Woolgoolga the ship wreck of the
Woolgoolga the ship wreck of the " Buster" on Woolgoolga Beach. Photo:Trevor Veale/Coffs Coast Advocate Trevor Veale/Coffs Coast Advocat

Famous local shipwrecks to be revealed for Heritage Week

IF YOU find shipwrecks and maritime history fascinating, come along to Coffs Harbour Library next Tuesday to hear more about two of the Coffs Coast's best-known ocean disasters.

The special Heritage Week event will see presentations about the Keilawarra/Helen Nicholl disaster and the 'Buster' shipwreck.

In 1886 the 784-ton Keilawarra, steaming from Sydney for Brisbane, sliced into the smaller, southbound steamer the Helen Nicholl near North Solitary Island.

That night smoke from the funnel obscured the vision of the crew on the bridge and eyewitness accounts at the time described scenes of horror and tragedy.

Passengers and crews from both vessels were panicking and screaming as the Keilawarra's bow plunged and the ship's stern rose almost vertically out of the water.

One eyewitness account said: "She plunged right down; there was a sort of gulf of the water and then everything was perfectly still ..... that last shriek from the vessel as she went head first into the water made [the] blood run cold".

Another survivor stated: "The deathlike calm and quiet that prevailed at this time was one of the most dreadful experiences that he had ever known".

It's believed a total of 41 passengers and crew from both vessels lost their lives on that night.

Karen Filewood, a Coffs Coast historian and the Project Director for the local 'Who's Buried in Your Backyard' research project, will be revealing more about the Keilawarra disaster.

In addition, local diver Dr Mark Spencer will be presenting an audiovisual show that explores the Keilawarra shipwreck resting on the seabed.

Dr Spencer is considered one of the leading underwater photographers in Australia. He is an assignment photographer for Australian Geographic and has also been published in National Geographic, Geo, BBC Wildlife and Living Planet.

Library manager Enzo Accadia, said NSW State Maritime archaeologist, Dr Brad Duncan, is another guest speaker and he will be discussing the wider Maritime History of NSW, as well as the role that NSW Heritage plays in protecting and managing its shipwrecks.

"Included in Dr Duncan's talk will be information about the 'Buster' shipwreck, a steamer of 198 tons that was driven ashore and became a total wreck at the mouth of Woolgoolga Lake on March 8, 1893," Mr Accadia said.

"After storms the wreck is often revealed and becomes a bit of a tourist attraction until the sands bury it again."

The special guests will be making their presentations on Tuesday, April 16, at 10.30am.

To make a booking, phone the Library on 6648 4900 or email coffs.library@chcc.nsw.gov.au.

The event is free and light refreshments will be provided. The talks have been organised in conjunction with Coffs Harbour Heritage Executive Committee.