On the 10 February 1942 the MV Koolama left Fremantle on her way to Darwin. It carried the crew, passengers and army personnel and cargo for the northern ports of Geraldton, Carnarvon, Onslow, Cossack, Port Hedland, Broome, Derby and Wyndham. Various other cargo and passengers were also picked up at these destinations. On 20 February 1942, the Koolama was on the way to Wyndham from Broome when a Japanese reconnaissance plane began to circle the ship. The war had caused the Koolama to have guns mounted for defence and Captain Eggleston gave the order to fire. The ship was then bombed by the plane but no bombs found their target. A short time later three other Japanese planes arrived and this time the ship was hit several times. There was only one serious casualty but the ship was badly damaged and had lost its steering. It was decided to beach the ship and unload the passengers prior to effecting repairs to enable the ship to attempt to get to either Wyndham or back to Broome. The total complement of crew, army personnel and passengers at this time was 180. The ship had grounded at Cape Rulhiers, and the nearest settlement to it was the mission at Pago about 80 kms away, which was run by a group of Benedictine monks. The mission heard from Darwin on 20 February that the Koolama had been bombed and on 22 February were requested by the Naval Office in Darwin to contact the survivors. The mission lugger and a land expedition set off for Cape Rulhiers where the ship was beached, arriving on 24 February. Most of the crew and passengers from the Koolama had been evacuated to a nearby cove and among them were some wounded including one serious head wound. When the mission lugger arrived at the cove, immediate arrangements were made to remove the wounded back to the mission on the lugger. It was sailed back with some of the Koolama crew and Aboriginals for direction and Missionary Father Seraphim stayed with the rest of the party on the beach. It was decided that it would be best for the remaining group to walk overland to the mission. It was a distance of 120kms and Father Seraphim said it was rough but would only take about four days. In the event, the walkers found it gruelling. They set off 26 February led by Aboriginal guides whom they found it difficult to keep up with. They seemed to run out of food too quickly as well, and it seems they did not attempt to live off the land to any extent. When they reached the Drysdale River, it was full and fast flowing, too dangerous to cross for the weak or non swimmers. One of the Aboriginal guides, Gerome Pendagudje accompanied by a young seaman Dudley Anderson, braved the strong current and reached the other side. Gerome then ran the 40 kms to the mission to get ropes and provisions for the stranded group. This was accomplished the following day and the land groups eventually arrived at the mission on 4 March. During this time, Captain ?? had remained on the Koolama and with the help of volunteers from the crew and passengers had effected repairs and refloated the ship. He managed by good seamanship to limp the ship to the quay at Wyndham but was sunk by Japanese bombers soon after it arrived. The mission lugger returned to pick up Father Seraphim and the few remaining survivors at the beach at Cape Rulhiers. Unfortunately just one of this group became ill and died on the way back to the mission. It is remarkable that no other lives were lost during this incident, even the survivor with the serious head injury recovered well.
Associated Tribe Gamberre, Miwa, Kwini
Contact Evidence Verified
Type of contact Helpful