The Mirror News

Painting a tribute to Corner Inlet people lost at sea or found

• Pictured on the stage of the Port Franklin Hall with the Hall’s new board of memoriam to local people lost at sea or rescued are from left, Dianne Napthine nee Coghlan of Waratah North, Dianne’s husband Gary Napthine and their friend Steven Hum, Lorraine Margaret nee Berg of Foster, instigator of the memorial board Geoff Berg of Mirboo North, and Port Franklin Hall committee president Bree Jones.

A SMALL dreadnought anchor is the inspiration behind the commissioning of a painting of two Port Franklin fishing boats as a tribute to those Corner Inlet people either lost at sea or otherwise found safe.

Mirboo North resident Geoff Berg was born in Toora and grew up in Port Franklin among a family of commercial fishermen, including his Swedish grandfather Olaf (Henry) Berg, his father Arthur Henry Berg, and uncle Earnest Niles Berg.

“I have always been fascinated by boats and the sea,” Geoff said.

“I also feel very deeply about the tragic loss at sea of local Corner Inlet fishermen and others, especially my dear friend Walter Storr who was drowned at Foster Beach in 1959, as well as for those who got lost and were later rescued.”

Nearly a decade ago Geoff was out and about looking around and he came across the anchor and bought it on impulse, because of its obvious nautical connection.

He took the anchor home with him, and there it sat for several years until one day Geoff started reading South Gippsland author Neil Everitt’s history of Port Franklin, They Fished in Small Boats.

The book’s “Disasters at Sea” section included the shark boat Rainbird, which set out from Port Franklin on February 17, 1951 with Conrad and Thomas Soderlund on board, who were never seen again after a violent storm passed through soon after.

Port Franklin fisherman Les Coghlan, his father Tom, and brother Ken, managed to reach Curtis Island in Bass Strait on a dinghy after Les’s 52-foot shark boat Defiance sank at 3.45 am on October 31, 1954.

Their rescue by the lighthouse supply ketch Alpha some four days later was reported in the Melbourne press.

These events, along with fatalities at sea that have also occurred in local waters between 1889 and 2000, prompted Geoff to design and create a “board of memoriam” dedicated to those people to be donated to the Port Franklin community.

Geoff asked his friend, Mirboo artist Noelene Henson, to paint the Rainbird and the Defiance from photographs, leaving a space between the two vessels for the anchor as the artwork’s central motif.

Bordered by a coil of sisal rope, the completed painting also features two boards attached by steel hooks and eyes containing the history of the two boats and their crew and the names of other people who have died in and around Bass Strait.

According to the information on the boards, Corner Inlet claimed Forrester, Sykes, Barrett, and Pinkerton in January 1889, and Arthur Hogben was lost in March 1907.

Arthur Cripps drowned in November 1930; then Harold Knight and Fred Watson in March 1944.

January 1945 saw the loss of Les Rowe, Mark Johns, James Wilson, Ronald Mills, and Albert Concordine.

The already-mentioned Soderlund brothers disappeared in 1951, and Walter Storr died in 1959, while in October 2000 fisherman Laurence Cripps left Port Franklin on his boat, never to return.

On Thursday July 28, 2022, Geoff, accompanied by his sister Lorraine Margaret of Foster, and Dianne Napthine of Waratah North, the elder daughter of the late Les Coghlan, solemnly presented his board of memoriam to the Port Franklin Hall.

Hall committee president Bree Jones accepted the work on behalf of the Port Franklin community and said it “will be a great piece for the Hall.

“It will be hung in a prominent position in the Hall, though exactly where is yet to be decided,” she said.

“We’re hoping to have Port Franklin contractor Peter Bell repaint the interior of the Hall a lighter, brighter colour soon, then the committee is planning to do a thorough spring clean of the Hall inside and out before Geoff’s picture goes up.”


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