|Articles on this page with permission from GREG WANE, are taken from the Barwon Heads,Ocean Grove, and Wallington news .||Issn 13290371|
Published by Whistler Publishing
PO. Box 358, Ocean Grove
Editor Greg Wayne
Colin returns to site of sea drama - 60 years later
As a five-year-old Colin Chantry was the only child aboard the interstate passenger steamer Orungal when it went aground near the Barwon Heads Bluff. He was taken off the ship by the crew of the Queenscliff Lifeboat.
Last month, 60 years later, Colin returned to Barwon Heads to see all that remains of the ship - two barnacle encrusted boilers visible at low tide.
On 7 November, 1940, the 10,000 ton British steamer Cambridge rounded the southeast point at Wilsons Promontory. She was about 3 miles offshore and steaming towards Port Phillip Heads, when at precisely 11pm she struck a German-laid mine. "the ship sank rapidly stern first, and all but one member of the crew managed to scramble into lifeboats. "The ship's carpenter perished.
Less than 24 hours later when off Cape Otway and bound for Melbourne the American freighter City of Rayville struck a mine and sank. All 37 members of the crew were able to get into lifeboats.
The sinking highlighted the vulnerability of Australian waters and prompted the Royal Australian Navy to deploy minesweepers after several more mines were discovered in shipping lanes off the Victorian and New South Wales coastline.
Five-year-old Colin Chantry was woken from his bunk aboard the interstate passenger steamer Orungal on the night of 21 November 1940. His mother hurriedly dressed Colin over the top of his pyjamas.
A short time earlier the ship had gone aground on a reef about one kilometre south east of the Barwon Heads bluff. The weather was squally and seas were rough and the 5800-ton ship was nearly ten miles off course and had over shot the entrance to Port Phillip heads. Master of the ship Captain Gilling had been advised by the Royal Australian Navy to adhere strictly to charted shipping lanes after they had been cleared of mines. However there was a real risk of striking a German laid mine if ships chose a course out of these shipping lanes.
At about 10.20pm Captain Gilling sighted the lights of Barwon Heads and realised he was well off course with 17 passengers and a crew of 70 on board, Captain Gilling could not risk steering his ship to port and out into the open ocean and risk striking a mine. So he decided to swing the Orungal hard to starboard steer her on a course back to Port Phillip heads. At 10.30pm as the ship answered the helm to starboard, she rode onto Formby Reef with a mighty bump that shook the entire ship.
"The seas were really rough and the ship had been bouncing around a bit, but I don't remember her hitting the reef. When my mother woke me I remember everything was quite still," Colin Chantry recalled.
The Chantey family made there way to the dining room where they joined in a sing along hurriedly arranged by the ships musicians to keep the passengers calm. "Years later I would hear those songs being played somewhere and it would arouse my memory of the dining room on that night aboard the Orungal."
Colin's father who worked as an industrial chemist at the Repatriation Department in Melbourne had decided to take his wife and youngest son Colin on a trip to New South Wales to see his close friend George Cartwright and on to Queensland. The family were returning from Brisbane aboard the interstate passenger steamer Orungal The ship had been doing a regular run between capital cities on Australia's eastern seaboard - for nearly 13 years and the sea voyage was much preferred over train travel.
At dawn the lifeboat was able to come alongside and f the ship's gangplank was lowered, but the lifeboat was rising and falling about four metres in the heavy swell.
"My greatest memory I have of the drama is the distance between the gang plank and the lifeboat. To a small child it was a great distance down. I was carried down the gang plank by a crew member and as the swell brought the lifeboat up I was thrown into the arms of a waiting lifeboat man," Colin recalled.
"When I look back on the event today, those men who manned the lifeboat were true seamen. "They knew what they were doing and how to handle the seas in the way they brought the lifeboat up alongside the ship - they did a magnificent job."
With all passengers aboard the lifeboat they were taken to Queenscliff where they were given a hot breakfast and arrangements were made to transport them to Melbourne aboard motor coaches.
"I was in bed aboard the Orungal when she went aground and I remember it was pretty cold and my mother dressed me over the top of my pyjamas. As a result all the press photos that were taken of us, I had my pyjamas sticking out at the bottom of my short trousers."
Colin returned to Melbourne and the following year started school at Pascoe Vale State School and later he spent many years of his working life in the transport industry.
Colin and his wife Norma moved to Narre Warren, south east of Melbourne, 17 years ago. Sadly, Norma his wife of 44 years died in July last year.
While visiting his sister Muriel Murphy in Geelong last month Colin decided to return to Barwon Heads, the first time he has been back since that stormy November night in 1940.
-by Greg Wane
Attempts were made to salvage the SS Orungal from the reef, but eventually the ship was sold to Whelan the Wrecker. During salvage work on Friday 13 December 1940 it is believed a spark from cutting equipment ignited fuel oil and the ship was gutted by fire. The fire aboard the ship burnt for several weeks and all that remained was a burnt out hulk. Pounded by seas for nearly five years, by 1945, the ship had almost disappeared. "Today all that remains are two large circular shapes that were once the boilers. At very low tide these dark shapes can be seen just above the ocean surface about one kilometre east of the Barwon Hleads Bluff, and about one kilometre out from the mouth of the Barwon River.