Waterless grave for former wartime hero
CYCLONE Yasi has sent a 1 2 0 - t o nne f o r mer Royal Australian Navy ship to a m u d d y g r a v e y a r d i n sandfly-ridden mangroves north of Cardwell.
The Townsville Bulletin t r a v e l l e d b y d i n g h y t o where the stricken vessel rests in the mangroves this week with Cardwell maritime enthusiast Geoffrey Crow. Mr Crow said the 34m Fairmile-type ship named The Commissioner had been moored in the creek for 10 years and the owner was thought to be from Tully.
Mr Crow said that to his knowledge no-one had visited the area to claim ownership or salvage rights over the ship after the cyclone. The assumption is the two-and-a-half-metre tidal surge that swept up Meunga Creek courtesy of Yasi tore the boat from its anchorage.
Mr Crow said the 1am surge on February 3 carried the ship upstream for about 800m to a point where the creek took a sharp bend around a mangrove peninsula on its northern edges. He said the wall of water carried the ship overland, leaving behind a trail of smashed mangroves. The vessel now rests on its keel about 10m from water.
W e l l - k n o w n N o r t h Queensland shipping industry identity Cocky Watkins said he had sailed The Commissioner up from Sydney to Townsville in 1957. He was not certain of its wartime role, but records reveal that the Fairmile vessels were
REST IN PEACE: Maritime enthusiast Geoffrey Crow with the abandoned ship at Meunga Creek used in a variety of duties including the dropping off and retrieval of commandos engaged i n hostile acts against the enemy, patrolling coastlines, as escorts, couriers and hospital ships. He said The Commissioner led a chequered life after arriving in the North.
It spent a season as a barramundi boat in the Gulf of Carpentaria and in the 1970s, when it lay disabled in Cairns’ Trinity Harbour, ‘‘ hippies’’ used it as living quarters.
Mr Watkins said the last owner of the ship had left it moored in Meunga Creek.
‘‘ It just sat there for 12 years. Where it is now will be its graveyard,’’ he said.
World Naval Ships For u m s s t a t e t h a t t h e Fai r mil e s were heavi l y armed for their size.
The records show they were staffed by 16 men and two officers and that a number of Japanese surrender ceremonies were conducted on their decks.
The ships were mostly known by numbers when in the employ of the Royal Australian Navy.
The Commissioner was given its name by the Melbourne Port Authority after being sold out of the Navy in 1947. BACK IN THE DAY: Cocky Watkins, who once sailed the stricken vessel, with a photo of a wartime Fairmile