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Grafton News

River tragedy remembered 80 years on

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The sombre scene at the graveside in South Grafton when nine of the Cub Scouts who drowned in the Clarence River were buried. Photo: Clarence River Historical Society.
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NOTICE OF MEMBERS EXTRAORINDARY LAND DEALING MEETING

River tragedy remembered 80 years on

 

By Tim Howard

Grafton will relive one of its most tragic days – the drowning of 13 Cub Scouts in the Clarence River off Susan Island – on Sunday

On Sunday at 5pm, at roughly the time 80 years ago when a punt carrying 29 Cub Scouts capsized while returning the boys from a day of fun and activities on the island.

In the ensuing chaos 13 of the boys – most not proficient swimmers – drowned.

Freelance author Peter Langston has researched the event and put together this description of what led up to and what happened after those frantic minutes.

“That Saturday – two weeks before a war Christmas in 1943 – the 1st Grafton Scout Troop was to have Christmas parties in different groupings on Susan Island, a long, reasonably narrow island in the Clarence River, between Grafton and South Grafton.

“The main group of boy scouts were engaged with scout master Ian Malcolm, while the younger group of cub scouts were enjoying fun activities like treasure hunts with their leader, 17-year-old Charlie Penn, who was a King’s Scout and had won every honour possible for his age in the scouting movement and was highly regarded in the general community.

“About 4pm, two scouting friends of Penn – Rex Oxenford and Jimmy Doust – swam across the Clarence from Oxenford’s grandfather’s place to Susan Island, to fulfil a promise to Penn and assist in bringing the cub scouts back across the Clarence in a punt owned by Oxenford’s grandfather’s company. The larger scout floodboat was unavailable, having been found to be unseaworthy due to vandalism the night before.

Part of the display commemorating the tragic drowning of 13 Cub Scouts in the Clarence River on December 11, 1943

Part of the display commemorating the tragic drowning of 13 Cub Scouts in the Clarence River on December 11, 1943

“The majority of the cubs had come across the Clarence with Penn that morning. The punt was wooden, with a shallow draft. It was 4.9m long, about 1m wide at either end and slightly wider at the centre. The punt had no propulsion but oars and carried a passenger cargo of young boys wearing back packs and most wore leather shoes.

“The vast majority either could not swim or were hardly competent to tread water. Oxenford suggested two trips but Penn felt confident they could make one, as the water was calm, despite an approaching storm from the south-west.

“This proved true until the boat escaped the lee of the wind caused by the large trees on Susan Island and the water became choppy and the strength of the wind apparent. Penn had his oarsmen, Oxenford and Doust, point the craft into the approaching waves, but the craft was sluggish under the load and its freeboard was only three inches. (Freeboard is the distance from the water line on a boat up to the top of the side. It should have been seven inches.) Penn ordered Doust and Oxenford into the water to get behind the boat and push with their considerable leg power.

“Two things happened almost in unison.

“Some of the younger boys panicked at the sight of the older scouts going over the side and moved to one side as a larger wave broke over the boat and swamped it. In the ensuing panic, the boat capsized, throwing the remaining 29 boys into the water.

“Bowlers at the nearby green, including police inspector BH Baxter, heard screams but it took a few minutes to realise the boys were in trouble and not skylarking. They then raised the alarm, rushing to the shore and launching any craft they could find, borrow or even steal. Constable Anderson raised another rescue group from around the Crown Hotel. Meanwhile, the cubs turned to their older Scouts and splashed or dog paddled to them in any way they could, five and six clinging to them and sinking them to the channel floor.

“There were many heroes that afternoon but none more than Oxenford and Doust, who were in the water for more than 45 minutes effecting rescues and performing resuscitations on rescue boats, and Penn, who carried on despite near drowning.

“Fifteen boys were saved but 13 drowned, the last of them dragged from the water by grappling hooks until the head count was reconciled at 10pm.”

The Clarence River Historical Society has organised a lunch at the Grafton District Services Club from midday on Monday. where invited guests will hear addresses from dignitaries and perhaps from a survivor.

Mr Tranter said one of the two remaining surviving boys, local identity Fred Schwinghammer, had died recently and there was only one survivor of the tragedy still alive.

The sombre scene at the graveside in South Grafton when nine of the Cub Scouts who drowned in the Clarence River were buried. Photo: Clarence River Historical Society.

The sombre scene at the graveside in South Grafton when nine of the Cub Scouts who drowned in the Clarence River were buried. Photo: Clarence River Historical Society.

“We’re working with the family to see if he can attend,” Mr Tranter said earlier this month.

From about 2pm the commemoration moves to the river side and Memorial Park, where marquees will be erected for officials and guests.

Part of the service will be an account of Fred Schwinghammer’s life.

The culmination of the service will occur from 5pm, 80 years to the hour (allowing for daylight saving) from when the boat capsized.

The SES will take current Cub Scouts to the approximate point in the river where it occurred.

The names of the children who drowned will be read out and at 5.20pm wreaths will be placed on water:

  • The boys
  • Robert Wilkes, 10, Grafton.
  • Allan Tobin, South Grafton
  • Robert Rennie, 10, Grafton.
  • Keith Rennie, 8, Grafton
  • Dale Thornbourne, 10, South Grafton.
  • Graham Corbett, 9, South Grafton.
  • Cecil Lambert, 8, Grafton.
  • Raymond Retchford, Grafton
  • Allan Spicer, South Grafton.
  • William Robert Dillon, South Grafton
  • Brian Munns, South Grafton
  • Raymond Morris, 8, South Grafton
  • Richard John Steinhours, 8, South Grafton

The drownings and the revelations most of the boys were either poor or non-swimmers shocked the Grafton community.

Within weeks the Grafton City Council was discussing the need for a community swimming pool where children could be taught to swim safely.

But it was 10 years before a site for the pool could be agreed upon and another year before construction commenced.

The pool site is now a construction zone as work has commenced on building the $30 million Regional Aquatic Centre on the site.

The pool was closed in September 2022 when it was years of water leaks from the pool had made the pool sit unsafe.

 

For more local Grafton news, click here.

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Grafton News

2024 JADA Judge Announced: Michelle Newton

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Michelle Newton - New JADA Judge
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NOTICE OF MEMBERS EXTRAORINDARY LAND DEALING MEETING

2024 JADA Judge Announced: Michelle Newton

 

Michelle Newton, Deputy Director at Artspace, Sydney, will judge Grafton Regional Gallery’s flagship drawing prize, the Jacaranda Acquisitive Drawing Award (JADA), this year.

Michelle Newton has been the Deputy Director at Artspace since 2012, and in this time has co-commissioned and co-curated significant projects with artists and in partnership with leading international institutions. She has recently written for and co-edited the monographs, Marco Fusinato: DESASTRES, Taloi Havini: Reclamation and Mel O’Callaghan: Centre of the Centre. Prior to joining Artspace, she worked with First Nations-led art centres Jilamara Arts and Crafts Association, Tiwi Islands (2006–09) and Jirrawun Arts on Gija Country (2009–11). She was Associate Director for private gallery, Grantpirrie, Sydney (2011–12). She is currently Chair of Cementa, Inc. and on the Board of Create NSW Visual Arts Artform Advisory Board.

The 2024 JADA will be judged in the days prior to the JADA Official Opening Gala, on Friday 27 September.

Entries for the 2024 JADA are open until midnight, Sunday 30 June. Artists from across Australia aged 18 and over and are invited to enter the award, with an acquisitive first prize of $35,000 and $5,000 early career award.

Grafton Regional Gallery would like to thank the major sponsors of the 2024 JADA, the Friends of the Grafton Gallery.

For entry details, terms and conditions, and more information, visit here.

 

For more local Grafton news, click here.

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Grafton News

BIG RIVER CAMPDRAFT CLUB SCORES FUNDING TO UPGRADE ARENA AT HAWTHORNE EQUESTRIAN PARK IN SOUTH GRAFTON

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BIG RIVER CAMPDRAFT CLUB
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NOTICE OF MEMBERS EXTRAORINDARY LAND DEALING MEETING

BIG RIVER CAMPDRAFT CLUB SCORES FUNDING TO UPGRADE ARENA AT HAWTHORNE EQUESTRIAN PARK IN SOUTH GRAFTON

 

Big River Campdraft Club (BRCC) has been awarded $6937 from the NSW Government to upgrade the centre arena rails at Hawthorne Park Equestrian Park in South Grafton, Nationals MP for Clarence Richie Williamson announced at the annual Big River Campdraft on the weekend.

Mr Williamson said the current centre arena rails were in dire need of replacing to ensure all users are provided with a safe arena and was thrilled the BRCC had been successful in securing funding through the NSW Government’s Local Sport Grant program to begin the project.

“Local grassroots sporting clubs like the BRCC are essential to the community, and this investment will increase both competitor and spectator experience,” Mr Williamson said.

“I thank the BRCC volunteers who made this possible as without their commitment and dedication to the sport, none of this would have been achieved.”

President of the BRCC, David Gillett said grants manager Lynne Hugginson had been working tirelessly to obtain funding to upgrade facilities at Hawthorne Park.

“The funding to begin replacing the rails on the centre arena is a tremendous bonus for not only BRCC but all ten clubs and their members that use the facility,” Mr Gillett said.

“The upgrade not only enhances safety but also improves the visual appeal of the arena.

“Hawthorne Park infrastructure is built and maintained by local club volunteers with the support of generous donations and grants.

“We would like to thank our local MP, Richie Williamson for supporting the community and investing in local equestrian activities.”

The Local Sport Grant program is annual program that aims to support grassroots sporting clubs to increase participation, host events, improve access and enhance sport and recreation facilities.

Mr Williamson said he will be announcing other successful recipients under the latest funding round in the coming weeks as he moves around the electorate.

“I encourage all sporting clubs across the Clarence and Richmond Valleys to jump online and subscribe to receive updates on when the next round of Local Sport Grants program open,” Mr Williamson said.

Further information can be found here.

 

For more local Grafton news, click here.

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Clarence Valley News

Marketta concept expands around Valley

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Marketta Grafton stage
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NOTICE OF MEMBERS EXTRAORINDARY LAND DEALING MEETING

Marketta concept expands around Valley

 

By Tim Howard

After wowing all concerned in 2023, Grafton Marketta makes a return to the Jacaranda City on June 8.

The evening of food, run and entertainment was a huge success at its inaugural outing and organisers say even more businesses have got behind the event this year.

The NSW Government has also come to the party with $150,000 to cover this event and four similar events planned for other Clarence Valley centres during rest of the year.

The Eli Fahey Band at Marketta

The Eli Fahey Band gets the crowd rocking at Marketta last year. Eli and the band is back again fun 2024.

Event organiser with Clarence Valley Council Deborah Merritt said more Clarence food businesses and dance groups had expressed an interest in this year’s event.

“It’s great to see, because it shows the word is getting out and people understand how they can make this work for them,” Ms Merritt said.

The funding this year will also be distributed around the Valley with a total of five community events to be held before the end of the year.

Ms Merritt said there would events in South Grafton, Ulmarra, Wooli and Maclean, with the only stipulation that each event was totally community driven.

Marketta Grafton stage

The big centre stage in Prince St was a focal point for the crowds that flocked to Grafton for the inaugural Marketta in 2023 and is sure be so again.

“Each one is going to be different from the other and represent what each community wants to say about itself,” she said.

“For example something like Marketta, which is designed to give bricks and mortar businesses a street presence, would not work in Wooli,” she said.

“The community there is looking to celebrate its natural beauty with the river, beaches and National Parks.

“And Ulmarra would be looking to do something different again, more quirky with something that captures the spirit of the community.”
Ms Merrett said the entertainment in Grafton on June 8 would top notch.

“A lineup of talented performers including Uncle Ken Gordon, Lennox Monaghan, Garimaa Ngahri, Sam Dyball, Eli Fahey Band and Pistol Whip will put on an unforgettable show,” she said.

“Entry is free, so bring your friends and family for a night filled with entertainment and good eats.”

 

For more local Grafton news, click here.

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