for shipwrecks and I photocopied a whole heap of stuff and gave it to the museum. I haven’t actually read it.
DW: You’re more interested in the wrecks.
LP: Yeah… So, the museum has the whole story.
DW: And, you were with this… You also wrote an article for our local paper, the Sunshine Coast Daily. Do you have people at times with new and unusual snippets of information?
LP: Oh, yes. Actually, both Sam Cutt and I now have ceased to write for the local paper any longer. But, yes, I still have people. I’ve got some marvellous stuff from that. I have diaries, I have letters, all kinds of photos and things that have been given to me by people who have read the article and you know… I’ve had a guy ring up, and say… ‘You know that sixteen-year-old girl who was the only survivor from the Windover, up near Cairns - that was my grandmother and you can have a look at her diaries, a copy if you want. I can give them to you. There are two hundred books, mainly about the wreck of the Mahino. ‘The Reverend Brooks, who was the minister there - he was my dad’, he said. ‘I’ve got photos of that wedding, if you’d like them.’
DW: What was that?
The Mahino wreck – Fraser Island
LP: Well, when the Mahino went aground on Fraser. They sent half a dozen customs officers to make sure no-one nicked anything off it. I remember it belonged to the Japanese at the time. Dougie Weatherly - he was due to get married - so he thought it would be an interesting idea to get married on the wreck. So he did, they did. The Japanese Captain gave his permission and so forth and he even built them a little shack on the beach to spend their honeymoon in. A couple of photographers from the Maryborough Chronicle and Reverend Brooks flew from Maryborough to perform the wedding and take the reporters to report on it and take the photos. I’ve got photos of the reporters and their aeroplane landed on the beach, alongside the Mahino and the wedding… actually, the wedding party on the deck of the Mahino… So, you know…
Actually, the Eudlogh Street bit started from a request from a lady in Caloundra here, who asked me… She believed that the Duke of Eudlough’s ship was wrecked off Caloundra. It wasn’t, but I couldn’t find much about it, so when I was in London last year, I went to Lloyd’s Register. A couple of girls there were very helpful and we found that the Duke of Eudlough went past here quite a lot. 1968 was the last trip, before she was lost over near Africa somewhere. But, obviously, the street was named afterwards.
DW: Because she used to be sighted off the coast?
LP; Yeah. That was when Gordon Reed, who was the curator of the Liverpool Maritime Museum, said to me…’You’re spelling that wrong. It’s got a ‘c’, not a ‘g’’. And, I got into Lloyd’s register and found a ‘g’. We’d been spelling it wrong.
DW: Well, we’ll have to do something - put it right.
LP: Whose area is that? Don Smith’s is it?
DW: For where, which street? Sorry, what area?
DW: Which is?
LP: Well, a continuation of Maltman, isn’t it?
DW: That’d be our new Councillor, Brier.
LP: King’s, would it?
DW: For King’s Beach and Moffat.
LP: It’s Moffat, actually.
DW: Oh, Moffat? Well, that would be Don Smith.
LP: Don Smith? Really?
DW: Yes. Well, We’ve covered a lot of things this afternoon, Lance. Thanks very much for coming to talk to the Local Studies unit. Perhaps one day, we’ll get a few more ships registered on your list and this book’ll get written and we’ll talk again.
LP: Yes, that’d be good, Di. I’d like to do that and thanks very much.
DW: Thank you.