Tag Archives: Melbourne

When Two Ships Collide…Stumbling Across the Wyrallah Disaster 1924.

On Tuesday 8th April, 1924, two ships collided in a treacherous stretch of water near the entrance of Melbourne’s Port Phillip Bay, known as The Rip.  Five crew members and one passenger drowned when a massive coal steamer, the Dilkera, ploughed into a small coastal steamer, the Wyrallah, which had strayed across its path. The Wyrallah sank like a stone in less than ten minutes, and the heartbreaking cries of the drowning men could be heard from the Dilkera until there was nothing but silence.

Survivors Wyrallah Age April 10 1924

For the survivors, there was the dampened joy of a “miracle”. Meanwhile, for the families of the lost, there was only devastating heartbreak, and in many cases, also serious financial hardship. Widows were left without husbands, and children without fathers. With the victims being Melbourne men, the tragedy would have hit the city hard. With those few degrees of separation, many would have known the families and been touched by the Wyrallah Disaster in quite a personal way. Indeed, I can almost hear people talking in the streets about someone they knew. Yet, that pain was obviously most acute for the little ones who’d lost their dads. I keep thinking of those little children all tucked into their beds on that ill-fated night, sleeping soundly and not knowing Daddy wasn’t coming home. It breaks my heart. I’m also conscious that my grandmother and her brother were also sleeping in their beds at home in Sydney’s Bondi, equally oblivious to the tragedy. However, lucky for them, their father came back. Well, at least, he did that time.

My Great Grandfather, Reuben William Gardiner, was Second Mate onboard the Dilkera, and that’s what initially drew me into this story. While you’d expect that some reference to the collision would have passed down through the family, the first I knew about it, was spotting a reference in the online newspaper repository, Trove. I am something of a shadow hunter, relentlessly pursuing the lost tales of my ancestors through the online newspapers. Naturally, finding a reference to something this monumental, was something I had to pursue at full throttle and naturally, I wanted to know more about his role in the tragedy. I donned my Sherlock Holmes hat and cloak and set to work.

Reuben Gardiner

Second Mate Reuben William Gardiner

Unfortunately, when it came to knowing Reuben William Gardiner on any personal level, I’d barely seen the tip of the ice berg. He died more than thirty years before I was born, and had become little more than a photograph on my grandmother’s shelf, and a few snippets of story.  He was still quite a young looking man in the photo, and he was wearing his officer’s cap. Although he’d qualified as a Master Mariner, he was working as Second Mate with the Adelaide Steamship Company. Apparently, from a technical perspective, that meant he was responsible for navigation onboard. However, that doesn’t take into account his love of the sea, the comraderie with his mates, or that knowledge that the fate of the ship rested in the Lord’s hands. Or, perhaps it was all just down to luck. I’m actually surprised more philosophers weren’t created out sailing on ships, rather than hanging out in the relative safety of Paris cafes.

Ruby & Reuben Gardiner

Reub & Rube…Reuben William Gardiner & Ruby May McNamara 1910.

Reuben Gardiner was born on 3rd Dec, 1876 in Newtown, Sydney to William Henry Gardiner boot maker and Sarah Ann Baker. A few years later, his younger brother, Frederick, followed. However, in 1884, tragedy struck when his mother and twin brothers died in childbirth leaving nine year old Reuben and brother without a mum. On 1st April, 1891 William Henry Gardiner married Jane Ann Lynch at St. Michael’s Roman Catholic Church Wollombi. Reuben struggled to adjust to his new step-mother, who he referred to as “Mrs G”. According to my grandmother, when he was around 17, he left home in West Maitland and joined the merchant navy. In 1910, he married piano teacher Ruby May McNamara at Waverley. Ruby was the eldest of eight daughters born at Queanbeyan to John McNamara and Elizabeth Johnston. I knew Ruby as “Gran, but they called each other: “Reub and Rube”.

Reuben Gardiner on ship

Reuben Gardiner far left photographed onboard ship possibly the Arkaba.

What I did know about Reuben Gardiner, was that he died of a heart attack at sea onboard the Arkaba in 1936. Reuben died only four months after my grandmother, concert pianist Eunice Gardiner, had left for London with her mother onboard the Esperance Bay and neither could attend his funeral held at Sydney’s towering St Mary’s Cathedral.

Pix 1940 May 11 pg 24

Eunice had won a prestigious scholarship at the Royal Academy of Music in London and was already quite a sensation. A fundraising committee had been established by Lady Gordon and a big testimonial concert was held at Sydney’s Town Hall to finance her studies. However, there was never any question of Eunice going to London alone. Her father was clear: “You might as well throw her to the sharks in Sydney Harbour.”However, this meant that Ruby wasn’t here to bury her husband and make those last goodbyes. That in supporting her daughter’s prodigious talent as she had always done, Ruby had made an incredible personal sacrifice. Reuben’s death also meant that Eunice’s older brother, Dr Les Gardiner, a young doctor at St Vincent’s Hospital, stepped in and supported his mother and sister while putting his own surgical studies on hold and supporting his own wife and family.

So, in a different sense, I have also grown up with this story of a father going off to sea, and not coming home, but for different reasons.

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Captain Watson of the Dilkera on the right and survivor, Alfred Edward Wise, mate of the Wyrallah (left)

In addition to my personal connection to the collision, I also saw another story emerging from the Wyrallah Disaster. Something about the mysterious twists and turns of fate, which most of us fail to understand, and pause to question from time to time and usually at our peril. These two ships could well have passed each other in the night. Yet, through a series of such twists and turns, they collided. Why was it so? Why did the survivors make it, while the victims perished? Was it God, fate, destiny or just bad luck? Who or what was at the helm of that particular ship? The one which makes all the ultimate decisions over life and death? Was it God? Each of us has a length of string. Some of us have a longer piece of string than others. Moreover, some of us will know when our time is close, while many have no idea at all. They’re suddenly struck down by the equivalent of a cosmic thunderbolt, and that’s it. Game Over.

Captain Bracken

Of course, we can’t live our lives constantly in the shadow of the Grim Reaper. We need to Carpe Diem seize the day. Stretch ourselves out to our full capacity, not knowing whether we’re going to make it. Indeed, there seems to be something innately human about challenging ourselves well beyond our known capabilities, even if it does lead us to our death. In that case, our loved ones stoically celebrate: “At least, they went doing what they loved.”

Map Wyrallah wreck site

However, I wonder how many of us actually consider that it could well be a little, miniscule detail something so small we can barely see it, which in that flash of lightening, that momentary second in time, puts us in the wrong place at the wrong time? Moreover, in some instances the difference between life and death can be a few centimetres either to the left or the right. One person dies, while the other survives. It can all seem so random. In many instances, there were turning points where decisions were made setting all sorts of events in motion. Yet, there is no turning back. After all, we can’t just rewind and “play it again, Sam”. What’s done is done. We can only learn from it, and do our best to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Above: Three of the “missing men who lost their lives onboard the Wyrallah. Engineer John Wighton (on the right) went back in to rescue the firemen and didn’t make it out.

Personally, I find it hard to understand how God’s will, fate, destiny, good and bad luck and miracles all come together. I don’t understand why some people who have been very close to me or people I care about, have died tragically and far too young. However, I do believe that each of us has our lot…our own burden to carry. Yet, at the same time, I also know that in many instances we can make things better or worse for ourselves. Indeed, I’m constantly amazed by how often we shoot ourselves in the foot without any help from anybody else. I do that myself.

Weekly Times 19 April 1924 model boats

It took a long of reading and research before I could even start to understand what happened on that ill-fated night of the Wyrallah Disaster. Moreover, naturally my initial focus was to place my Great Grandfather at the scene and find out what I could about the role he played, if any. However, most of the newspaper coverage focused on the survivors and “missing” from the Wyrallah, and they weren’t interested in the actions of Mr RW Gardiner. However, that didn’t stop me from infusing him into the scene. As I read stories of survivors being wrenched from the wreckage by the grip of a stranger pulling them to safety, I wanted that to be him. I wanted him to be the good guy, the Good Samaritan, the hero.

Dilkera 2 after collision Argus April 10

However, tough decisions also had to be made and not everyone could be the hero. The Dilkera had also been damaged in the collision and at the time, both ships were within the treacherous waters of The Rip. The Dilkera desperately needed to reach safety to assess her own damage. So, after quickly saving who they could, a decision was made not to stop to save the drowning men… the chilling voices calling out from the sinking vessel. Captain Watson decided that it was “better to save one ship than to lose two”.  Of course, when you’re talking about maneuvering a massive vessel like the Dilkera, swinging into action wouldn’t have been a simple matter, and it was considered too dangerous to send out the lifeboats. There would only be a further loss of life. Yet, there’s still that Good Samaritan in me who can’t understand how anyone could leave those men behind without even throwing them a lifebelt. That said, by all accounts, it seems that the men died very quickly and more than likely, that nothing could be done. However, I wasn’t the only one asking such questions and the newspapers of the day also wanted to know. There was also an inquiry.

Graduating Menzies

A young Sir Robert Gordon Menzies.

Speaking of the inquiry, I thought I might just mention that Sir Robert Gordon Menzies (1894-1978), former Australian Prime Minister twice over (26 April 1939 – 29 August 1941 and19 December 1949 – 26 January 1966) , represented the owners of the Wyrallah at the inquiry. Admitted to the Bar in 1918, he’d already established a name for himself. In 1920, as advocate for the Amalgamated Society of Engineers, he won a case in the High Court of Australia, which proved a landmark in the positive reinterpretation of Commonwealth powers over those of the States[1].

So, already quite a complex story has started taking shape. However, unfortunately even a good story doesn’t come all neatly gift wrapped. I have a lot of hard work ahead but I want to take this story as far as I can. Fingers crossed. I can see this one having a beginning, a middle and an end.

I would be particularly interested to hear from anyone connected with collision of the Wyrallah and the Dilkera. It’s definitely a story which deserves to be retold and it would be lovely to honour those precious men who tragically lost their lives, leaving their families behind.

Best wishes,

Rowena

[1] http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/menzies-sir-robert-gordon-bob-11111

 

Tasmanian Farewell – Friday Fictioneers.

The Spirit of Tasmania was boarding. With two cats perched on the back window of the Ford Laser, their Border Collie in the back, two lifetimes packed in the boot like a Chinese puzzle box, Jane and Dave were economic refugees moving to the Mainland.

Jane popped a couple of sea sickness pills. It was her first time, crossing treacherous Bass Strait. She was sick, before they’d even set sail. Even this massive North Sea Ferry, could become another Titanic.

Yet, with barely a whitecap, they had a perfect sail.

“It’s a sign, she smiled. “We’re making the right move.

…..

This has been another contribution for Friday Fictioneers. PHOTO PROMPT © Ted Strutz

In January this year, our family caught the Spirit of Tasmania from Melbourne to Tasmania return. We were taking the kids down to Tasmania for them to see and experience where Daddy is from. You can read abut our trip here.

My husband is Tasmanian and his family have lived there since as early as 1828. During the late 80s early 90s during a nasty economic recession, Geoff and his then girlfriend left Tasmania bound for the Australian mainland in search of work. The rest of his immediate family had already left.

It’s a bold move to leave everything and everyone you’ve ever known, to move way. Pack everything up, and throw your stability into the wind.

I’ve done the same thing myself a couple of times in my lifetime. It didn’t seem such a big deal at the time, because I always had my parents to go back to. They were my anchor…my foundation and they’ve always called me home. I can’t imagine what it would be like going one way, with no prospect of return, especially moving to an unknown country on the other side of the world like my ancestors have done. I would love to know how they felt. Were there any regrets and where was truly home?

Best wishes,

Rowena

Catching the Spirit of Tasmania: Melbourne to Devonport via Bass Strait.

While you can fly to Tasmania, we decided to catch the ferry…the Spirit of Tasmania. This meant we had our own car, without the hassles of a hire car.

I should also point out that there are no passenger trains in Tasmania, so driving is the way to go. That is, unless you have any crazy ideas about circumnavigating Tasmania on foot. Tasmania might fit into a tiny 1cm square at the bottom of Australia on the map, but it’s much, much larger than you think and I blame that on the hills. It’s seemingly been scrunched up and I’m sure it you rolled it out flat, it would be twice the size and potentially even larger than Victoria.

We decided to do a day sail on the way over and, we’ll be travelling overnight in a cabin on the way back.

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Drivers were told to line up literally bumper to bumper to conserve space. I was relieved Geoff was driving as I have no sense of how much space is around the car!

Usually, you have to get to the wharf at 7.30 AM for a 9.30AM departure. However, being our Summer school holidays here, it’s the peak time to visit Tasmania and the ferry was chockers. We’d received a text notifying us that due to high volumes of traffic, they were starting to load at 6.00 AM. Not wanting to take our chances and leave anything to fate, we woke up at 5.00AM (in the middle of MY night!!) and pulled up at 6.15AM.

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It was only a short drive to the wharf and we soon spotted the Spirit of Tasmania. A former North Sea ferry, it was absolutely ginormous. …and it needs to be.

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Leaving Port Melbourne.

Perhaps, you haven’t heard about that notoriously rough stretch of sea called Bass Strait, which lies between Tasmania and “the Mainland”. However, here’s footage of waves crashing over the deck and this seemingly giant ship at its mercy… A Treacherous Crossing. Apparently, a number of cars broke free on that trip and were damaged. Bass Strait is not for the faint-hearted…especially, when it’s having a bad day!

Of course, we didn’t show our daughter any of this footage before we left and kept very, very quite about the furies of Bass Strait.  Had she had her radar out, she should have been suspicious. Silence and absolute avoidance is a dead giveaway, that there really is something to worry about.

However, I suspect that she was also caught up in the throws of avoidance. We said nothing. She said nothing. Then, the mighty moment came and we were driving the car into the bowels of the ship (or was it the stomach cavity?) At this point, the little voice did make a few discreet inquiries and wasn’t overly sure of herself but being part of the family, she had no choice. She was onboard. There was no escape.

As my Dad used to say to me, such experiences “put hairs on your chest”. That’s all very well if you want hairs on your chest, but what if you’d rather go without? As a kid, I never quite managed to ask him that and perhaps that’s now a question for when we get home.

rowena-spirit-of-tasmania

I hoped my “Titanic” pose  wasn’t prophetic!

We had booked our seats fairly last minute and so we could only get one reserved seat. This meant we were travelling cattle class, which was quite fine for a day trip. We took turns napping in our single seat and spent the rest of the trip on level 7. That is, except for the kids, who wandered around a bit.

geoff-and-kids-on-spirit

I did venture out on the deck a few times…mainly to take a few photos. I enjoyed being out in the open soaking up the real sea experience. However, as my hair was beaten from side to side and I wasn’t entirely stable on my feet, I didn’t stay out on the deck for very long.

By midday with 6 hours still ahead, I was totally over looking at blue sea and was desperate for a “land ahoy”! While there is some novelty value in being out at sea, I found the experience similar to driving down the freeway staring at gum trees. It started to feel monotonous.

first-glimpses-tasmania

I’m not sure about exact times, but possibly around 5.00 PM we started to spot the Tasmanian coastline in the distance. Although we still had quite a way to go, not to mention however long it took to download the car, it was a relief and the coastline looked rather picturesque.

At this point, I should also let you know that we had a very smooth journey. Indeed, the staff said it was the smoothest sail they’d had in months. Given how our daughter felt about rough seas and hearing our friend’s talk about sea sickness and taking precautions (which we didn’t have), it was a relief.

It might have been around 7.30PM by the time we drove into Devonport. Found an open supermarket and loaded up.

We were in Tasmania.

Yippee!

xx Rowena

Marvellous Melbourne!

Traitor face! How could anyone from Sydney ever support Melbourne? After all, being a Sydney person to the core, shouldn’t I be calling it: “Mediocre Melbourne”?

Of course, the list of Sydney’s superlatives is endless. Starting off with the obvious trifecta, there’s  the Harbour, Opera House and Harbour Bridge. Melbourne has no equivalents. Moreover, when it comes to Melbourne’s Yarra River, they might as well stick it in a drain. Lock it up. No one would miss it.

By now, I’m sure you’ve realized that there’s just a tad of rivalry between Sydney and Melbourne, especially historically speaking. No self-respecting Sydney person has ever said one good word about “that place”…even if Melbourne does consider itself the food, fashion and cultural capital of the universe.

Anyway, what I can say was pretty marvellous about Melbourne, was finding family accommodation in the heart of Melbourne for $100 a night. That’s something you definitely can’t get in Sydney.

Melbourne also retained its tram network, whereas Sydney dug up its tramlines before I was born. So, it’s always been a novelty to ride a Melbourne tram. However, Sydney has had light rail now for some time and Melbourne’s trams have been updated so they’re not so much of a novelty these days. Although, as I mentioned in my last post, driving on the tram tracks with a tram heading up is more of a nightmare than fun.

Last Sunday night, we stayed in Melbourne overnight. This was the first leg of our trip to Tasmania. Monday morning, we were loading ourselves and the car onto the Spirit of Tasmania, a massive North Sea Ferry, which would take us across Bass Strait into Devonport.

This left us with only one night in Melbourne. Indeed, that left us with only a couple of hours to check Melbourne out. After touching base in the room, we headed off to explore as much of Melbourne as we could in 2 hours within the free tram zone.

Indeed, you could well ask how we could ever hope to catch even a glimpse of Melbourne when we’re merely blinking on the way through.

Well, you can see quite a lot of a place when you stick your camera out the window as you’re driving through dodging trams while looking for street signs and trying not to get lost.

We caught the train down to Brunswick Street where I spotted the familiar Brunswick Station. I must admit that I was quite surprised and shocked to see so many homeless people sleeping on the street outside. I don’t know if they were simply travellers but there were quite a lot. I don’t get into Sydney much at night but Geoff assures me there are quite a few homeless people there so it’s no doubt a universal issue once you leave the comfort of your own four walls and your blog.

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Across the road, I spotted the famous Young and Jackson Pub. This is home to the infamous nude portrait of Chloe https://www.youngandjacksons.com.au/chloe. Not the sort of thing I’d usually take the kids to see but in we all went. As far as nudes go, she’s rather tasteful and I didn’t have a huge issue about it.

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Spotting an impressive Cathedral, we crossed the road to check out St Paul’s Cathedral, which was flying a banner supporting our refugees.

As you could well appreciate with only having 2 hours to check out this world-class city, we were on the run.

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Next stop was Federation Square across the road. It’s an interesting building which I’ll have to follow up when I’m not a week behind and trying to travel rather than write. For the time being, I’ll just share a few pics and tell you how huge and ginormous this building is and how it made me feel like an ant. This made me question why we build such huge, imposing architecture which devalues the individual and yet I’ve already answered my own question in a way having raised Sydney – Melbourne rivalry and needing to give a city a prominent place on the world stage.

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While we were roaming through Federation Square, we spotted some signs to an exhibition by the world-famous street artist, Banksy. This led us on a rather intriguing search through a car park and children’s playground only to realise that it is an indoor exhibition and the best we could do was peer at some other local artists exhibiting outside through a huge wire fence. Oh well.

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After chasing Banksy, we walked back to our tram stop via the railway line, which looked really, really creepy. I’m sure loads of Australian TV shows and movies must use this spot to film murders, Police chases and wayward youth roaming along the tracks at night. As much as I loved photographing this location, it really gave me the creeps.

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Anyway, as I said we had about 2 hours to check out Melbourne and that was it…one blink and you’ll miss it tour but when you’re trying to carpe diem and seize the day, such moments need to be snatched and you make the most of what you’ve got.

So, now our next step in our Tasmanian Odyssey is catching the Spirit of Tasmania across Bass Strait to Devonport, Tasmania.

We should’ve prayed for calm seas but we forgot.

C’est la vie!

x Rowena

Driving from Sydney to Melbourne.

Tonight, I’m backpedaling faster than a confused Olympic sprinter, as I battle to catch up on our trip to Tasmania.

Although travelling opens your eyes, Internet connectivity can be difficult to outright impossible. We’re currently staying with friends out of town with limited access, making it difficult to keep up with the trip.

Anyway, last Sunday we drove down to Melbourne to catch the ferry to Tasmania. As the ferry was leaving at 9.00AM, we stayed in Melbourne overnight.

However, we haven’t reached Melbourne yet. We’re still driving along the Hume Highway. There’s a long way to go!

What with all the last minute pre-trip freaking out, I got to bed rather late the night before and slept through much of the trip. However, I opened my eyes occasionally…along with the camera lens.

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We were just North of Gundagai when we pulled up by this historic blue stone Church in Bookham.

Being just out of Gundagai, I launched into singing: Along the Road to Gundagai…a classic Australian bush song everybody used to know:

“There’s a track winding back,

Along an old-fashioned track,

Along the road to Gundagai…”

However, it turned out that neither of the kids had ever heard it.

Of course, I was absolutely flabbergasted, dumbstruck and shocked. What has the state of modern education coming to??? This was the cultural equivalent of being illiterate…and it was MY KIDS. I guess this is why they say going on a long family drive can be “educational”. You get to teach your kids a few things a long the way.

Anyway, at this point while I was ranting about the need for an Australian cultural festival, my husband interjected calling this great Australian classic: “cringe-worthy”.

The kids agreed.

Disgust. I was absolutely disgusted. Not even my husband was standing by me.

This made me think about the songs I grew up with singing in the car on long family drives to Queensland. My Dad loved singing in the car. He’d pipe up with: “Oh what a beautiful morning, Oh what a beautiful day”, from Oklahoma and there was Jamaican Farewell: “Down the way where the nights are gay…” By the way, my kids assure me Dad’s still singing: “We’re off to see the Wizard” in the car and that’s only been on short drives too.

Anyway, the kids survived my singing. I survive their jokes. Yet, we’d only reached Holbrook roughly halfway to Melbourne and there was too much road ahead.

By now, it was time for lunch.

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Taken in Holbrook’s Main Street

Holbrook’s main claim to fame is having a submarine parked in the local park. The main street is lined with old wares shops, which I must say is like honey to a bee. I almost broke out in a sweat. I didn’t know which way to turn until reality hit. With my husband and the two kids in tow, I wasn’t going far. They impose impossible limits on poor repressed addicts. Anyway, there were some second hand books as cheap as chips…almost guilt free!

All too soon, we were on the road again, continuing further along the endless Hume Highway, which flows like an artery through the East-Coast south of Sydney.

Eventually, we crossed the border into Victoria.

Yawn!

Yawn!

This trip was dragging on…”Are we there yet?”

More yawns.

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Thank goodness the Great Esky Wall worked a treat in the back seat. The kids were pretty good but I’ll also give credit where credit’s due…iPads!

Finally, we were heading through suburban Melbourne and an almighty shriek went up…tram tracks!

Worse still, we were driving on the tram tracks and had no idea what the rules were.

We were starting to feel endangered at best…not that we had a persecution complex or anything but who wants to get run over by a tram?!!

Nothing like driving through a strange city when you don’t know quite where you’re going and you have trams hunting you down.

Scary stuff.

Yet, we survived!

Melbourne…we made it.

Have you ever been to Melbourne? Do you have any songs you sing driving on long car trips? I’d love to hear them, although it might take awhile to reply.

xx Rowena