Local steamers served as minesweepers during World War II
THE North Coast Steam Navigation Company had a fleet of passenger and cargo vessels regularly visiting all the coastal ports.
The passenger vessels were large and specially fitted for passenger comfort but many of the cargo vessels were small, sturdy ships with shallow drafts which could manoeuvre the shifting bars of the coastal rivers while being fully laden.
They also had to be able to withstand the heavy seas often experienced along the coast.
When World War II was declared the Australian Navy found that its small fleet had few ships which could act as coastal survey boats.
The German Navy soon began placing mines in the shipping lanes in and near Australian waters and in 1941 when Japan joined forces with Germany the situation became even more serious.
Fishing vessels and small coastal steamers were requisitioned and the North Coast Steam Navigation Company soon found its fleet somewhat depleted.
The "Orara" was the first to be requisitioned as early as October 1939.
After being hastily refitted she was given the honour of leading a flotilla of minesweepers.
As with many of these requisitioned ships her crew went with the ship; they simply changed from a merchant uniform to one with a naval flavour!
Her crew gave her a motto: "As they sow, so shall we sweep".
The "Uki" was the next to be requisitioned in December 1939, followed by the "Coolebar".
In January 1940 it was the turn of the "Nambucca".
The quick succession of these requisitions put a great strain on the Company's resources.
This was not helped by the loss of the "Tyalgum" near the entrance to the Tweed River in August 1939.
Several ships were also lost to a Japanese submarine including the magnificent passenger vessel "Wollongbar II".
It happened off Crescent Head at 10am on 29 April 1943. Thirty-two lives were lost, and there were only five survivors.
The story of the "Nambucca" is interesting in that it was some years before anyone really knew what happened to her.
After being requisitioned in 1940 she was refitted as a minesweeper.
She had been a relatively new vessel having been built only in 1936 by Ernst Wright of Tuncurry.
On 7 November 1940 she became HMAS Nambucca and formed part of Minesweeping Group 50 based in Sydney.
This Group undertook minesweeping activities around Wilsons Promontory and Cape Otway.
In April 1943 minesweeping activities could be reduced somewhat and she was handed over to the United States Navy on 19 April 1943.
She was then refitted as a degaussing vessel.
This was becoming a more popular way of dealing with mines and larger vessels like the "Queen Mary" were fitted with their own system.
The "Nambucca" worked in the Northern Australian and Islands region until 1945 when she was found to be unseaworthy, decommissioned, and deliberately destroyed by fire on 8th February 1946. Other local vessels became patrol boats and barges.