18[Collins, W. E. (Algy), speech (untitled), Recollections of Koombana search, and discovery of wreckage in particular. Transcript: undated copy provided to the author by the late Malcolm Barker]
...but before I speak of the search I will mention a curious incident which puzzled me then and puzzles me now. We were in Singapore and one morning my Chinese boy - a stripling of 60 summers by the way - but all Chinese on ships are boys, told me that he had heard of a big blow on the North West Coast and that a steamer had gone down. I mentioned this to my Commander (Captain Townley) who said "There is often truth in these Chinamen's tales." He enquired from our agents whether they had any news of such a blow and I made similar enquiries from a friend in the Eastern Extension Telegraph Co. We got no confirmation of the Chinese boy's story from either source and new news of a big storm had been received from Singapore, so we dismissed the matter from our minds.
On our arrival in Batavia, Captain Townley said "What do you think of this, Collins?" and handed me a cable instruction to search for the "Koombana" which had disappeared on the very day that the Chinese boy had told me of the big storm and the lost steamer.
We left Batavia at full steam, and searched for days for the missing steamer. It was our melancholy fortune to come upon the only evidence of the "Koombana's" fate that was discovered at sea. This was a State Room Door, with the Adelaide Steamship's marks on it. The extraordinary thing about it was that the door was later identified as having come from an inside cabin. The lock and hinges had been burst, but whether by water pressure or human agency it was of course impossible to decide. I shall never forget the lowering of our boat to retrieve this solitary fragment of evidence. In striking contrast to the mental picture of a raging hell of wind and waves, the sea was like a sheet of glass, literally teeming with sharks and thousands of birds wheeled and screamed overhead. I believe that later some tanks from the "Koombana's" lifeboats were discovered on the beach near Pt Hedland. We made for Broome where we met the "Bullarra". After her battering she had taken part in the search, and a strange sight she was with a short smoke stack constructed of timber to replace the lost funnel. Other vessels engaged in the fruitless search were the "Mindaroo", "Moira" and "Una". The loss of this fine vessel was a very heavy blow to the Company and the State, and there were many sad hearts in Perth and Fremantle mourning the tragic end of relatives or friends.
Soon after the "Gorgon's" arrival in Fremantle I met Mr. Archie Lewis of the Adelaide Steamship Company who told me an interesting story. A day after the "Koombana" had left Pt. Hedland, a woman came into the Company's office and asked if a certain man was passenger on her. The passenger list was turned up and there was the name of the man mentioned entered as having booked at Fremantle for Derby. The woman explained that this man was her husband from whom she had been separated for years. She had had a vivid dream in which she had seen her husband struggling in the water. There was then no anxiety for the safety of the "Koombana" and Mr. Lewis assured the woman that she had no cause for alarm as the "Koombana" had left Pt. Hedland that morning and no untoward incident had been reported.
Concluding my talk I might mention the remarkable coincidence that twelve months to the day before the loss of the "Koombana" the Adelaide Steamship Company's Steamer "Yongala" dissapeared in a cyclone off the north coast of Queensland, and in each case the disastertook place on about the 22nd parallel of latitude.