Cursed swimming hole lures 19 to death
It's known by local Indigenous people as the Washing Machine. A beautiful pool in tropical rainforest that, legend has it, is cursed and has become a tourist death trap.
In a Dreamtime story, young Indigenous girl Oolana threw herself into the waters and died after being separated from her lover from another tribe. Her spirit is said to lure young men to their death.
When Oolana jumped into the waters and disappeared, it threw up huge boulders, which now contain her spirit and create the foaming rushing waters that form the area today, according to the Legend of the Boulders.
Known locally as the Devil's Pool at Babinda Boulders, about 60km south of Cairns, 19 people have succumbed since the 1950s to the currents and caverns that lie beneath the surface.
Tribal elder Dennis Ah Kee, a Wanyurr Yidinji Traditional Owner from Babinda, said spot where the water foamed was at its most lethal during the wet season, from November through to March, but had the ability to kill at any time.
"We don't normally call it the Devil's Pool, we call it the Washing Machine," Mr Ah Kee told ABC Radio.
"We still believe her (Oolana) spirit is there and people who dare swim there at the right time, and take risks, their life will get claimed.
"It's particularly dangerous during the wet season. It's like a vortex in there, it can still pull you under even in dry seasons."
This week, Brisbane father Shanon Hoffman became the latest victim, and the second this year, to die as a result of entering the area, which is not only fenced-off but is heavily signed with warnings of the dangers lurking beneath.
In April, Cairns teen Madison Tam became the first female to have drowned after she was sucked under into a raging torrent and tunnel of rocks at the off-limits swimming spot.
She was the Washing Machine's 18th victim.
A coroner's report into the 2008 death of naval officer James Bennett, 23, marked him as the 17th fatality and noted the efforts of Cairns Regional Council in "providing ample signage to warn visitors of the dangers".
The curse of Devil's Pool was again brought to light on Monday when Mr Hoffman was reported missing after he ventured into the forbidden waters with another man who survived.
As the 37-year-old's family and children mourn his passing, so does local councillor Brett Moller, who sounded frustrated as he talked about lengths the council had gone to warn backpackers, holidaymakers, locals and day-trippers of the perils of Devil's Pool.
"The signage is very bold. It's in your face. You can't miss it," Mr Moller told NCA NewsWire.
"People do not take responsibility for their own safety and are not listening to the messaging.
"We are now mourning another tragedy that should not have happened."
Just as it did earlier this year when Ms Tam died, the council will again conduct a safety audit.
The council will also take on any recommendations made by the coroner's findings into both Ms Tam's and Mr Hoffman's death.
After the drowning of Mr Bennett in 2008, coroner Kevin Priestly commended the council for declaring Devil's Pool a no-go zone.
He also noted Mr Bennett saw a group of unaccompanied children playing and jumping into pools at, or near, the Devil's Pool.
The signage warns that "many people have died" along this narrow section of Babinda Boulders and not to enter the area.
Mr Ah Kee said his relatives had actually swum through the tunnel under the Washing Machine, but it's been during the dry season when there was less likelihood of drowning.
"People from my family have actually swum through the cavern and come out the other side but that's in very, very calm waters," he said.
"What happens when they're taken through the tunnel itself, you can get knocked out. You don't know if there are logs in there, your body can get caught up and you will drown.
"You can get trapped inside."
In contradiction to its colloquial name Devil's Pool, he said Aboriginal people did not speak of the Washing Machine as being an evil place as the legend is built on a love story.
Too many people, he said, have ignored the signs that say "don't swim" at their own peril and no amount of signage was going to save young men from themselves.
"They still insist on challenging it and diving into the waters," he said.
"That's the nature of people. It's going to be hard to control people and tell them not to go in there.
"People are still going to take a risk."
Originally published as Cursed swimming hole lures 19 to death