Mr Tanaka won’t be forgotten
Wednesday, 13th June, 2018
A FISHING trip uncovered history. Geoff Crow was steaming north to the Gulf of Carpentaria in his timber fishing boat for the 1968 season when he decided to break his journey on Goold Island, one of the Family group of islands off Cardwell.
“I’ve always been interested in plants and natural history, so it seemed a good opportunity to get to know the island,” Geoff said. “But what I discovered was much more curious than plants, and it started a whole new chapter in my life.
“I thought the island was uninhabited but suddenly as I was walking along I found I was not alone.
“The man who had caught up with me introduced himself as Bert Dawson, a WWI veteran who couldn’t settle when he returned to Australia. Bert had been living as a hermit on Goold for some 40 years, tending a vegetable garden and planting trees and only going across to the mainland when supplies ran out.”
When the conversation turned to the devastating cyclone that swept the coast in 1918, Bert told Geoff of a discovery he had made.
“Three pearling vessels manned by Japanese and Aboriginal seamen who were diving for beche de mer were anchored off Goold Island when the cyclone hit,” Geoff said. “Two, which had had their masts cut down, survived. The Shamrock, with its masts left standing, capsized, killing several crew members.
“What Bert had found was a grave marker which he believed commemorated one of the Japanese who was drowned.
“Eight Aboriginals and two Japanese survived, and the survivors must have discovered the body of their compatriot and buried him under the marker. Beside the marker there was a large stone.”
The story intrigued Geoff but it was not until 2005 when he and his wife Margaret moved to Cardwell that he was able to visit the grave site.
“The wooden marker had gone by then, either vandalised or caught up in a burning-off episode, and this didn’t seem right,” he said. “It was a piece of history lost, and that lonely grave out there haunted me.”
Determined to discover the name of the fisherman buried there, Geoff contacted the Japanese Embassy in Canberra where it was confirmed the drowned diver was Takejiro Tanaka whose shipmate, Jentara Osada, had been rescued not 100 metres from where Mr Tanaka’s body was found.
Geoff’s research led him to Townsville historian Bob Clayton, who gave him more of the story, including the translation of the original words on the marker – “Here lies Mr Tanaka – Japanese”.
“But ironically, on Mr Tanaka’s death certificate, dated March 10, 1918, it is stated the body had not been recovered,” Geoff said.
An expert wood carver, Geoff decided to replace the lost marker. “It seemed like respect for that lonely grave out there in that beautiful place.”
He sought advice from the Japanese Embassy, with whom it was decided the inscription should read, “Here lies a Japanese pearl diver”. (Pearl divers often also hunted for valuable beche de mer).
Now, at least every year, Geoff goes out to Goold Island to tend the site of the marker, and Cardwell remembers that terrible cyclone which hit the region 100 years ago.
On March 10, Cardwell Historical Society hosted a commemorative event – Here lies a Japanese pearl diver – featuring a film by Bob Clayton and an account of the events of that terrible 1918 day.
It was to have been attended by Japanese Consul General Keiko Yanai, Bob Clayton and Canberra based historian John Lamb, but in another ironic twist, Cardwell that day was completely cut off by flood waters.
Not to be put off, locals turned up in force and Hubinger Museum, which contains relics from the 1918 cyclone, was packed.