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Wednesday, 23 March 2011
Page: 3001


Mr EWEN JONES (6:58 PM) —I rise this evening, on 23 March 2011, to mark the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the passenger ship SS Yongala. Its name means ‘good water’ in the Nadjuri language of South Australia. It is named after the town in South Australia. It was on the ship’s 99th voyage from Melbourne to Cairns and all ports in between on 23 March 1911 when the Yongala steamed out of Mackay. By 26 March it still had not arrived in Townsville. It was reported missing on 26 March.

The SS Yongala sank off Cape Bowling Green, about 85 kilometres south-east of Townsville, on 23 March 1911. She sailed into a cyclone and was sunk. All 122 people on board perished in what is still considered to be one of the most tragic incidences in Australian maritime history. The only body ever found was that of the racehorse Moonshine, which was washed up not far from Townsville.

In 1958, two skindivers from Townsville located the wreck and brought to the surface a steel safe which was found in the cabin. It was upon researching the safe’s serial number that it was confirmed that the wreck was indeed the Yongala. In 1980 the wreck was declared an historic shipwreck and is now afforded some legal protection against looting and illicit salvage of any items still on board the wreck.

Australia’s leading underwater filmmakers, Ron and Valerie Taylor, say that they have dived on wrecks all over the world but the Yongala is ‘by far the best’. The SS Yongala is today a major tourist attraction for the scuba diving industry in Townsville and is widely recognised as one of the top 10 dives in the world. More than 10,000 divers every year travel to Townsville to dive this wreck. It is on the bucket list of every serious diver in the world. At over 100 metres long, she is one of the largest, most intact historic shipwrecks. That shipwreck now has established an artificial reef that provides a structural complex habitat for a diverse range of marine life.

At 10 am today in Townsville there was a memorial service at the Maritime Museum of Townsville. On Saturday night in Townsville there will be a tribute dinner at the historic Yongala Lodge in Fryer Street in North Ward, which will be attended by 14 members of the Rooney family. The Yongala Lodge was built in 1884 as a private residence whose original owner was Mr Matthew Rooney. There will be lots of things going on that dinner including a charity auction at which I will be the auctioneer. Tragically, Matthew Rooney, his wife and daughter perished when then SS Yongala sank in 1911, thereby forever linking the lodge with this historic maritime disaster.

As with all disasters, there is always that funny or quirky little story. The Earl family from Cairns, who sent their family south to Brisbane to escape as the wet season, could not find accommodation in Brisbane and were booked to come home on the Yongala. They would have died on the wreck if it had not been for that last-minute finding of a home to rent in Brisbane. They stayed in Brisbane and survived. Today in Cairns there is a suburb called Earlville, named after the family. If they had been able to get on that boat, future generations of the Earl, Harris, Fallon, Howey, Nelson, White and Curtis families would never have known life. In another lovely little story, in the Harris family someone was sick and unable to get on the boat. We do not know how true that one is but, as with all stories, the further you get away from the original incident the truer they become—look at my rugby career!

It is a very special day in Townsville. The Yongala is a very special place. We need to back the North Queensland tourism industry, and I would urge anyone out there who is a serious diver and has a current ticket to get to Townsville, dive the Yongala and spend a tonne of money in my city.