Bryan and Erica Costigan. Bryan’s father Joe narrowly missed boarding the Centaur.
Bryan and Erica Costigan. Bryan’s father Joe narrowly missed boarding the Centaur. Cade Mooneycm

Remembering the Centaur

THERE was not much to the hospital.

Several small buildings stood between rows of tents, flimsy shelter where most of the patients were kept.

For 10-year-old Bryan Costigan, heading there, to the Greenslopes Military Hospital, was a Sunday institution.

While World War II was being waged it was the only day of the week he got to see his father, Joe Costigan, a ward officer.

In May 1943, however, young Bryan, at his father’s urging, met some special patients, people who would “go down in history”, his father said. They were the Centaur survivors, taken to the hospital after the ship was sunk by the Japanese about 4am on May 14, 1943.

“As a young bloke I didn’t really understand the significance of it all, but I got a sense my father thought it was very important I went and saw those people,” said Bryan, now aged 76, who lives at Caloundra.

“I remember seeing Sister Ellen Savage, the only nursing sister to survive the disaster. Eleven other sisters died.

“At the time people were outraged because what the Japanese had done was against international law. The Centaur was a medical ship and the enemy could not shoot down a medical ship.”

When the Centaur was discovered on December 20 last year Bryan and his wife Erica, both long-serving members of the Caloundra RSL Centaur Committee, were elated.

Finding the sunken ship was an obsession for the couple, as Bryan’s father Joe was supposed to be on the ill-fated voyage.

Joe’s orders were changed as he stood on the wharf waiting to board, and he was sent back to Greenslopes, dodging almost certain death.

Yesterday, the Costigans were awed as images of the Centaur – the resting place of so many Australians – were revealed.

Shipwreck hunter David Mearns has positively identified the Centaur, more than 80km off the coast, with irrefutable high definition video footage.

To film the Centaur, he sent down a submarine robot called Remora 3 to identify three distinguishable features – the ship’s bright redcross, a distinctive star on the bow and a corroded identification No.47.

A memorial to the people who went down with the Centaur stands on a Caloundra headland.

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