On Sunday, September 8, divers from Southern Ocean Exploration joined relatives of the men who drowned on the TSS Coramba in December 1934 in an emotional service at the site of the Coramba shipwreck.
In December 1934, the Coramba was en-route from Warnambool to Williamstown with a cargo of condensed milk and wool, when Captain John Dowling attempted to find shelter in Westernport.
The ship was no match for the huge seas that also swamped much of the mainland between November 30 and December 2, 1934.
17 men drowned in what was one of Victoria’s worst hurricanes.
The Coramba’s sinking was a huge blow to a state already reeling from a crippling depression. Relatives received little compensation and many children grew up in poverty after losing their family breadwinner.
Shipwreck hunters and maritime archaeologists, Southern Ocean Exploration (SOE) discovered the wreck in May 2011, after eight years of searching.
Since then many relatives of the 17 men who died on the steamer have contacted the dive team.
SOE leader team leader Mark Ryan felt that his organisation should honour the memory of the victims.
“Our job is to find shipwrecks, but we’re also very much aware that these places are gravesites, where people died in the most horrendous circumstances. Our work is becoming more and more about the relatives.” he said.
John Sullivan, grandson of Able Seaman John Loring Sullivan, attended the memorial onboard SOE’s new search vessel; recently renovated World War 2 patrol boat, Airview.
“This is a very special day for me. My father was only a boy when he lost his father. It would have been terribly difficult for him growing up. Today we placed his ashes next to his father’s resting place. Hopefully my ashes will be placed here after I’m gone” Mr Sullivan said.
SOE researcher and stonemason, Peter Taylor recently made two elegant granite boxes to hold the ashes of John Sullivan and Jack Dowling, son of Coramba Captain John Dowling.
At 12.30pm, SOE divers carefully placed the boxes in the ship’s engine room.
Des Williams, author of two books about the Coramba, represented the Dowling family.
“Over the last 30 years I have come to know the Dowling family very well. Audrey, the captain’s daughter lives in Adelaide. She’s 91 and couldn’t make it today. Norma Dowling, Jack’s wife also couldn’t make it.” Mr Williams said.
Des Williams spoke about the 17 men who died, before placing a bouquet of flowers on the water.
“Today closes the book on the Coramba story” he said.
98.7 FM radio interview
Channel 9 News, Sunday, September 22. 6.00pm