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Home > Online Magazine > Online Magazine: Edition 34 - April/May 2010 > Wrecked on the Beach (by John Morris)

Wrecked on the Beach

by John Morris

Wrecked on the Beach

Australia's first known shipwreck is of the Trial, a ship of the English East India Company that was wrecked off the coast of Western Australia in 1622 (1) Since then some 6500 have been documented. Let me tell you about 3 of these sites.

On Mandalay Beach (Western Australia) is the case of the disappearing shipwreck, that of the Mandalay. We were lucky to see it on one of its rare appearances. At that time it was said to be appearing once in around 10 years.

The Mandalay was a Norwegian owned barque. It had left Delagoa (now Maputo) Bay in Mozambique on the 9th of April 1911 in ballast, and was en route to Albany, a fine port on the south west coast of Western Australia. The captain was under instructions to pick up timber for shipment to Brazil. Delagoa Bay was the terminus of a rail line from the Transvaal which allowed shipment of goods from the Transvaal without going through South Africa.

The trip was uneventful until off the coast of Western Australia the vessel was caught in a severe storm that lasted for 3 days. On the 15th of May 1911, the captain was forced by wind and wave to round Chatham Island and into an impossible position. The decision was taken to run the ship onto the beach or the safety of the crew of 13 would have been questionable. The move was successful. One of the crew tied a line around his waist and made for the shore through the raging surf. The line became entangled around his leg and noticing the problem another of the crew (an Englishman) went overboard to help. After much struggling, the two made it to the shore. With the line now joining ship to shore crew and supplies were transferred. None of the crew was lost. It must have been an embarrassment for the captain. "Captain Pounessan (sometimes Tonessen) said he had been a sea faring man for 46 years and a captain for 25 years and had never had an accident until this, his last voyage."  (2)

(3) Picture - The Mandalay 12 months after grounding.

The crew set up camp and sent off 2 of their number to get help. 2 days later they returned worn out and without success. It was luck that brought them back. The surrounding area was without settlement and roads. It was predominantly unexplored, and with lines of hills criss-crossing each other, coastal swamps and further inland forests of Karri and Red Gum, without local knowledge it would have been very easy to get permanently lost.  On the 20th of May the Second Mate followed the coast to the east and met a Mr. F S Thompson who had a farm and residence some 20 miles east. It was a lucky break for the crew. Thompson was picking up supplies at Nornalup Inlet, something that he did once every three months. The nearest settlements to the north and west from the shipwreck site were some 60 miles away. After getting settled, the crew walked to Denmark further east where they were well looked after by the residents.

The hull of the Mandalay was iron and the vessel survived the beaching and remained in visible order for a number of years. Enterprising locals no doubt stripped the hull of everything useful and the shell was left to the mercy of the ocean. The remains rusted and at our visit in 1993 there was little of the hull left, stark black fingers of iron poking above the sandy bed. It was a fluke that we saw as much as we did. Storms and tides and waves moved sand to and away from the hulk periodically and we could have just as easily arrived on a day when the wreck was covered by the sands. The day was bright and sunny. However, the wind was blowing a minor gale from the south west and it was easy to envisage the plight of the Mandalay, 82 years before, totally at the mercy of the storm.

The Cherry Venture wrecked on Rainbow Beach in Queensland has attracted many tourists. In 1967-68 we spent 15 months living in Maryborough while I worked at the engineering company Walkers Limited, now part of the Evans Deakin group. We became good friends with a sugar cane farming family. After we returned to Sydney we made return trips from time to time. August 1976 saw us making one of those return trips. Everyone had to try driving the tractor, or planting cane. When we were living in Maryborough we did not experience a cyclone, though one severe rain depression caused the Mary River to flood and we were stuck in town for 3 weeks.

In contrast, 1973 saw massive storms. Queensland's Sunshine Coast "had been battered by gales for days in the winter of 1973. Far too late in the year for cyclones, the storms came up out of the Tasman Sea catching 22 ships trying to reach the port of Brisbane. On July 8th the wave buoy at Double Island Point was indicating swells measuring forty feet from peak to trough.

The 1600 ton cargo ship Cherry Venture was bound for Brisbane from Auckland. With little ballast, and no cargo aboard, the Singaporean ship was at the mercy of wind and tide when the captain strayed too close to the point. Even with full steam ahead and facing into the wind, Cherry Venture could make little headway to gain sea room. Around 6.50AM the captain sent out a Mayday call. As the winds pushed him toward the shore the wave action increased. With every enormous swell the ship's propeller would rear up out of the water." (4)

Helicopters were readied at the RAAF Base at Amberley. Despite the coastal conditions the choppers left at mid morning, battling their way as far as Maroochydore, where seventy mile per hour winds made flying suicidal. With a low cloud level and the towering Cooloola sand dunes in the way, the choppers could not see to get through to the ship. They landed at Maroochydore airport to wait for a break that would not come.

Anchors were dropped by the Cherry Venture but they failed and the ship was blown onto the beach. After the passing of the storm, attempts were made to refloat the vessel by digging out sand from around the hull and filling the excavation with water. The efforts allowed the ship to be turned around but the job of towing the vessel off the sand failed. And there she stayed and became a target for tourists, most reaching the site by 4WD vehicle.

On the way back from Maryborough in 1976 we stopped at Noosa for a night or two. The Coloured Sands at Rainbow Beach were our target, and the Cherry Venture was a bonus.

(5)  Picture - Rainbow Beach

The bus ride took us along the beach from the north side of the Noosa River to the Cherry Venture and return.  The bus was a story in itself and for another time. For only 1600 tons, the Cherry Venture was a big lump of vessel when you stood beside it. The portion of the hull normally in water and not fully visible was now almost fully exposed held captive by the beach sands. 3 years on from its beaching there was still the whole vessel with plenty of surface rust to tell you what would eventually happen to the stranded ship. The ship has since been dismantled and the remains removed from Teewah Sands.

The Maheno on Fraser Island is a must see for 4WD equipped tourists. Though a well rusted wreck, it has had a chequered career since beaching in 1935. It was used for bombing target practice for the Royal Australian Air Force and was used as an explosives demolition target by Special Forces from the Fraser Commando School during the Second World War. From then on tourists were the Maheno's only visitors gaining access along 75 Mile Beach via 4 wheel drive vehicles. 

Constructed in 1904/5 in Clyde (Scotland) yards of Denny & Bros the Maheno [(6 ) - at speed] was an impressive vessel. At 404 feet or 123 metres long and weighing around 5,300 tonnes the Maheno was reportedly the world's first triple screw steamer. The ship was fitted out for luxury travel and designed for travel between Australia and New Zealand. On its delivery voyage the Maheno set a new record between Melbourne and Sydney and across Cook Strait. The Maheno ran a regular service between Vancouver, Auckland and Sydney, with occasional visits to San Francisco.

1915 and the First World War saw a need for a hospital ship to support the war effort. [(7) Wartime fitout]  New Zealanders donated funds to pay for the fitting out of a ship for use at Gallipoli and for returning solders to New Zealand. The ship made 5 trips between the Middle East and New Zealand including one embarrassing trip through the Suez Canal when a clumsy pilot drove the vessel onto a mud bank.

1919 saw the Maheno returned to commercial service between Australia and New Zealand until January 1931 when the ship was laid up in Port Chalmers for nearly four years. A proposal to provide a service between Dunedin and Melbourne, and the Maheno was brought back into service, but it was not profitable. In June 1935 the decision was made to scrap the vessel and it was sold to a Japanese company. The delivery voyage ran into one of those unseasonable cyclones and the tow rope or cable snapped and the Maheno was driven onto Fraser Island halfway along the eastern coast.

Some of the stories of the ship washing up on Fraser Island tell the tale of the Japanese skeleton crew being too afraid to get off the vessel after hearing of the cannibalistic traits of the local Aborigines. After the grounding a young customs officer was assigned to remain on the ship. He was due to be married within a week. The wedding went ahead on the sloping deck, the last festivities for a dying vessel. (9) Attempts made to refloat the Maheno were unsuccessful and it was left abandoned on the beach.

Xmas 2009 saw the family visiting Fraser Island. Staying at Orchid Beach near the northern end of the island, any movement other than local travel saw us passing the Maheno. The rust is thick, the framework is disappearing, but, surprisingly there are still some decking timbers in place. With a draught of 31 feet , there is a lot of the vessel hidden by the sands. In time the wreck will become another of the disappearing shipwrecks around the Australian Coast.

It is interesting that in each of these three shipwrecks no lives were lost. This is unusual to say the least. In each case, the vessel was at the mercy of the storm, violent winds and massive seas that totally restricted the ability of the crew to do anything to save the vessel. This is just like life. Occasionally a big storm will sweep into our neck of the woods and attempt to ravage everything in its way. But it's not the physical ones that we have to worry about.

The apostle Paul in his letter to the church at Ephesus warns us against the devil's schemes. "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms." Eph 6:12 Peter supports the presentation (1 Pet5:8) ". The devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour." The picture gets worse in Revelation where John describes a scene of major worry. "Then the dragon was enraged at the woman and went to make war with the rest of her offspring - those who obey God's commandments and hold to the testimony of Jesus" Rev 12:17

It's a bit scary. But, make sure that you look at the other side of the picture. You do not have to be wrecked. God cares and has provided a defence mechanism. Through Peter the advice is to "Resist him (the devil) standing firm in the faith" (1 Pet 5:9) The Ephesians (and it is very useful today) were directed to "Put on the full armour of God so that you can stand against the devil's schemes." Jesus himself gave full support reminding us that life is not a bed of roses, "in the world you will have trouble". But, this does not have to shipwreck you or me. "Be of good cheer (be courageous, take heart) I have overcome the world" John 16:33 (KJV).

There is quite a clear heavenly sourced offer - "let us approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need" Heb 4:16. If we do get wrecked there is an aid source close by. If anybody does come to grief there is help at hand and someone to put in a good word for us and get us out of the mess. See 1 John 2:1



(1)  Australian Government Culture Portal Accessed 20 February 2010

(2)  Mandalay. Maritime Albany Remembered. Gordon de L Marshall et al Tangee Pty Ltd Kalamunda WA. P 194.

(3)  Mandalay. Maritime Albany Remembered. Gordon de L Marshall et al Tangee Pty Ltd Kalamunda WA. P 195

(4)  Shipwrecks Search the ABC  Accessed 20.02.2010

(5)  Aerial photograph of Rainbow Beach Source to be acknowledged

(6)  Safari "The Maheno"  Accessed 19.02.2010

(7)  Wikipedia File:Hospital Ship Maheno.jpg  Accessed19.02.2010

(8)  Maheno Information Signboard Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service Sighted 25.12.2009

Interesting reading is available on the Maheno from Ahoy - Mac's Web Log and the New Zealand Electronic Text Centre from "The New Zealand Railways Magazine Volume 1, Issue 8 (November 2, 1936)

Scripture quotations unless otherwise stated are  taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version. Copyright 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers

This article and the pictures it contains are Copyright © 2010 by John L Morris.  Used by permission.

Home > Online Magazine > Online Magazine: Edition 34 - April/May 2010 > Wrecked on the Beach (by John Morris)