North Coast Company

The North Coast Steam Navigation Company Limited, formed in 1891, had its origin as the Grafton Steam Navigation Co. in 1857 and was the result of northern rivers' shippers unifying for greater effectiveness. It operated until 1954 when, largely as a result of the several phases of post-war shipping industry restructuring, it closed its doors.

The Company entered the Second World War with eighteen ships, had ten taken over (requisitioned) by the Royal Australian Navy - some on behalf of the United States Army Small Ships - and lost three. Necessarily small ships suited to the coastal trade, they ranged in gross tonnage from 389 to 2239 and they proved invaluable to the war effort in a range of roles.

The year 1939 saw the Navy requisition Orara (1297 gt, built 1907), Uki (545 gt, built 1923) and Coolebar (479 gt, built 1911), all as minesweepers. They were joined in this role by Nambucca ( 489 gt, built 1937) early in 1940, this vessel being lost by fire in 1945 while under U.S.Army requisition. Gunbar (482 gt, built 1912) joined the minesweeping team and Pulganbar (1160 gt, built 1912) became a Navy store ship in December, and during the year Wyrallah was commissioned as fleet auxiliary, being renamed in 1942 as HMAS "Wilcannia".

Late in 1940, when sinkings disclosed the presence of enemy mines off the east coast, Orara participated on 8 November in the rescue of survivors of the Cambridge. Nimbin (1052 gt, built 1927) was lost to German-laid mines on 5 December 1940, when off Coffs Harbour and with the loss of seven lives, while Bonalbo (960 gt, built 1925), participating in the Nimbin crew rescue operations, luckily survived.

Before being renamed "Wilcannia", HMAS "Wyrallah" participated in November 1941 in the search for HMAS "Sydney" survivors off the West Australian coast.

Bangalow (648 gt, built 1939) and Melinga (536 gt, built 1928) were requisitioned into the U.S.Army Small Ships early in 1942, with Comara (751 gt, built 1937) later in the year, as supply vessels. Also during 1942, Nambucca, released from minesweeping duties, joined them.

The initial Japanese air raid on Darwin, 19 February 1942, saw Gunbar, apparently the first ship targetted, defending bravely but receiving damage and sustaining wounds to nine crew members, one of whom died subsequently. The ship made its way to Sydney in due course for repair.

Wollongbar ( 2239 gt, built 1922) became the Company's second war loss when, in April 1943, it was torpedoed off Crescent Head on the New South Wales north coast. It sank immediately, with the loss of thirty two men, including the Master, the Second Officer and all the Engineers. Parts of its cargo of boxed butter were still being found on local beaches nearly twenty years later. Wollongbar had earlier that month assisted in rescuing survivors from a ship afire further north.

Across the years 1945 to 1947, the requisitioned ships still surviving were gradually returned to the Company. Resuming their traditional service, they nevertheless were successively sold off as the Company moved towards its closure in 1954. The part its vessels played in the war effort, largely unsung, is a matter of justifiable pride for all involved.