Fraser Island may look like an idyllic sandy paradise (and it is), but ask a ship’s captain if they’d like to sail her shores and the answer is likely to be a resounding “nah, you’re alright mate”. Fraser’s treacherous coastline has claimed many ships and many lives, with 23 wrecks recorded since 1856. There hasn’t been a wreck here for more than 50 years, but a stark reminder of this tragic past comes in the form of the rusting remains of the SS Maheno, the Fraser Island shipwreck which has become one of the island’s most popular and atmospheric sights.
As The Famous Fraser Island Shipwreck Story Goes
The story of the Maheno began back in 1905 when she was built as one of the very first turbine-driven steamers of the time. After regularly sailing the route between Sydney and Auckland for a few years, the Maheno was called to duty during the war in 1915 arriving at the naval base of the Gallipoli Campaign on 25th August of that year. She faithfully carried casualties from the Battle of Hill 60 and for the next few months she brought wounded soldiers from Gallipoli to Malta. She continued her life saving duties in the UK when she was called to serve the wounded of Europe, carrying them from the battlefields of France to the safety of England.
Once her wartime duties were over, she was sailed back to her home in New Zealand to resume her old route. But by 1935 she was flagging and was eventually sold to a shipbreaker in Osaka, Japan.
But the Maheno was never to see Japanese shores.
During her journey from Australia to Japan a huge storm whipped up, pummelling both her and the Oonah, the 1,756 ton giant ship towing her through the ocean. So strong were the winds and the power of the waves that the towline connecting the two boats broke, and the terrified crews were unable to reattach them during the catastrophic storm conditions. The Maheno was cast adrift along with 8 sailors on board, her fate left to the waves.
The ship and her crew were not discovered until 3 days later when they were found stranded on the coast of Fraser Island. Despite attempts, the Maheno could not be refloated so she remains on that same beach today, slowly rusting into the waves.
The story of the Maheno is a sad one but visiting the skeletal remains of the ship is now one of Fraser Island’s most popular sights. As expected the wreck is extremely unstable so it is not possible to go inside, but the sight of this once mighty ship laying fragile and broken on the empty shoreline is a reminder of the power of the ocean that surrounds the beautiful shores of Fraser island.
Written by – Kate Moxhay