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Memento : Issue 31
troops to Egypt. In England, the passenger steamer was converted into a hospital ship. Over the next three years, it carried injured soldiers between Egypt, England and Australia. At war’s end, the steamer brought home Australian troops and prisoners of war, before the government returned the ship to its owners to continue operations in the Australian coastal trade. For the next decade, the Kanowna carried passengers and cargo between Sydney and Fremantle. On the evening of 17 February 1929, while making its way down the east coast from Sydney, the Kanowna approached Cleft Island off Wilson’s Promontory in foggy conditions. The quartermaster had been given a new bearing to steer by and was concentrating on the compass when a huge rock appeared in the ship’s path. Unable to clear it, the Kanowna struck with a sickening thud amidships. The rock pierced the hull, causing irreparable damage. The ship was quickly thrown into reverse. It slid off the rock and began to lean to starboard. The captain, Alfred William Newbery, gave the crew orders to get the passengers into the lifeboats and away from the stricken ship. Although some passengers later complained that there had not been enough crew to row the boats, all passengers and crew survived with only a small number of injuries, assisted by a calm sea and a nearby ship that heard the distress call made by the Kanowna’s radio operator. Not so fortunate was a racehorse that was trapped below deck on the stricken ship. Badly damaged, the Kanowna drifted semi- submerged for several hours, before taking a final plunge in 250 feet of water about 12 miles south-west of Citadel Island. The bow of the ship rose high into the air as the stern touched the ocean floor, coming to rest upright. Air was forced upwards by the incoming water, blowing pieces of deck into the sky. Amongst the cargo salvaged in nearby waters were two life boats, seven cases of margarine, one large case of lavatory seats, and one case of soap. Two cases of personal effects were also recovered and returned to their owners. The Kanowna remained undisturbed except by schools of fish and the occasional seal until World War II, when the Royal Australian Navy was patrolling Bass Strait against the threat of Japanese submarines. Using sonar equipment, the Navy located a large object in the deep water. The Navy vessel dropped several depth charges, before concluding the object was a harmless wreck and not a Japanese submarine. The Navy captain recorded the wreck’s position in his log. Over 60 years later, the captain’s note in a Navy file was a vital clue in our search for the location of the Kanowna. We still had more work ahead of us: to find the wreck on the ocean floor. Discovery April 2005: our jokes had all but disappeared after a two-hour journey and two hours of monotonous searching by the four divers onboard. We were 50 kilometres out into Bass Strait, one of the most treacherous stretches of water in the world, on our second voyage to the search area. Rough seas had prevented other trips from making it past the tip of Wilson’s Promontory. The metal detector being towed behind the boat had not shown any sign since we had commenced the search. The echo sounder mounted on the dash displayed nothing except a flat ocean floor. We were conducting a grid search in a methodical pattern, one nautical square mile at a time. The metal detector searched the dark waters of Bass Strait where the echo sounder could not reach. For hours we saw nothing except sand and the occasional school of fish. After two more legs of the grid search, the dial on the metal detector began to move, indicating that there was a large iron or steel object nearby. Months of research, preparation and searching had paid off: we had found the wreck of the TSS Kanowna. Heritage Victoria has classified the Kanowna site as a Historic Shipwreck and it is protected under the Commonwealth Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976. The challenge now is to protect this valuable maritime find from looters and to preserve it for future researchers and divers. MEMENTO WINTER 06 9 NAA:D4477,582NAA:J2879,QTH544 [below] Passengers aboard the Kanowna are farewelled at Adelaide. [below left] The Kanowna left Cairns in August 1914 to sail for New Guinea, carrying 500 troops.