- On 19/01/2013
- In Wreck Diving
From News AU
There's a storm blowing in from the Southern Ocean and we're tucked up in Lighthouse Lodge listening to the squall outside.
An unruly wind is whistling around the historic Warrnambool cottage, the lingering rumble of distant thunder accompanies bolts of lightning, and the deluge is so heavy we can hardly hear each other talking over the thud of raindrops on the tin roof.
In any other part of Australia, the sounds of a storm would be an entertaining diversion, but on Victoria's Shipwreck Coast it's a reminder of the unforgiving conditions that claimed so many lives between 1834 and 1914, when dozens of ships were lost to the east and west of here, trying to find the narrow shipping route into Port Phillip Bay.
Safe and sound in Lighthouse Lodge - the old Warrnambool harbourmaster's house built in the shadows of the Lady Bay Lighthouse near the summit of Flagstaff Hill - we imagine the town's chief mariner heading out on stormy nights to check ships caught in the bad weather.
It was a foul night, just like this, almost 140 years ago, that the clipper Loch Ard became lost in a storm and sank at nearby Mutton Bird Island, taking 53 people to the bottom and making local legends out of Eva Carmichael and Tom Pearce who were its only survivors.
Tom, 19, and a member of the ship's crew, found land first by scrambling on to the hull of an overturned lifeboat but he waded back into the churning water when he heard the cries of a female passenger to find 18-year-old Eva clinging to a spar.
The pair washed into a protected ravine, the Great Ocean Rd landmark that became known as Loch Ard Gorge, where Tom hid Eva in a cave and went to search for more survivors before returning to the freezing Irishwoman and rubbing brandy on her legs to keep her warm.