The wreck of the SS Orungal took place on the 20th November, 1940. To set the scene, it is necessary to consider events occurring across the world at that time. Europe was in the grip of World War II and Australia as part of the Allied Forces, was also under a very real threat of attack.
|World War I Propaganda poster at Fort Queenscliff|
|The remains of military fortifications near the Point Lonsdale Lighthouse|
All of this, meant that Port Phillip Bay became the most heavily guarded harbour in the Southern Hemisphere and it was upon orders from Fort Queenscliff that the first Allied shots of World War I were fired from Fort Nepean across the bows of a German freighter (Pfalz) attempting to escape the harbour on 5th August, 1914. In an eerie co-incidence, the first shots of the Second World War in the Far East were fired by the same gun, this time across the bows of an Australian coastal vessel (Woniora) which failed to stop for an inspection when requested on 3rd September, 1939.
It was in this environment then, that the SS Orungal attempted to make her entry into Port Phillip Bay. Prior to the beginning of the war, the SS Orungal, was one of nine ships plying the Australian coastal trade. She, along with six of the other ships were commandeered for military transport at the outbreak of the war, however having been deemed unsuitable for this work, the SS Orungal returned to the coastal trade.
Built in Glasgow in 1923 and weighing 5826 tons she was originally named the Fezara, she was chartered by the Australiasian United Steam Navigation Company Ltd in 1927 and worked on the Melbourne-Queensland and Melbourne-Western Australia routes carrying passengers and mail.
On the night of her wrecking, the SS Orungal faced a south westerly storm whilst trying to enter the Heads through a channel which had been swept for mines. In the bad weather, the captain mistook the lights of Barwon Heads for Point Lonsdale. A lightning flash revealed his mistake and he immediately took measures to correct his course, however it was too late, and the SS Orungal ran aground on Formby Reef, a little east of the mouth of the Barwon River.
|Photo of the SS Orungal burning taken from the Australian|
Merchant Navy Website
The inevitable inquiry cleared the captain and crew of any wrong-doing, finding that abnormal currents were to blame for the wreck.
|Rusted boilers of the SS Orungal on Formby Reef|