Hird’s heartfelt tribute
Townsville songwriter Phil Hird has re-recorded a 19-year-old ballad to keep the Yongala story alive
PHIL Hird rates The 99th Voyage of SS Yongala as his most
heartfelt song. ‘‘ It’s probably not my best, but it means the most to me and it’s the one most people know,’’ the Townsville songwriter said this week.
We met at Heatley Secondary College, where he re-recorded his 19-year-old ballad two months ago with backing from the Pelorus Pals singers.
Phil returned on Thursday with his car boot full of CDs titled
Yongala – 100 Years On, one of them for the school’s music teacher Bjarne Ohlin.
The CDs are his tribute to the 122 passengers and crew killed when the Yongala sunk in a cyclone in Cape Bowling Green Bay on March 23, 1911.
He hopes to cover the cost of producing the 500 CDs and has pledged $ 1 from each sale to the Premiers Disaster Relief Appeal for flood and cyclone victims.
The CDs can be bought for $ 9.95 at community radio station 4TTT, Townsville Maritime Museum, Yongala Lodge and Burdekin Shire Council.
Radio 4TTTa nnouncer Jim Wilkinson narrates the story of the
Yongala tragedy as an introduction to the song.
Mr Ohlin made available Heatley Secondary College’s recording studio and involved a group of Year 11 and 12 music students in the project.
‘‘ It’s great,’’ said Mr Ohlin, a retired rock musician.
‘‘ The lyrics tell the story and the melody is fiendishly catchy – you can’t chase it from your brain.’’
Mr Hird, 65, said he had known hardly anything about the disaster before penning the song in 1992.
Born in England, his sole link with the sea was having sailed to Australia on the Orion in 1955 with his migrating parents and brother.
‘‘ It’s very strange – I woke up one morning with the idea, ‘ I have to write a song about the Yongala’,’’ he said.
‘‘ All I knew was that it was a wreck that had been lost for a long time before being found.
‘‘ I am not a scuba diver. Something was telling me I had to do it.’’
A former Telstra linesman then working as an airport security officer, he put time aside to read SS
Yongala: Dive to the Past, published a few years earlier by Mae Elliott and Max Gleeson.
He visualised the terrified passengers – such as 34-year-old Alice Murray and her four young children – and imagined the heartbreak of family and friends waiting in Townsville and Cairns for a ship that never came.
But he named no one except Cap- tain William Knight, who skippered the coastal steamer on her fateful 99th voyage.
‘‘ I could have mentioned all 49 passengers but God that would have been a long song,’’ he joked.
Lead singer and bass player for a string of Townsville bands since the 1960s, Phil recorded The 99th
Voyage of SS Yongala with Three’s A Crowd – himself and Darby Burger.
They included it on a cassette of original songs called Two Old
Friends, produced in 1992. The song was well received on local commercial, community and ABC radio stations but never
looked likely to eclipse Gordon Li g ht foot’s Wreck o f Edmund
Two months ago, in the midst of grim news about the Brisbane, Toowoomba and Lockyer Valley floods, Phil decided to re-record his ballad – as a fundraiser for the Premier’s appeal and to keep alive the story behind the North’s most famous dive wreck.
‘‘ It’s an important part of our history,’’ he said. ‘‘ I didn’t write it for me – the people on that ship should not be forgotten.’’
RECORDING: Phil Hird with Heatley Secondary College music teacher Bjarne Ohlin and below, Hird with the students that helped put the CD together