THUNDER ACROSS THE REEF
a play by
© 1988 ALLEN LYNE
Devised with the
community at Port
THE AUDIENCE ENTERS THROUGH THE GRAVEYARD.
THE SPACE IS SET UP IN TRAVERSE. AT ONE END IS
THE GRAVEYARD WITH ELEVEN COFFINS REPRESENTING
THE ELEVEN MEN WHO WERE BURIED AT ALDINGA
CEMETERY. AT THE OTHER END SCRAMBLING NETS,
ROPE LADDERS AND ROPES FOR SAILORS TO SWING
ON HANG FROM THE CEILING. THIS IS THE ONLY SET
USED. THE COFFINS BECOME DESKS, CHAIRS, CHURCH
PEWS, ETC. AS REQUIRED.
WHEN THE AUDIENCE ENTERS A DISCO IS IN PROGRESS
AT THE PORT WILLUNGA HOTEL. DISCO LIGHTS FLASH
AND THE WHOLE CAST WITH THE EXCEPTION OF THE
GHOST IS ONSTAGE. THE SONG ENDS.
Good evening ladies and gentlemen and welcome to the Star
tragic loss of the Star Of Greece one hundred years ago
tomorrow. Yep, folks, a century ago the sailors got wrecked
on the beach down there and we're going to get wrecked here
tonight. so grab your partners and here we go.
SONG: I AM A NERVOUS WRECK
AS THE SONG ENDS BARBIE, WHO HAS BEEN SITTING
IN THE AUDIENCE, ENTERS.
Oh for Christ's sake!
Hey, come on!
I'm sorry I ever agreed to come here in the first place.
INTERJECTIONS FROM OTHER PEOPLE. WHOOPEE ...
HERE SHE GOES AGAIN ... LAND RIGHTS FOR GAY
WHALES ...WHAT ABOUT THE MARINA BARBIE ... ETC.
You ask me to come out with you and all you do is talk
surfing with your mates.
I like surfing.
Tim, there are more important things in this world.
INTERJECTIONS: COURSE THERE ARE ... YOU TELL
HIM BARBIE ... ETC. TIM WALKS UP TO BARBIE.
I'm sorry ...really.
Oh .... You're hopeless.
SONG: I AM A NERVOUS WRECK. TIM AND BARBIE
DANCE. THE CROWD FORMS AROUND THEM CLAPPING.
THEY DANCE TO THE FAR SIDE, KISS, TAKE EACH OTHER
BY THE HAND AND RUN FROM THE SPACE. THE CROWD
WHOOPS IN DELIGHT THEN CONTINUES DANCING. LIGHTS
SLOWLY FADE ON THE SCENE AS THE SONG COMES TO
THE FIRST PART OF THE FOLLOWING SCENE TAKES
PLACE IN DARKNESS. VOICES ARE ON TAPE.
Have you got ... ?
mmmmmmmmmm ...Could we .... ?
Mmmmmmmmmm ... Yes!
Why don't I ... ?
Oh .... Yes !!!
I want ....
Me too ....
But not here ....
Don't you want ....
Oh, but ....
LIGHTS UP TO SHOW TIM AND BARBIE GROPING
Come on. Why?
Doing it on dead people.
They won't mind ... Come on?
No! Tomorrow ... Okay?
Going to be a swell down at Middleton.
Tim! (she moves away) Bloody surfing!!!
Come if you want to.
It's all you ever think about.
No it's not.
Surfies! Park your brains with your surf boards.
TIM MOVES BEHIND HER AND PUTS HIS ARMS AROUND HER.
Now come on. Don't start. Let's ...
A SOFT HUM IS HEARD.
About to explode.
THE HUM INCREASES IN VOLUME.
THE HUM GROWS LOUDER.
What is that?
THE HUM CLIMAXES. THE GHOST APPEARS.
Ooooo arr, gor blimey .... Why don't you two just get
it off together and stop making so much bloody noise?
In my day if we were going to do it we just went ahead and did it.
Who are you?
An old drunk.
Aye ... We didn't go on with all that cackle you've been
going on with (mimics them) Let's ... Ooooooooh no ...
Oh but I want to ...No. ... Why don't I ... You've got .....
No! In my day we just went ahead and did it.
Yeah? Well that was your day. This is now. So piss off.
No way to speak to your elders. In my day ....
Look .... Piss off!!!
Your day? When was that .... Exactly?
Oh, arr, that's be ... err .... that'd be a long long time ago.
Let me see. What's the time?
Three o'clock in the morning.
No, I mean the date? The year?
Nineteen eighty eight.
And the date?
Thirteenth of July.
Well shiver me timbers that's .... Three a.m. A century to
the day. Well I'll be damned. No I won't!
SEVENTEEN ROCKETS EXPLODE IN THE AIR.
What's that? Fireworks?
No, they be .... SHIP ASHORE. HELP. SHIP ASHORE!!
What are you doing?
What are you yelling about? It's just fireworks.
No no no. You see, they be distress rockets. Some poor
sailors be wrecked down there at Port Willunga.
No they're not.
SHIP ASHORE, SHIP ASHORE ....They be wrecked
I tell you. SHIP ASHORE SHIP ASHORE!!!
Shut up! You'll bring the coppers. Let me explain,
I read about it in the Southern Times. It's a commemoration.
A hundred years ago a ship ran aground down there.
Oh, the wreck.
Seventeen men were drowned, so they fired seventeen
rockets over the wreck at three a.m. One for each person
lost. Bit romantic for me.
Oh, I don't know.
Not romantic in that way, stupid.
Should have been eighteen rockets.
But only seventeen were lost.
No! Eighteen. One were a stowaway and his body
never accounted for.
Who are you?
Eighteen lost. A hundred years ago. Seems like yesterday.
Look, who are you?
A hundred years ago today. I were in the Star of Greece.
The twenty ninth man onboard and not accounted for in
no record books.
A hundred years?
You must be very old!
A hundred .... Har har har .... No! I never got no
older than forty nine.
THEME MUSIC HAS BEGUN UNDER THE LAST
PART OF THE GHOST'S PREVIOUS SPEECH.
LIGHTS FADE ON TIM AND BARBIE LEAVING
GHOST IN SPOTLIGHT
The Star Of
she was and how much pride we had in her. Built in
Belfast in eighteen sixty eight for the Corry Star
Clipper Line. Held the Liverpool to Calcutta record
along with the Cutty Sark. Seventy seven days ....
A beautiful ship ...Aye beautiful. Oh I were a sailor
alright and I shipped under Captain Legg in eighteen
eighty on her first trip to Adelaide. Jumped ship here
I did in eighteen eighty one and never planned to go
back to sea no more. But I got into trouble see?
Booze were always my problem and women.
Ooooooooh, women! Well I got into trouble and I was
in and out of clink and in eighteen eighty eight I was one
jump ahead of the law and this time I would have gone
down for a long, long spell. Little matter of .... But never
mind. That's all so long ago. So I spies me old ship in
harbour and what with her making straight back to dear
sea. So I stowed away. I figured that once out to sea
there was precious little Captain Harrower could do.
Besides, he'd be getting an extra hand for no more than
the price of me grub. So I took me chances. Could've
picked a better ship though. Don't you reckon now?
LIGHTS UP TO SHOW BARBIE AND TIM SITTING
EITHER SIDE OF THE SPACE LISTENING. THEY STAND.
You were on the Star of Greece?
In missy, in. We sailors be in a ship, not on her.
You were on ... in this ship a hundred years ago?
Aye ... The stowaway. And nobody knew I drowned
...Don't take fright now. I mean yous no harm.
Never hurt no - one in me life. Why should I start in me death?
Told you we shouldn't have come here.
Practically dragged me.
Now, no arguments. Tonight of all nights there should
be no violence.
How did you ...?
Die? I jumped overboard in the early morning while it
were still dark. Wanted to make shore and get clean
away. No - one saw me go. ... Do you know the story
of the Star of
No. Not really.
She ran aground in a wild storm and some of her crew drowned.
Oh there were more to it than that. Far more. We put to sea
about six p.m. and passed the Semaphore about seven. We
set sail and ran down the coast hoping to be passing through
Backstairs Passage at daybreak. Around nine a really dirty
storm hit and the captain hove to, put the main topsail aback
and put her head into the wind. I could hear Captain Harrower
giving his orders to the First Mate and I remember thinking: "No,
no. Put her on the other tack. Stand out to sea and fetch up in
the lee of Kangaroo Island for shelter". In the event I were right.
Fat lot of good it did me. Harrower were in command, not me.
THROUGH THE LAST SPEECH THE LIGHTS FADE TO ONCE
AGAIN LEAVE THE GHOST IN HIS SPOTLIGHT. DURING THE
LAST PART OF THE SPEECH THE STORM BEGINS SOFTLY
AND WE HEAR FAINT CRIES OF "ALL HANDS ON DECK."
"FURL SAIL. FURL SAIL. THE SPOTLIGHT FADES ON THE
GHOST AND THE STORM BUILDS IN THE DARKNESS.
THE STORM BUILDS IN THE BLACKOUT. SMOKE AND DRY
ICE MACHINES COMMENCE. LIGHTS UP TO REVEAL
SAILORS IN THE RIGGING. THEY ARE STILL. DIALOGUE
FOR THIS SCENE IS ON TAPE.
My God .... BREAKERS OFF THE PORT BOW.
Breakers, sir. I hear breakers.
All hands on deck. All hands on deck.
What is it Mister Waugh?
Breakers off the port bow captain Harrower.
Breakers getting louder. Get some sail on.
Let go port anchor.
Let go port anchor.
We should be twenty six miles off the coast ...
If the anchor doesn't hold ....
White water ahead. I see breakers.
THERE IS A GREAT CRASH AS THE SHIP GOES
AGROUND. THE MIST RISES. THE SAILORS BEGIN
TO SWING IN THE RIGGING. HOLD FOR FIFTEEN
SECONDS AND LIGHTS FADE TO BLACKOUT.
SPOTLIGHT HITS FANNY HOW STANDING ON TOP
OF COFFIN. SHE REGISTERS SHOCK AT SEEING
Oh ... Oh .... Oh .... Thomas!
FANNY RUNS OFF RIGHT. KILL SPOTLIGHT.
LIGHTS UP ON SHORE. THOMAS MARTIN
RUNS IN FROM LEFT. HE LOOKS THROUGH
My .... God!
FANNY RUNS IN FROM LEFT. SHE IS OUT OF BREATH.
And I thought you were joking.
Do you see anyone Thomas .... Do you?
Thomas. Oh, Thomas.
There are four in the mizzen rigging and I see one
up near the bows.
I'll ride to the telegraph office.
SHIP ASHORE! SHIP ASHORE!!.
THEY RUN OFF LEFT AND RIGHT YELLING "SHIP
ASHORE". STORM BUILDS UP AGAIN. MORSE
CODE IS HEARD. LIGHTS FADE TO BLACKOUT.
LIGHTS UP ON TELEGRAPH OFFICE. JANE MACHELL
IS HUNCHED OVER A MORSE KEY. THOMAS MARTIN
IS ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE COUNTER (coffin)
For God's sake, Jane ...
No use, Thomas. The line doesn't open until nine.
LIGHTS FADE ON TELEGRAPH OFFICE. MORSE
CODE FADES. STORM CONTINUES BUT GRADUALLY
DECREASES IN VOLUME AS LIGHTS COME UP ON THE SHIP.
We must hold on lads. Hold on. Help will be at hand at daybreak.
Do as you please captain. I'm going while there's still strength in
LIGHTS UP ON SHORE WHERE WE DISCOVER FANNY HOW,
THOMAS MARTIN AND THOMAS LOVELOCK. REVELL DIVES IN.
STROBE AND DRY ICE MACHINES BEGIN. THOMAS LOVELOCK
DIVES IN. MOVEMENT SEQUENCE AS LOVELOCK SAVES REVELL.
LIGHTS DOWN ON SHIP AND SHORE. UP ON GRAVEYARD.
One saved twenty eight to go.
(laughs) No. That was James T. Revell, Able Seaman,
forty years old and first man saved, but some of us weren't
LIGHTS DOWN ON GRAVEYARD. UP ON SHIP.
Revell made shore captain. Should we go too?
What should we do Captain Harrower? What should we do?
What should we do Mister Hazeland?
Hold on for now lads. Help must come soon.
We can't hold on much longer. She'll break up.
Hold on I say lads.
I'll try for shore. Who is with me?
With you captain.
Well done Mister Waugh.
LIGHTS UP ON THE SHORE WHERE WE DISCOVER
ALL THE TOWNSPEOPLE. CONSTABLE TUOUHY
IS IN THE CENTRE. HARROWER AND WAUGH DIVE
IN FROM THE RIGGING. STROBE AND DRY ICE IN.
TUOHY DIVES IN. MOVEMENT SEQUENCE IN THE
MIST AND FLICKERING LIGHT OF THE STROBE.
TUOHY REACHES THEM AND ATTEMPTS TO RESCUE
THEM. HE FAILS. THEY DISAPPEAR INTO THE MIST
AND TUOHY, AFTER A STRUGGLE, REGAINS THE
SHORE. LIGHTS DOWN ON SHIP AND SHORE. A
SPOTLIGHT HITS REVELL ON THE CLIFF (coffin).
... and what's more captain Harrower was drunk when
he came on deck during the middle watch
(in spotlight on rope ladder) How would you know?
You weren't on deck during the middle watch.
If Harrower had been sober the ship wouldn't have
gone aground in the first place.
Rubbish! Captain Harrower ran a teetotal ship.
Harrower was a drunkard. A drunkard.
Lies. Foul lies.
Just after she foundered I came aft from the forecastle
and found Captain Harrower drinking repeatedly from a
bottle of brandy. He was drunk before the ship ran
aground and he got drunker afterwards.
Nonsense! Captain Harrower ran a dry ship. There was
no grog aboard.
Harrower was drunk!
Harrower was sober!
SPOTLIGHTS SNAP OUT ON HAZELAND AND REVELL.
SPOTLIGHT UP ON FORMBY.
There is never a ship founders in South Australian waters
but someone says the captain was intoxicated.
SPOTLIGHT SNAPS OUT ON FORMBY.
SPOTLIGHT UP ON MRS. HARROWER.
My son, Henry Harrower, he was captain of the
was. Henry got a lot of the blame for the loss of his
ship and I suppose whatever happens that is the
captain's lot. He is in command and must take the
blame if things go wrong. But Henry was a good man.
His name was blackened by that able seaman at the
enquiry. Henry told me often that he didn't drink at sea
and insisted his men didn't either. It is easy to vilify a
man after he is dead. That is the coward's way. I know
in my heart that Henry did his best on that terrible night.
There were other experienced seamen onboard who
would have said something if they thought Henry was
doing the wrong thing. He wasn't a martinet or a
monster or anything like that. The mates could have
told him if they thought he was wrong. I owe a debt I can
never repay to Mounted Constable Tuouhy. He found my
son's body and risked his own dear life to retrieve it and
carry it up the cliffs. I feel some comfort knowing that
Henry's body lies in a churchyard even if he is so far,
far away. I miss him. Oh, how I miss him
SPOTLIGHT SNAPS OUT ON MRS. HARROWER.
The rest of the script is available to read.
contact me and I'll send you a copy.
This play affected me like no other that
I have written. I am a man of the sea and
the rhythms of the sea run deep in my
blood. I could feel the agony of these
poor sailors trapped in their grounded
ship close to shore, yet unable to
confidently abandon her in the wild storm
and mountainous waves they faced.
The water was full of barrels, spars and
other flotsam, and to enter the water
from the ship or the shore was a lottery
with death. It is a story of great heroism
on the part of some, and terrible incompetence
on the part of others. The political
dimensions of the tragedy are covered in
Much of what is written in this play is what
happened according to the written and oral
research. Some is my own invention or my
projection of what might have happened.
Whatever the construction, and granted that
there is some degree of 'gallows humour' in
the script, I have tried to be true to the memory
of the people and events that occurred.
The names used are the real names of the crew
And of the people ashore.
One final note... The ghost who was the 18th
man to die in the play is possibly real. The props
man at the Theatre Royal in Adelaide disappeared
the day The Star of Greece left Port Adelaide on
her doomed voyage. He was in debt and a bit of strife
with the law. he was also a former seaman. It is within
the bounds of possibility that he bribed Captain
Harrower to carry him without detailing his
presence on the crew list. This was a common
practice at the time. I like the connection made
between the theatre and the sea.