Calling for Stories about Shipwrecks

Newcastle harbour is well known for its historical shipping disasters.  This project is to document some of those wrecks that have occurred and to permanently display the text and accompanying images in Cottage 2 at Lighthouse Arts, Nobbys-Whibayganba. The exhibition will be open to the public on weekends.

Each author commissioned will be required to choose a shipwreck, research particulars of the incident, and then write an engrossing report. The aim is to fascinate our audience with creatively organised facts not fiction.

We are seeking a balance of historical periods so that we can showcase modes of shipping (sail, steam, diesel), so that there is a loose timeline in the representation of our local shipwrecks.  The most important criteria is that the story be interesting, the research available, and preferably there is a compelling image existing in the archives that can accompany the writing. The latter may be too difficult if you are choosing a wreck of the 1800s so we may be able to commission a drawing or use other images that complement the story.

This link presents a number of wrecks in Newcastle and Ann Hardy at Special Collections UoN Library may help you with your search. 

Newcastle Maritime Museum have a lot of information about local shipwrecks. In addition, there are maritime websites that feature Australia-wide historical shipwrecks.

Each finished piece should be one A4 page, 18 font print and 1.15 spacing – this enables us to enlarge the writing and display it in an A1 frame so that it is readable.

By way of example, read the piece on this page about the wreck of the steam ship, Cawarra, by Judy Johnson

Wreck of the Susan Gilmore
Pasha Bulker
the Cawarra - shipwreck 1866
Cawarra shipwreck - one of Australia's greatest peacetime maritime disasters

The Cawarra

The paddle steamer, Cawarra fell victim to a massive gale.

On the 12th of July 1866, she was steaming between Sydney and Brisbane with 25 passengers and 35 crew.  As she passed Norah Head, the violent storm was building.  Captain Chatfield hoped to reach Newcastle and shelter.  But it was disaster not safety that awaited him there.

When Cawarra arrived at Nobbys, the maelstrom was at its peak. Huge waves battered the bar and smashed into the ship’s hull, extinguishing the boiler fires.  

What happened then was horrifying both to spectators who had gathered on shore, and to the helpless Newcastle lifeboat, which could only watch from 300 yards away.  As Cawarra’s own lifeboat was lowered it capsized, drowning all occupants.  Next the funnel broke, taking with it the many people who had been clinging to its remaining cables. The foremast was next to fall, carrying even more to their death. The ship was engulfed soon after and sank.  

         Sole survivor of the wreck was ordinary seaman, Fred Hedges, who was dragged from the ocean later in the evening by James Johnson, the Lighthouse Keeper at Nobbys.

The Sydney Morning Herald made note of two curious facts.  Johnson was himself the sole survivor from the Dunbar, wrecked at Sydney Heads in 1857.  And the superstitious Hedges always carried a baby’s birth caul in his waterproof bag to protect him from drowning.

         A plaque on Stockton Breakwall shows Cawarra’s final resting place.

article about the wreck of the Cawarra