Ballina’s legendary man of the sea Peter Warner died doing what he loved best, sailing, during an attempted crossing of the Ballina Bar in rough conditions last week. He was ninety years old.
Mr Warner’s life contained many adventures, one of which is about to become a Hollywood film. He was the son of a wealthy businessman who ran away to sea to avoid joining the family electronics business. Later, he studied law and accountancy, but always remained passionate about the ocean.
Sailing his yacht Astor, Mr Warner won line honours in the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race in 1961, 1963 and 1964, and came second in 1962.
He also raced Astor in the 1961 Trans-Tasman race from New Zealand to Australia, and the 1963 Trans-Pacific race from Los Angeles to Hawaii.
Lost and found
Peter Warner became famous again in 1966 when he accidentally discovered six lost Tongan boys on the island of ‘Ata.
In a much more positive story than Lord of the Flies, the boys had managed to survive as castaways for more than a year, having been given up for dead by their families.
This story was the subject of a bidding war by Hollywood studios recently, and is now being filmed. The survival story and rescue is also the subject of a recent documentary.
In 1974 Peter Warner was once more in the right spot at the right time, when he rescued a shipwrecked sailing crew on Middleton Reef in the Tasman Sea, with the help of Sione Filipe Totau, one of the Tongans he had rescued earlier.
Mr Warner lived in Tonga for thirty years, joining the Baha’i faith, and founding a school.
In the 1990s he moved to the Northern Rivers of NSW, and becoming a noted macadamia farmer and tree manager near Lismore, before settling in Ballina.
In 2020 he published three volumes of autobiography; Astor: Adventures Ashore and Afloat, Ocean of Light: Thirty years in Tonga and the Pacific, and Twilight of the Dawn.