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The Maheno - the story of a famous shipwreck

Reporter: Lachie Campbell and Gillan Gout

Thursday, 12 June  2003 

If you have ever driven down the beach of Fraser Island, you probably will remember the Maheno wreck as one of the highlights of the trip. It has a long history and an uncertain future.

The Maheno wreck and fishermen
The Maheno Wreck

The great rusting hulk on the eastern beach of Fraser Island has become quite a landmark of the Wide Bay, and just a quick visit to the wreck will show it's enduring popularity with visitors.

Backpackers, campers, and tour buses usually surround the wreck, all with cameras poised, waiting for the right wave to come in, or the smiles to stretch a little wider.

But amidst this throng of tourists, four wheel drives and smiles is a long story of a gallant ship whose story is not often heard.

Built in 1905 as a luxury passenger steam ship, the 400-foot vessel was one of the gems of the merchant marine.

She held the Sydney to Wellington speed record, and would power through the waves at a ripping 16 knots.

After 9 years of panache and service to the upper crust from both sides of the Tasman, she was refitted and was enlisted in the Navy as a hospital ship for service in the First World War.

The amount of human tragedy she would have seen is those war-torn years is staggering.

Some 25,000 sick, wounded and dying soldiers were valiantly transported and cared for as she traversed the English Channel over the five years of her military service.

After the war, she was returned to her former glory as a luxury liner, and made six New Zealand to England voyages. But the advent of internal combustion engines, ironically improved by the war, lead to her demise as newer, faster and cleaner vessels took to the high seas, leaving the Maheno in their wake.

Out dated, and out classed, she was decommissioned in 1935, and sold to a Japanese firm for scrap.

It was on that final voyage that things went wrong, and she found her way to Fraser Island, as local ranger Allan Dyball explains.

"En route to Japan, in cyclonic conditions her tow rope broke and she came to grief on the eastern beach of Fraser Island. That was back in 1935," said Ranger Dyball.

So she came to rest on the beach of the world's largest sand island, but her rough life didn't stop there, Allan Dyball continues.

"During World War II she was used for bombing practice from above and also had shells fired at her from the sea," said Allan, "She also had commandos climbing all over her, blowing her up.

"So she had a bit of a hard life, even after she came to grief on the island," explained Allan Dyball, Senior Queensland Parks and Wildlife Ranger.

Over the years the Maheno has become well loved in her new home on the beach, but due to her chequered past and years of rust and corrosion, the Maheno is no longer safe.

Signs are being erected, and fines are in place to keep people away from the wreck, as the structure becomes weak and frail.

Every story must have an end.

Still the cameras still snap in the morning, as the sun rises through her gaping holes, filling the pages of photo albums around the world. But even though we can longer get close to the Maheno, she will always remain loved as one of the icons of the Wide Bay, and will be remembered and enjoyed, for years to come.

Click here to listen to the life story of the Maheno in RealMedia format  |  Requires RealPlayer

Last Updated: 20/06/2003 12:48:12 PM AEDT


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