Sweet relief as wreck find ends 76-year mystery

A propeller of the recently discovered Coramba

By Stephen Cauchi - The age

The loss of the Coramba's crew devastated Depression-era Victoria; now the discovery of the steamer's wreck has brought closure to some families.

It is more than 76 years since Audrey O'Callaghan last saw her father, Captain John Dowling, but she remembers their last moments together with a clarity born of reliving them in her mind countless times since.

She was 12 when she walked her 47-year-old father to the bus stop at Williamstown before he set off on one last journey on the cargo steamer TSS Coramba. The return trip to Warrnambool in the state's south-west to collect goods meant he would be gone for a fortnight. But she recalls feeling uneasy.

''We were very close … I kissed him good-bye and I said, 'Dad, I wish you were at home every night like other dads.' He said, 'I won't be long,' '' Mrs O'Callaghan, 88, told The Sunday Age from her home in Angaston, in the Barossa Valley.

But the captain's promise was not to be, and his daughter's fears proved well founded.

By the time the Coramba was due to leave Warrnambool, the weather had turned. Captain Dowling requested permission from the shipping office to delay his return, but was ordered out to sea.

In one of Victoria's worst maritime disasters, the Coramba capsized off Phillip Island during a storm on 30 November, 1934, and all 17 on board died.

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