Hird’s heart­felt tribute

Townsville song­writer Phil Hird has re-recorded a 19-year-old bal­lad to keep the Yon­gala story alive

Townsville Bulletin - - The Goss - By Ian Frazer The day the Yon­gala went down, Pages 48,49 Sal­vaging con­tro­versy, Page 60

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

Fitzger­ald.

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.’’

Pho­tos: TROY RODGERS

RECORD­ING: Phil Hird with Heat­ley Sec­ondary Col­lege mu­sic teacher Bjarne Oh­lin and be­low, Hird with the stu­dents that helped put the CD to­gether

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