STUCK: The Duranbah aground on the beach, November 1919.
STUCK: The Duranbah aground on the beach, November 1919. Tweed Regional Museum

'Duranbah' runs aground off Tweed Bar

THE last in our series of shipwrecks of the Tweed concerns the SS Duranbah, but the story of this ship has a happy ending. Not all ships that ran aground were beyond hope, but the process of rescue could be long and drawn out, and subject to the vagaries of the weather and tides. Whatever the result, a shipping mishap provided memorable drama for local residents and ample opportunity for sightseeing.

The Duranbah was a steel ship built in Glasgow, Scotland, in 1905. It traded regularly between Sydney and the Tweed River for the North Coast Steam Navigation Company, carrying coal for the Condong Sugar Mill and the Murwillumbah Butter Factory as well as general cargo. On its return to Sydney, it carried timber, sugar, bananas, and other products from the Tweed. The Duranbah was originally named after the rich farming area of the Tweed. The North Coast Steam Navigation Company named several ships after places in the Tweed; there were also ships named Tyalgum and Uki.

People and horses on the beach assisting with the salvaging of the Duranbah, November 1919.
People and horses on the beach assisting with the salvaging of the Duranbah. Tweed Regional Museum

Early on the morning of Thursday, November 6, 1919, the Duranbah was attempting to enter the Tweed River, under guidance from the tug Terranora, when she ran aground. All efforts at pulling her free were futile and she finally settled into the sand between the mouth of the river and Point Danger. During the day, the crew were able to save the cargo of kegs of kerosene, benzene and carbide by throwing it overboard, where it was rescued from the rocks and stacked on the beach. Around 6.30pm the Tweed Heads Rocket Crew succeeded in transferring the entire crew to safety. The captain and crew then stayed the night in the Queensland Hotel and rejoined the ship on Friday morning.

By low tide on the Friday, the Duranbah was lying high and dry on the sand and hundreds of sightseers flocked to see her. Here she stayed for weeks, with a salvage crew in attendance. Captain Cuthbertwas in charge of the salvage operations; he had successfully refloated the SS Friendship a few years previously, when it was stuck in exactly the same place. Once again he was successful in refloating the ship, but it wasn't until the end of November that it finally happened. The current changed and washed most of the sand away from the Duranbah. The crew took the ship's heavy anchors out to sea and the ship gradually made her way into deeper water, assisted by the Terranora towing at full steam.

Amazingly, the Duranbah didn't sustain serious damage and was able to reach the Richmond River under her own steam, where temporary repairs were carried out.

The grounding of the Duranbah obviously made a lasting impression on locals, as the beach was thereafter known as Duranbah Beach. Many years later, the name was changed to Flagstaff Beach to avoid confusion with the original Duranbah location, however the new name was never popular with locals and was eventually changed back to Duranbah Beach.