The Battle of Broken Hill

Four months before the 25th of April 1915, when the ANZACS (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) landed on the Turkish coast at Gallipoli, the first Australians to fall from Turkish enemy fire were Oddfellows and members of their families – civilians on a Broken Hill picnic train.

The incident occurred on New Year’s Day, 1915, in Broken Hill, located in the far west of NSW. Broken Hill is a mining town, and was where the BHP mining company was founded in 1885. Members of the Manchester Unity Order of Oddfellows and their families – 1,200 people, including children, crammed into open ore trucks of a train steaming to the picnic grounds at Silverton, located 25 kilometres north-west of Broken Hill. Short of the picnic grounds, however, the train groaned unexpectedly to a halt.

Picnic train
A picture of a Broken Hill picnic train – the exposed positions of the passengers can clearly be seen.

The engine driver had braked at the curious sight of an unattended ice cream cart by the side of the track. Attached to it was a pole, and from the pole hung a flag – the Turkish flag, although none of the passengers recognized it as such. The happy babble on the train died down as the passengers pondered the meaning of the deserted cart and the forlorn flag.

The silence was suddenly broken by the sound of a gun shot, followed by another. It took the crowd a short time to realise that they were under attack, with a boy, girl, old man and three women hit in the initial volley of bullets. Some of the people on the train realised that they were under fire from two men in a trench dug in a nearby sand dune. The two men firing at them were the town’s ice cream vendor and part time camel driver, Gool Mahommed, and the butcher for the Afghan camel drivers and the leader of the local Islamic community, the elderly Mullah Abdullah. As well as the dead and injured on the train, a man riding by on a horse was also shot, while another man chopping wood 500 metres away was killed by a ricochet of a bullet. The train started up again, taking the petrified passengers out of range, while news of the attack was telegraphed back to the town police and citizen militia.

Mahommed and Abdullah made a run to a new vantage point, and along the way they shot a man who had barricaded himself inside a hut. Near the Cable Hotel, still on the run, the pair came across a group of police. When the police saw they had rifles, two constables were ordered to approach them to ascertain their identity. Mahommed and Abdullah opened fire, and one of the constables was wounded by two bullets. The police decided to retreat and wait for reinforcements. The killers ran for cover to a rocky white quartz outcrop a few hundred metres away that gave them good protection and from there, for the next 90 or so minutes, the they shot it out with police, with the militia and enthusiastic civilians joining in.

Quartz
The quartz outcrop where the final shootout occurred between the Turks and the local police, militia and citizens.

 

The Barrier Miner reported the engagement:
“The general operations were under the direction of Inspector Miller and Lieutenant Resch. The attacking party spread out on the adjoining hills, and there was a hot fire poured into the enemy’s position, the Turks returning the fire with spirit but without effect, which is rather surprising, as the range was short and the attacking parties in some cases exposed themselves rather rashly to get a shot.”

The reason for the ineffectual return fire from the Turks was that Abdullah had been shot dead early on in the battle. Eventually Mahommed stood up with something tied to his rifle – either the Turkish flag or a white flag of surrender, and was shot immediately.

The Barrier Miner reported on the end of the shooting:

“In the battle there was a desperate determination to leave no work for the hangman or to run the risk of the murderers of peaceful citizens being allowed to escape. It was not a long battle. The attacking party was constantly being reinforced by eager men who arrived in any vehicle they could obtain or on foot. At just about one o’clock a rush took place to the Turks’ stronghold and they were found lying on the ground behind their shelter. Both had many wounds. One was dead, the other expired later in hospital. They were in the dress of their people, with turbans on their heads. The police took charge of the bodies.”

Found on the body of Mohammed was a note, which read:

“In the name of God, all Merciful, and of Mahommed His prophet. This poor sinner is a subject of the Sultan. My name is Gool Badsha Mahomed, Afghan Afridi. In the reign of Abdul Hamid Sultan, I have visited his kingdom four times for the purpose of fighting. I hold the Sultan’s order, duly signed and sealed by him. It is in my waistbelt now, and if it is not destroyed by cannon shot or rifle bullets, you will find it on me. I must kill your men and give my life for my faith by order of the Sultan. I have no enmity against anyone; nor have I consulted with anyone, nor informed anyone. We bid to all the faithful farewell.”

Barrier_Miner_31_January_1915_p03_gool-note_1qaa1

 

The Battle of Broken Hill left four people dead and ten wounded, and had far reaching implications. The Australian Attorney-General, Billy Hughes, used the incident to agitate successfully for the internment of all enemy nationals (mostly those of German descent) in Australia during World War 1.

Paul Taylor’s book “Australian Ripping Yarns”, Five Mile Press, Rowville, Victoria, 2004, p. 175-177 was used as the basis for this blog entry.

 

 

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The goalpost Grand Final of 1967

Grand Finals of any code of football code in Australia usually provide suspense and excitement, but few of them could match the drama and chaos that occurred at the end of the 1967 Tasmanian State Championship game.

Despite being the smallest state in Australia with the smallest population, Tasmania has never had a truly statewide Australian rules football competition. This is due to the way that the population is spread – based on the State capital, Hobart in the south and on Launceston and other towns in the north. Thus there were three major football competitions – the Tasmanian Football League (TFL), based around Hobart, and two competitions based in the north of the state – the Northern Tasmanian Football Association (NTFA), based around Launceston,  and the North West Football Union (NTFU), based on the towns on Tasmania’s north coast.

map_of_tasmania
Map of Tasmania – the TFL based in the south, the NTFA in the north and the NTFU on the north-west coast.

To determine which team was the best in the state, a play-off between the premiers of each league was held at the end of the year. In 1967, it was the turn of the NWFU to host the final, so the NWFU premiers, the Wynyard Cats qualified directly for the championship game. In the Preliminary Final, TFL premiers North Hobart defeated NTFA premiers East Launceston to qualify as Wynyard’s opponents. The State Championship match was scheduled to be played at West Park Oval, home ground of the Burnie Dockers, on the 30th of September 1967.

With the aid of a strong breeze, North Hobart established a 19 point lead at quarter time – 3.8 (26) to 1.1 (7). Now kicking with the breeze in the second quarter, Wynyard dominated, and turned the 19 point deficit into a 20 point lead – 9.7 (61) to 5.11 (41).

Once again kicking with the breeze, it was North Hobart’s turn to dominate, and they had established a 14 point lead at three-quarter time – 11.17 (83) to 10.9 (69). 122 of the match total of 152 points had been kicked to the eastern end of the ground, but just prior to the start of the final quarter, the breeze died down, giving neither team an advantage. Wynyard scored two early goals to close the gap to a couple of points, and with only behinds being kicked from then on, Wynyard lead 13.14 (92) to 12.19 (91) with the final siren about to sound. The stage was now set for one of the most incredible and bizarre finishes to a major Grand Final in Australian football history.

After being awarded a free kick, North Hobart player-coach John Devine kicked into the goal square, where a mark was taken by North Hobart full-forward David Collins. Just after Collins took the mark, the final siren sounded, but as Collins had taken the mark prior to the siren, he was allowed to take his kick. Being only 10-20 yards from goal, and on a slight angle, it looked certain that Collins would kick the goal and win the match and the State Championship title for North Hobart.

But before Collins could take his kick, thousands of Wynyard supporters invaded the field, and to make sure that Collins couldn’t take his kick, proceeded to remove the goalposts. With the police unable to get the spectators off the ground, and with the goalposts no longer being in place, umpire Jack Pilgrim abandoned the game, and left the field. Collins stayed on the field, with the ball tucked under his jumper, for another ten minutes, in the vain hope that he would somehow be allowed to take his kick.

On Monday, the 2nd of October, the Standing Committee of the TFL met to decide on a course of action. A full replay was suggested – Wynyard agreed, but North Hobart said that a full replay would vindicate the actions of the Wynyard supporters who invaded the pitch. Another option discarded was for the match to be restarted at the point where it was abandoned, with Collins ready to kick for goal. Instead the TFL recommended that no replay should be held, and that the 1967 State Premiership title should not be awarded.

To this day, this is still the only major Grand Final of any football code in Australia that was abandoned and never replayed. Collins took the ball home with him. I believe a few years later he was invited back to West Park Oval to have his kick. He scored a goal, but unfortunately it had no bearing on the result (or non-result) of the game.

Here is a video showing the pitch invasion after Collin’s mark, as well as recollections from several players and umpires:

 

The source for this blog post was “The 3AW Book of Footy Records” by Graeme Atkinson and Michael Halon, Magistra Publishing, Melbourne, 1989, p. 10.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1982 Clancy Mirella sports car

There were several attempts in Australia in the 1970’s and 1980’s to produce limited edition GT coupe/sports cars, but nearly all of them foundered before serious production could occur. While the persons responsible were able to build a prototype, they were unable to find the capital required to undertake production, as well as creating a mechanism to sell the car to the public, along with advertising to create awareness as well.

One of the more obscure examples that I know about wass the Clancy Mirabella, created by a Melbourne doctor in the early 1980’s. The car was displayed at the 1982 Melbourne Motor Show, which is probably the reason why “The Age” newspaper dated the 4th of March gave it some publicity:

                                         “Hand-built Clancy will draw the eyes
One of the most unusual and exciting vehicles on display at the motor show will be a car that you can’t buy and that has no name. Simply known as the Clancy Project Car, until a suitable name can be decided on by its owner/builder, the exotic vehicle is the brainchild of Dr Michael Clancy, of Toorak.
Built for the pleasure of designing, constructing and devising the type of vehicle that most car buffs would love to own, the Clancy Project Car is not juts a one-off ‘special’. With a body designed by Clive Potter, one of Australia’s few automotive designers, the hand-built car is professionally engineered and constructed to Dr Clancy’s own specifications. The body design is in keeping with the motor show;s Winds of Change theme. Dr Clancy expects it will have a drag co-efficient of around 0.28, although it has not been tested in a wind tunnel.
mirella-ts230
Clancy Mirabella TS230
It has an attractive fibreglass body painted Monza red over dove grey and is similar to a Ford Laser, but lower and wider. It features fully independent suspension with a disc front, drums rear brake combination and is powered by a turbocharged 2.25 litre six-cylinder engine that produces around 200bhp.
Dr Clancy took two years to complete this, the latest in a long line of vehicles he has designed and constructed in his well-equipped garage at home. The third vehicle, a fibreglass-bodied sports car named Mirella, after his wife, has been his means of transport for some time but he found its Chrysler E49 engine was using too much petrol. After two years of work with his friend, Clive Potter, the latest project is an attempt to build a vehicle that combines excitement, performance and economy.”
clancy_mirella_1973_01
The original turbocharged engine in the red/grey car was from an Austin Tasman, and was replaced in 1985 by a Mazda rotary driving through a Lancia Beta 5-speed transaxle. I am unaware of the location of the two cars, assuming that they are still intact.

Broken Windows

Earlier this year I joined the Windsor Rotary Club. My membership came about through an unusual meeting – the 2015-16 President, Terry Munsey, is our regular handyman! He was at our house doing some work when he mentioned that he was a member of the Club. I was looking to increase my social circle, get out of the house more often and contribute to the community by volunteering. I attended a few meetings, and before I knew it, Terry was sponsoring my membership.

One of the benefits of joining is the “Rotary Down Under” magazine. While reading the September 2016 issue today, I came across an article called “Broken Windows”, which resonated with me, both as a Rotary member, but in regard to life generally. So here it is.

The “Broken Windows Theory” dictates that if windows are broken and left unfixed, people tend to infer a prevailing sense of indifference towards the upkeep of order in the neighbourhood. Subsequently, they show less inhibition towards breaking further windows or similar anti-social behaviour – if nobody really cares, why not? Similarly, if it doesn’t really matter, why prevent it taking place?

If this attitude continues unchecked, it can cause the entire area to be affected by a rise in crime. Petty vandalism can lead to larger wrongdoings, as people perceive an apathy to lawfulness and feel free to act without restraint.

broken_windows

So what does this mean to Rotary? Our clubs’ successes are defined by their internal cultures. High levels of meaningful service, ethics, integrity, respect and unity, as well as a commitment to fostering goodwill and assisting the development of both our own members and the wider community, are the foundations of Rotary worldwide. These are our windows.

Occasionally and regrettably, these windows get broken. Areas of service may become neglected. We may fail to bring in new members or members who add fresh perspectives. We may defer the opportunity to undertake projects of significance or may not embody our values when interacting with other club members or when facing difficulties in reaching our objectives.

We have two choices once this occurs: we either identify and set about fixing the problem, or we do nothing and watch the resultant drop in standards….and membership. Seems like an easy choice. But we all know that the right choice isn’t always the easy choice.

We can look to others to fix the problems, or even expect they will do so. We may believe we “aren’t responsible for” or “don’t own” the problems, so therefore they aren’t ours. We may even figure that nobody will notice, or that the problems will fix themselves over time. In reality though, these “windows”, which our success rests upon, are every Rotarian’s priority. Small fractures left unchecked can lead to large breaks.

Great teams comprise of individuals prepared be self-managing. They take personal responsibility for ensuring standards are met and raised further again. They don’t need to be prevented from breaking windows, they are out there fixing windows, polishing them and taking pride in them.

We all, at times, get off course and our windows get broken. But it is how we respond to both our own broken windows and those within our vicinity that will define Rotary’s future success.

rotary_club

 

While this article deals with how Rotary responds to and fixes problems in its local community through the volunteering and drive of its members, the whole concept of the “Broken Window” can apply to any person, family, organisation and community. So what broken windows do you see, and how are you going to fix them?

 

John Friedrich and the National Safety Council

Gordon Gecko said in the movie Wall Street that “Greed was good”, and the 1980’s was a decade that showed that gaining great wealth and showing it off was considered almost a virtue, rather than as a trait of poor character. Australia was not immune to this – examples included Christopher Skase and Qintex, Alan Bond and Swan Breweries and John Elliott and CUB. One of the more interesting and notorious examples of the “Greed is Good” motto was the rise and fall of the National Safety Council of Victoria, and its charismatic leader John Friedrich.

The story began back in January 1975, when John Friedrich arrived in Australia from his native West Germany. John Friedrich wasn’t his real name, which was Friedrich Johann Hohenberger. Hohenberger was born in Munich in 1950, and started work for a road construction company there in the early 1970’s. In December 1974 it was discovered that Hohenberger had defrauded the company of 300,000 Deutschmarks. Before he could be arrested for embezzlement, Hohenberger disappeared, making it look like he had either committed suicide or had died in a skiing accident in Italy. Instead he caught a plane to the other side of the world to make sure that the West German police couldn’t follow him, and rearranged his name to make the name that would make him infamous a few years later.

After spending several years working in remote Aboriginal communities in South Australia, Friedrich landed a job with the National Safety Council, Victorian Division (NSCV) in 1977. The NSCV was founded back in 1927 to promote road and industrial safety, and was barely known to the general public. This anonymity would quickly change with Friedrich’s arrival.

Friedrich quickly rose through the organisation until becoming executive director in 1982, earning a yearly salary of $130,000. It was when Friedrich reached the top position in the NSCV that things started to get out of hand.

John_Freidrich
A very confident John Friedrich during his time as Executive Director of the NSCV in the 1980’s.

Partly organised on paramilitary lines, the assets of the NSCV included multiple helicopters, fixed-wing aircraft, flagship, midget submarine, search and rescue boats, vehicles, decompression chambers, computer equipment, infra-red scanners and much else that was shiny, flashy and expensive. Pigeons were being prepared for search and rescue missions, while dogs were going to be parachuted with their handlers into remote areas to look for missing people.

Friedrich surrounded himself with fit young men – some of whom he rewarded with expensive cars, and was especially proud of the elite rescue group, which was known as the parachute jumpers, or PJ’s. Staff of the NSCV had grown from 100 in 1984 to approximately 450 by the end of the decade. The NSCV often worked in tandem with the Australian Defence Forces, and there were rumours that the NSCV may have also had links with Australian intelligence services, or that the whole organisation was a front for the US Criminal Intelligence Agency (CIA).

Friedrich, who had been described as an affable, motivated workaholic, was able to transform what had been an obscure and sleepy organisation into a sophisticated search-and-rescue organisation by fraudulently borrowing hundreds of millions of dollars and eliciting the assistance of a few friendly business that helped him ‘cook’ the books. The purpose of the fraud was not for his own personal financial benefit – Friedrich lived a modest lifestyle on a farm with his wife and children on a property near the NSCV’s base at Sale in Gippsland. Friedrich was a classical narcissist, and the building up of the NSCV would put it (and thus Friedrich) in the public eye, where he could bask in the glory of the changes he had made.

Unfortunately for Friedrich, the house of cards collapsed in 1989, due to the use of millions of dollars that he borrowed as cash flow to keep the organisation running. When the NSCV chairman asked Friedrich to explain some anomalies in the financial accounts of the organisation, Friedrich disappeared, leading to the collapse of the NSCV with debts of over $250,000,000. Friedrich became the target of a police manhunt that attracted the attention of the media. Friedrich was reportedly sighted in all parts of Australia , but after a couple of weeks he was arrested near Perth and extradited to Victoria, where he was released on bail.

3f5bdbafeba97ee1901c43a230f61008
A not so confident John Friedrich after his arrest in 1989.

 

Multiple court appearances followed, and when Friedrich realised that he may be deported from Australia as an illegal immigrant, he committed suicide with a shotgun on the 26th of July 1991, shortly before his trial for fraud was to begin. After the collapse of the NSCV, the National Safety Council was restructured – the search and rescue function was disbanded, and the NSC concentrated on promoting safety awareness, occupational health and safety training, consulting and auditing – functions which it continues to this day.

So how did an illegal immigrant with a dodgy past rise to the top of such an organisation and build an empire based on lies and deception? Friedrich himself was one of the key elements – a driven and charismatic man, who was notably successful in persuading others to trust in his ability and integrity, and who had built up powerful connections with bankers, politicians, police, public servants, military officers. These connections protected him from serious scrutiny until there was substantial evidence of suspicious behaviour.

The other element was the attitude of the banks, and the way that they almost pushed money onto entrepreneurs like Friedrich. Between his arrest and suicide, Friedrich wrote his memoir Codename Iago: The Story of John Friedrich”, which was released after his death. While the book contained many lies and falsehoods (Friedrich claimed that he was born in South Australia in 1945, and was recruited by the CIA, given the codename “Iago”, and worked against left-wing extremists before returning to Australia in 1975), his description of the behaviour of the banks when lending money seemed to have a ring of authenticity about it:

“[We] never once had to approach anyone to ask for money. They came to us every time and asked us if we wanted money….They made much more effort to sell their product to us than we did to buy it.”

This video clip gives some information on Friedrich’s life and running of NCSV.

 

The main source for this blog post was the book “The Eighties – The Decade That Transformed Australia” by Frank Bongiorno, Black Inc Publishing, Melbourne, VIC, 2015, pp. 140-142

 

The mysterious disappearance of the Bermagui Five

Late on the afternoon of Sunday, the 10th of October 1880, farm worker William Johnston was riding his horse at Mutton Fish Point, near the coastal New South Wales town of Bermagui, 100 kilometres south of Sydney, when he noticed something ‘shining’ on the rocks. He dismounted, tied his horse to a tree and walked closer, discovering that the ‘shining’ object was a fishing boat, painted green with its mast and sail lashed.

Mystery Bay
Mystery Bay, near Bermagui, where the abandoned boat was found in October 1880.

In his subsequent statutory declaration Johnston wrote:

I went over to the boat and judged from her position that she had been wrecked. I did not touch or in any way interfere with anything…..I returned to my horse and only noticed my own tracks going out to the boat. I mounted my horse and rode away. After going about 100 yards [90 metres] it struck me to look at my watch, saying to myself, ‘as this is likely to have been a drowning match they will want to know the time I found the boat’. I saw that it was about 4.20 pm.

Johnston galloped to a nearby property owned by dairy farmer Albert Read. Both men returned to the boat and inspected it more closely. It was obvious to them that the vessel had been deliberately damaged. Someone had dumped a pile of boulders, along with pillows, blankets and piles of clothing into the stern. Read reached down and retrieved a book. It was a geology text, and written in copperplate on the flyleaf was the name ‘Lamont Young’.

 

Tall, bearded Lamont Henry Young was a 29 year old geological surveyor with the NSW Department of Mines. He was highly thought of by his colleagues, both for his considerable expertise and his modest demeanour. In October 1880 Lamont’s superiors instructed him to survey the newly-discovered goldfields north of Bermagui with a field assistant named Maximilan Schneider, who had recently arrived from Germany. Young and Schneider reached the goldfields on the 8th of October, and after pitching their tent, introduced themselves to Senior Constable John Berry, officer in charge of the police camp at the diggings. The three men lunched together, and then Schneider excused himself, saying that he was returning to the tent. He was never seen again.

Young spent the rest of the day examining the goldfields, and accepted an invitation from Berry to go fishing the next day. Young started the long walk back to his camp. Peter Egstrom, owner of a sly grog store, noticed Young near the local lagoon, walking towards Bermagui Heads. He a miner named Henderson spotted him again, shortly afterwards – the last time anyone was known to have seen Young, alive or dead.

On the morning of the 11th of October, Berry and Read, accompanied by goldfields warden Henry Keightley, examined the abandoned fishing boat. A second book signed by Young was found among the garbage. Why had Young been aboard the vessel? Who were his companions? And more to the point, where were all of them now?

Keightley noticed that someone had vomited copiously in the stern. Feeling sick, he ordered Berry to continue the examination of the boat. Berry produced a minutely detailed inventory of the boat’s contents, which included a pocket compass, several sacks of potatoes and pipe and coat belonging to Schneider, the other missing man.

Police determined that the boat belonged to a Thomas Towers, who two days earlier had set sail from his home at Bateman’s Bay, approximately 100 kilometres up the coast. He and his companions William Lloyd and Daniel Casey had intended to fish off Bermagui, and sell their catch, along with the sacks of potatoes to the goldminers.

In a report to his superiors, Keightley stated that there was nothing to suggest that anything of a unusual nature had taken place on board. There were no blood marks nor any sign of a struggle. A bullet had been found in the boat, but it had been used as a sinker for a fishing line. Senior Constable Berry was unable to continue the investigation, as he fell ill with a fever and vomiting. When he returned to duty nine days later he was told that the remains of a campfire and meal had been found close to the wrecked boat.

Keightley offered a reward of 10 pounds for the recovery of Young’s body, while the Metropolitan Police in London offered a 300 pound reward for information relating Young, Schneider and the boatmen Casey, Towers and Lloyd. Police, Mines Department staff and volunteers conducted an extensive land and see search for the five missing men – but found nothing.

Reward 2
The 300 pound reward notice issued by the Metropolitan Police of London.

A journalist writing in the Sydney Morning Herald described the whole affair as ‘a puzzle enshrouded in an enigma’ – adding,

‘I cannot conceive of any motive to account for the horrible suspicion that they were murdered …. But how could the murders (assuming they existed) have known where the men were to land – unless they were murdered by the first party they met? …. The idea is so dreadful and the motive so unintelligible that I cannot yet entertain it.”

Young’s father Major General CB Young wrote to the NSW Under-Secretary of Mines on the 31st of December:

‘The universal conclusion of all parties in this country is that the five men could not have drowned or been murdered without leaving some trace behind. I earnestly beg of you, my dear sir …. to take up this line, to see what the Governments, Imperial and local, have done in this direction, to look for the bodies.”

 

Young also raised suspicions about Schneider, his son’s assistant:

What sort of person and of what character was Mr Schneider? Where does he come from in Germany and to whom was he known in England?”

With the official searches and investigations appearing to have run into a brick wall, members of the public weighed in with their own investigations, searches and theories as to how the five men had disappeared. One man, William Tait, visited police headquarters and claimed that Lamont Young had spoken to him on the 13th of November, more than a month after the disappearance. Tait, a self-styled spiritualist, claimed that Young had appeared to him as a ghost, and revealed that he and his companions were murdered by three men who asked them for matches to light their pipes. After beating the five victims to death with oars, the killers buried the bodies in a deep hole near a black stump, about 50 metres above the high water mark, covering the makeshift grave with boulders. Police mounted a search, but found no black stump nor a cairn of boulders.

More promising to detectives was a small blue bottle, filled with a mysterious liquid, recovered from a saddlebag in the boat. There was speculation that the liquid may have been an exotic poison, but tests shows that it was the balm, oil of copaiva.

On the 11th of March 1885 the Melbourne Argus reported that Young’s bloodstained coat, ridden with bullet holes, had been found near Bermagui. Unfortunately for the Argus, the ‘report’ was a practical joke, and the paper was forced to make an embarrassing retraction.

On the 22nd of August 1888 the Bega Gazette announced that it had uncovered vital new evidence:

Though the police authorities have kept the matter a secret, it has transpired that during the past two months the police have had under surveillance a person suspected of complicity in the Bermagui murder, but that he has escaped their clutches. It appears that some time ago a man who is said to have lived with a woman near the scene of the alleged murder, came to Sydney and married a barmaid employed in one of the leading hotels. Shortly after their marriage, he gave way to drink and on several occasions uttered remarks which led his wife to believe he was concerned in the murder of Lamont Young and his companions. The detective police got wind of the affair and kept the suspect person under surveillance for several days. All at once, however he disappeared …. The barmaid has since returned to her situation in the hotel from which she was married and expresses herself as willing to aid the authorities in bringing the supposed murderer to the police.

Bega police checked with their colleagues in Sydney. There was no barmaid, nor a drunken husband who had confessed to the murder – just the writings of an imaginative journalist.

To this day, there is still no definitive proof of what happened to the five men, not has there been a credible explanation found for the abandoned boat and its contents. The inlet where the boat was found was renamed Mystery Bay. A park and road is named after Lamont Young, while a monument was erected in 1980 to commemorate what is still one of the most mysterious and unexplained disappearances in Australian history.

Mystery-Bay-Sapphire-Coast-Commemorative-Plaque
The memorial plaque erected in 1980, the 100th anniversary of the disappearance.

The source for this blog post is “The Five Missing Men of Bermagui”, by John Pinkney, from his book “Unsolved – Unexplained – Unknown: Great Australian Mysteries”, Five Mile Press, Rowville Vic, 2004, pp. 269-281.

 

The premonition in the bathtub

Claude Sawyer saw something in his bath that made him think his nightmare could come true. He’d had this bad dream that the ship he was on, the Waratah, the pride of the Blue Anchor Line fleet, had foundered and sunk in heavy seas. When the ship rolled, the bathwater slid to a steep 45 degree angle and stayed that way for an unnerving time before sliding back to horizontal. Sawyer didn’t like the way the Waratah pitched in high seas, either, sometimes ploughing through waves instead of riding over them. Sawyer had such strong misgivings, he thought it was time to leave the ship at the next port.

Claude Sawyer was the only one of the Waratah’s 212 passengers and crew who had a premonition that the ship was doomed. All but he were lost when the ship disappeared at sea. Nothing was ever found of them or the Waratah. Not a single piece of wreckage or flotsam was ever found. And not a single cause was ever satisfactorily advanced as to why she vanished.

Claude Sawyer
Claude Sawyer – did he forecast the loss of the Waratah, or was it just an eerie coincidence?

 

She was the pride of the Blue Anchor Line, a passenger-cargo liner built by a renowned firm of shipwrights and launched at the famous Clyde shipyards in Scotland in 1909. The Waratah could cruise more than 300 knots a day, had seven watertight compartments and 16 lifeboats. Her appointments were luxurious, the most expensive and lavish ever built for a Blue Anchor Line ship. Her maiden voyage from London to Sydney and back was a triumph. On her second voyage she left Adelaide with 10,000 tons of cargo, a crew of 199 and 93 passengers, almost all of them Australians from Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide.

Crossing the Indian Ocean, the Waratah ran into strong winds and the way she handled them caused Claude Sawyer to have his premonitory dream. On the 25th of July, Clan McIntyre when she reached South Africa, he disembarked at Durban and and sent Mrs Sawyer a telegram:
“LANDED AT DURBAN. THOUGHT WARATAH TOP HEAVY.”

The next day the Waratah headed for Cape Town, 790 nautical miles south. The following day, in heavy seas, she passed a tramp steamer, the Clan McIntyre, and they exchanged signals, identifying themselves. In the afternoon she made signal contact with the Union Castle steamer Guelph, and that was the last that was ever seen of the Waratah. Twelve days later, when she failed to arrive at Cape Town, there was no concern: heavy seas, in a day or two she’d be in. After a day or two they thought that perhaps her two sets of coal-burning engines had broken down, and three warships went in search of her. They came back reporting no sign of the ship.

In Australia the families of the passengers were praying when the news came through from South Africa. The vessel sighted a considerable distance out slowly making for Durban could be the Waratah. The news thrilled the nation. In Melbourne, the seat of the Federal parliament, the Speaker of the House was handed the cable, stopped debate and read it as members of the House sprang to their feet cheering. In theatres performances were stopped while the joyous news was announced. The sighting was wrong – the ship was not the Waratah.

SSWaratah
SS Waratah – disappeared without trace off the South African coast in mid-1909.

In the next three years numerous reports of sightings of the Waratah, its remains, or the bodies of its passengers, were investigated and found false. Search vessels were charted, criss-crossing the ocean for any trace of the liner. All of them were fruitless. In December 1909 a court of inquiry began a 14-month investigation that looked into the possibilities that she had been powerless and had drifted to her doom in the Antarctic; that she had been wrecked on reefs; that she had been hit by a gigantic wave that swallowed her and sucked her down into the darkness of the ocean floor. No definitive conclusion was ever reached. Claude Swayer testified at the court of inquiry – the behaviour of the water in his bathtub may have been a major clue as to why the Waratah disappeared without a trace.

The source for this blog post was “The bathtub revelation of Claude Sawyer”, in Paul Taylor’s book “Australian Ripping Yarns II”, Five Mile Press Publishing, Rowville, Victoria, 2005: ISBN 1741248620