Maheno Shipwreck. Picture: Cathy Finch Photography
Maheno Shipwreck. Picture: Cathy Finch Photography

MAHENO MILESTONE: How shipwreck turned into tourism drawcard

THIS week marks 85 years since the SS Maheno washed up on the shores of Fraser Island.

The shipwreck has become a tourism drawcard for the region and still brings sightseers to the rusting remains all these years later.

The SS Maheno washed ashore after a cyclone hit the region in 1935.

When the cyclone of 1935 abated and news of the shipwreck reached the mainland, Goomboorian's Malcolm Buchanan wasted no time heading to the island to see the beached ocean liner.

Now yellow with age, the photos he took that day show the mighty Maheno listing in the sand on 75 Mile Beach where Malcolm, who later died in the Second World War, befriended one of eight Japanese crewmen on board when disaster struck.

The Maheno on the Easter Beaches on Fraser Island
The Maheno on the Easter Beaches on Fraser Island Jane McIntosh Bodie

Owned by the Union Company of New Zealand, SS Maheno was an ocean liner that operated in the Tasman Sea between New Zealand and Australia from 1905 until 1935.

She also made regular voyages between Sydney and Vancouver and was used as a hospital ship by the New Zealand Naval Forces during World War I.

She could carry up to 420 passengers - 240 in first class, 120 in second and 60 in third, and also had a refrigerated cargo hold.

Accommodation for first class passengers included a dining room, smoking room and music room.

Lit by electricity and fitted with all the latest safety equipment, the Maheno was at the end of her commercial life when she went aground on Fraser Island.

IN DISTRESS: The SS Maheno just after it went aground on Fraser Island on July 8, 1935.
IN DISTRESS: The SS Maheno just after it went aground on Fraser Island on July 8, 1935.

After leaving Sydney on July 3, 1935, she was under tow by the 1758-tonne ship Oonah, a former Bass Strait ferry which, along with the Maheno, had been sold to a ship-breaker's yard in Osaka, Japan.

The two ships were linked by a 270m wire rope which parted when the cyclone hit about 80km from the Queensland coast on the afternoon of July 7.

Attempts to reattach the towline failed in the heavy seas, and the Maheno, with a skeleton crew of eight men aboard, drifted off and disappeared.

An aircraft search found the Maheno on Fraser Island on July 10, the crew having set up camp onshore, waiting for the Oonah to arrive, which it did on July 12.

Up close and personal with the Maheno Shipwreck, Fraser Island.
Up close and personal with the Maheno Shipwreck, Fraser Island. Peta Jamieson

Maheno was subsequently stripped of her fittings, but attempts to refloat her failed.

The wreck was eventually offered for sale. No buyers could be found for her.

Now, little more than a skeleton remains, but the once-mighty Maheno is one of Fraser Island's most visited destinations, drawing more than 200,000 tourists each year to her resting place on 75 Mile Beach.



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