Lester and Beryl Phillips, of Ballina, look over old photographs as Lester recalls stories he’d heard as a child of his grandfather’s death on board the tug boat Protector that sank in 1902 crossing the Ballina bar.
Lester and Beryl Phillips, of Ballina, look over old photographs as Lester recalls stories he’d heard as a child of his grandfather’s death on board the tug boat Protector that sank in 1902 crossing the Ballina bar. Cathy Adams

Tale of a maritime relic

THE TALE of a maritime relic has triggered some old family memories for Lester Phillips.

You might say it rang a bell for the elderly Ballina man.

The bell belonged to the tug boat Protector, which sank while trying to cross the Ballina bar on New Year’s Day in 1901.

All five crew members were lost, the only trace of them being a foot washed up at Wategos Beach in Byron Bay a few days later.

The Northern Star reported on Friday that the Protector’s bell had been found by a North Casino diver at Lennox Point two years ago.

When Mr Phillips read of the find, he was reminded of a story his father, Dave, used to tell him as long ago as the 1930s.

The foot, his father said, belonged to Mr Phillips’ grandfather, also named Dave.

His father, who was aged seven at the time of the disaster, told him the foot had been identified by the sock it was still wearing. He didn’t really believe the story, Mr Phillips said at his Ballina home at the weekend.

It ‘went in one ear and out the other’.

The loss of the Protector happened a long time before 1922, when Mr Phillips was born, and although he remembers hearing about the foot, he has no recollection of hearing anything else about Dave senior.

How the foot got to be so far away is a mystery, Mr Phillips said. One theory he had was that a shark may have regurgitated it.

But the fact a heavy brass bell was carried from the Ballina bar to Lennox Point indicates that strong currents could quickly take a foot north to Wategos Beach.

Mr Phillips followed his father and grandfather into fishing, leaving school at 13 to take to the sea. He continued in the industry until 1978.

In those 43 years he witnessed many big changes, including the cyclone of 1954, which destroyed 630 feet of the jetty at Byron Bay’s Main Beach and all of the fishing fleet.

Mr Phillips’ 28-footer, the Swift, was one of many sitting up on the wharf when the storm hit, and was smashed to pieces.

Mr Phillips was born in Bay Lane in Byron Bay, and was living at Shirley Street at the time of the storm.

He left Byron soon after for Brunswick Heads and helped build a new boat, a 30-footer named the Swift II. He rose in the industry and eventually owned two 50-ft trawlers, the Madonna and the Eastern Star. He was also a chairman of the Brunswick Head Fishermen’s Co-op.

Mr Phillips turned 88 yesterday and even now he and his Byron-born wife Beryl are never far from the sea. They have just returned from a 13-day ocean cruise to New Zealand – one of many during their retirement.



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