Fraser Island's Maheno will be 110 years old next year

The wreck of the Maheno on Fraser Island.
The wreck of the Maheno on Fraser Island. Alistair Brightman

THE SS Maheno will be 110 years old next year and has been showing her age in recent decades.

A Department of Environment and Heritage Protection spokeswoman said as the SS Maheno is more than 75 years old it is protected under the Commonwealth's Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976.

"There are no plans to remove the iconic SS Maheno shipwreck from Fraser Island," she said.

"As part of the Queensland Historic Shipwreck Survey, the Queensland Government undertook research in 2012 to locate and inspect a number of historic shipwrecks in and around Hervey Bay.

Wreck of the Maheno 1934. Photo submitted by Joan Bridge
Wreck of the Maheno 1934. Photo submitted by Joan Bridge

Ship's tale has not been wrecked by time

LITTLE more than a rustic skeleton remains at 75 Mile Beach on Fraser Island, the final resting place of the once-mighty SS Maheno.

Most of the 200,000 or more people visiting the shipwreck each year would have no idea of the ship's history - or even how it came to be marooned on the ocean-side of the world's largest sand island.

Today, the Department of National Parks, Recreation, Sport and Racing recognise the SS Maheno shipwreck as a tourist attraction and one of the island's most visited destinations.

The 122m (400-foot) vessel, built in 1905 as a triple-screw turbine steamer for the Union Steam Navigation Company, held the glory of being the first turbine steamer to cross the Pacific Ocean.

The Department of the Environment and Heritage Protection's records state the ship was used in trans-Tasman trade as a luxury passenger ship.

In 1914, the vessel was fitted with fuel-oil geared turbines and became a twin-screw ship with a speed of 18 knots per hour.

In 1915, the New Zealand government converted the vessel to a hospital ship and the SS Maheno was used for the next five years in treating and transporting Allied wounded from Gallipoli and the Western Front as part of the First World War effort.

The SS Maheno played a role in transporting Allied troops from Gallipoli to safer facilities and brought wounded soldiers back to Australia and New Zealand.

"The Maheno returned to civilian service in 1920 but by 1935 she had become increasingly obsolete and in 1935 it was sold to Japanese ship wreckers," a spokeswoman from the NPRSR said.

The decommissioned vessel was under tow to the SS Oonah, bound for Japan, when cyclonic weather broke ties.

The vessel drifted and was missing for almost two days until it was found ashore on Fraser Island in early July 1935.

The Maheno was built in Scotland in 1905 and was the world's first ever triple screw steamer, weighing a massive 5323 tonnes. It was used as a hospital ship in the First World War.
The Maheno was built in Scotland in 1905 and was the world's first ever triple screw steamer, weighing a massive 5323 tonnes. It was used as a hospital ship in the First World War. Tammy Lewis

But all attempts to refloat the Maheno proved unsuccessful.

"After equipment from the vessel was salvaged, the SS Maheno was eventually abandoned," the NPRSR spokeswoman said.

The shell of the wreck remained on the beach and was put to use with a little local resourcefulness.

"Weddings and concerts were reported to have taken place in the wreck in the year or so after the ship washed ashore."

The shell of the wreck remained on the beach and was used as bombing practice during the Second World War.

The wreck is now a valued tourist attraction but proves more fragile than its earlier years, as environmental conditions take their daily toll on the ship.

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Visitors advised to stay 3m away from wreck

WITH more than 200,000 people visiting the shipwreck each year, safety measures put in place have proven effective in managing vehicle traffic and visitor access to one of the most visited sites on the island.

A Department of National Parks, Recreation, Sport and Racing (NPRSR) spokeswoman said in the interest of public safety, a regulatory notice was installed in 2006.

The sign restricts people from entering within 3m of the wreck.

Reflective traffic hazard signs were installed in 2004 on either end of the wreck to increase drivers' visibility of the shipwreck at night.

To further enhance visitor safety, 40km/hour shared zone signage was installed in early 2008.

Do the right thing drivers

  • The recommended speed within the vicinity of the Maheno is 40kmh
  • Slow down as pedestrians may not hear you approaching
  • Park in an orderly fashion in the soft sand - upper beach

Beware pedestrians

  • Mind your children at all times
  • Stay well back from the SS Maheno as rusty metal may protrude from sand
  • Watch out for traffic - approaching traffic sounds may be muffled by the sound of wind and surf
Wreck of the Maheno 1934
Wreck of the Maheno 1934

Topics:  department of environment fraser island maheno wreck

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