|Orungal ends her days at Barwon Heads|
The interstate passenger steamer, Orungal struck Formby reef, offshore from Barwon Heads, in 1940 after battling severe weather and huge seas.
DURING November 1940, southern Victoria had been experiencing a November heat wave with temperatures of 95 F (35 C) and hot northerly winds persisting for three days. The weather bureau had predicted a cooler change with southerly winds expected to cool the state on Wednesday evening.
In Sydney the weather was balmy a 71 F (21 C) at midnight on Tuesday 19 November as eleven passengers boarded the Orungal at Lime Street Wharf. The ship had arrived from Brisbane with six passengers and called at Sydney for cargo and passengers bound for Melbourne and Adelaide. Among the passengers were newly weds Mr. and Mrs. Peter Gibb. The couple had been married earlier in the day and were looking forward to spending their honeymoon in Adelaide after a sea voyage aboard the Orungal.
With seventeen passengers, a crew of 70 and 2000 tons of general cargo in her holds, Captain S. Gilling steered the Orungal through Sydney Heads in the early hours of Wednesday and set a course south for Port Phillip Heads.
A few people in Ocean Grove and Barwon Heads had come down to the beaches on the Wednesday afternoon to seek some relief from the heat. By early afternoon storm clouds were building in the west and the weather bureau had predicted a southerly wind change would effect southern coastal waters by early evening. But the wind change developed into wind squalls and driving rain and the Orangal was steaming south into very rough seas.
Passenger Miss Helen Moors said she remembered the voyage from Sydney: "From the time we left Sydney it was a very rough trip." Helen boarded the Orungal in Brisbane and was returning to Melbourne. "We were about three hours late leaving Sydney and Thursday was a shocking day it was stormy, overcast and just so miserable." she said.
Helen, 93, who lives in Drumcondra, Geelong said she still had vivid memories of when the Onungal hit the reef. "We were all sitting up in the lounge reading, it was about half-past-ten on the Thursday evening and we were about to go to bed when there was a terrible bump, the whole ship shook and everything vibrated. A short time later there was another bump and after that the ship was completely steady. We knew we had hit something solid because the ship became quite still."
Battling heavy seas and with driving rain and wind squalls reducing visibility it is thought the Orungal's crew had realized they had passed Point Lonsdale and had turned the ship to starboard to return to Port Phillip Heads not realizing how close to shore they were in the darkness. Head waiter, Mr. D. Stephens said at the time: "When the Orungal grounded the ship shook from stem to stern and loose objects fell everywhere. We ran on deck and were met by rain and wind. We couldn't see our hands in front of us. The siren began wailing and a steam pipe and oil line had burst and there was oil spraying everywhere and the engines stopped."
Helen Moors said there was no panic among the passengers, but the lights went out for a brief time before emergency engines were started for lights and essential power.
"We were told to go to our cabins and put on warm clothes, don life jackets and bring our luggage up to the top deck."
Meanwhile residents of Barwon Heads were woken by the short blasts from the ship's siren and the Barwon Heads fire siren brought firemen and fishermen to the bluff. In the driving rain, they could barely discern the lights and silhouette of the stranded ship. A powerful lamp was used from the Bluff to flash out a message in morse code to the ship asking if the ship would be safe until dawn when attempts to reach her would be made. Heavy seas were breaking over the stranded vessel but the crew signaled they were in no immediate danger.
Back on board the Orungal passengers were being entertained by the ship's orchestra. Miss Joyce Westhoven, pianist and Miss Catherine Murphy, violinist were playing and leading a sing-a-long to keep up the spirits of the passengers. "We were yelling our lungs out to keep the sing-a-long going. Miss Westhoven had said.
Helen Moors remembers joining in with the singing: "We were told everyone was safe for the night and the lifeboat would arrive in the morning. We were all given beds in the top berths until morning but morning couldn't come quick enough!" she laughed.
Back in Barwon Heads the women of the town had opened a canteen in the fire station and served hot refreshments to about 100 people during the night including soldiers from Fort Queenscliff who had driven an army ambulance to Barwon Heads.
The Queenscliff Lifeboat was launched at 2.30am and a fishing boat owned by Mr. C. Smack sailed from the Barwon Heads jetty at 5 am. Mountainous seas were still breaking over the Orungal before dawn and the Queenscliff lifeboat had to stand off from the ship for two about two hours.
On board the Barwon Heads fishing boat were Constable O. Thomas, Mr. H. Stephens, Jack Jennings and Mr. C. Fielding. The treacherous conditions prevented the boat from getting close to the Orungal and after two hours of battling the rough seas, returned to Barwon Heads.
By early morning the seas moderated and the Queenscliff Lifeboat maneuvered alongside the ship and made fast before taking off the passengers.
"It was rather scary getting down into the life boat. All the passengers and non-essential crew boarded the lifeboat and we were taken back to Queenscliff for breakfast." Helen Moors remembered. Newly weds, Mr. and Mrs. P. Gibb had differing opinions of the lifeboat trip: ' The journey through the Rip was the roughest sea that I have ever experienced, but the craft was handled in a magnificent display of seamanship by the crew." Mr. Gibb said. However Mrs. Gibb thoroughly enjoyed the trip: "I had a grand time as the little boat leaped around in the sea!" she said at the time.
The lifeboat arrived at Queenscliff pier at about 10.30am on Friday and the Orungal passengers and crew were given breakfast at The Esplanade Hotel in Queenscliff. Passengers and crew later boarded buses for the road journey to Melbourne.
On the Sunday following the grounding one of the largest crowds ever seen in Barwon Heads came to see the Orungal aground on an even keel about half a mile offshore. Her bow facing Point Lonsdale, she sat broadside to the shoreline. Barwon Heads policeman, First Constable C. Thomas was kept busy from 10am until about 7pm directing a continuous stream of traffic entering and leaving the town. He estimated about 10,000 cars had visited the town on the Sunday.
Marine salvage experts had boarded the ship on the Monday and were confident she could be refloated when her cargo was removed. It was
discovered most of the damage was amidships and water had entered the No 3 and No 4 holds, but No I and No 2 holds were dry.
However during salvage operations in the early hours of Friday 13 December an explosion in the engine room resulted in a fire which engulfed the entire ship and burnt for several days. A spark from cutting equipment being used by the salvage workers is believed to have ignited oil.
The Orungal was declared a total loss. The wreck was sold to Whelan the Wrecker on 2 January 1941 and all salvageable parts were removed. In August 1941, almost a year after the ship went aground, her hull broke in two after a storm and gradually the ship broke up over the next few years.
At low tide the boilers, all that is left of the Orungal today, are still visible as round black shapes forming part of Formby Reef. Occasionally the boilers are mistaken for whales.From the top of the Barwon Heads Bluff, at low tide, looking towards Ocean Grove at a point about midway between the bluff and the Ocean Grove surf beach is Formby Reef.
The Orungal was built in Glasgow. in 1923 and was originally named the Fezara and along with her sister ship the Famaka carried cargo for the Khedivial Line sailing regularly between Mediterranean ports and the Black Sea. Powered by four oil-fired single-ended boilers providing steam to two turbines geared to a single shaft, the ship was 391 feet long and 55 feet wide and had a service speed of 16 knots. In 1927 the two ships were chartered by the Australasian United Steamship Navigation Company (AUSN) for the coastal freight and passenger service between Cairns and Melbourne and renamed the Orungal and Ormiston. The Orungal's refit had cost á54,000 and the 5,826 ton ship had been refurbished to accommodate 240 passengers in a single class.
Special thanks to Bill Heath, Erie Dont and Lola Menheere of Ocean Grove for reference material and photographs Passenger accounts of the founding from the Argus newspaper and personal interview.