December 2017 on the Great Barrier Reef

Tough Decision

By Captain Trevor Jackson

One of the real eye-openers from our wreck diving trips to Torres Straits a few summers ago were the smaller and less known wrecks that turned out to be genuine highlights. The wreck of the Pandora for example, offered little in terms of structure and marine life, but in terms of history and its significance to our country, it was the diver’s version of Anzac Cove.

We visited the Pandora on a glassy New Year’s Day and it left all on board with a sense of having a tangible connection with the greatest maritime story ever told; the Mutiny on the Bounty. On the site of the Pandora lay the remains of the ship that captured the mutineers and was attempting to bring them to front the cruel and unjust 18th-century British courts. That connection with history can sometimes massively enhance a dive, especially when the opportunity only comes around so rarely. Skip forward to next year, and jump 600 miles down the coast… We get to touch history once again…..the SS Gothenburg.

In February 1875 the SS Gothenburg smashed into the unforgiving jaws of coral at Old Reef to the east of Townsville. The sea soon had its way with her and she condemned every woman and child aboard to a watery demise. All of the ship’s officers died and many of Australia’s highest profile dignitaries were also numbered amongst those perished. One poor soul lost his wife and all six of his children. Fate handed him the double-edged sword of survival. Barely 20 men made it ashore to nearby Holbourne Island. There, they found themselves so destitute that they decided to carve their names into a turtle shell, in the hope someone might one day know they at least made it off the wreck. At the time it was a disaster of unparalleled proportions.

The remnants of the terror on that fateful February night now lay in about 15 metres on the calm side of Old Reef…..and the site is visited in conjunction with a trip to the mighty SS Yongala, which lays a few hours to the west.

Late next year we are giving wreck buffs and historians several opportunities to travel back in time a few hundred years, and touch a real piece of Australian history. And what a choice there is….Raine Island, the far northern Barrier Reef and Pandora, or Yongala, Flinders Reef and Gothenburg……either way, it’s a tough decision.


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