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Community Education

Small school joins salute to hospital ship

Small school joins salute to hospital ship
The Maheno wreck is an attraction for many of the 15,000 visitors who come to Fraser Island each year, but very few appreciate the ship’s historical significance.

A 15-strong group from the small Maheno School just south of Oamaru will spend this Anzac Day on the Queensland coast saluting the exploits of a World War 1 hospital ship and crew.

Eight children (years seven and eight), six parents and the principal will represent the 52-pupil school at a celebration and commemoration of the role of HMNZHS Maheno.

The ceremonies will take place on the 120x24kilometre Fraser Island off Harvey Bay in south-east Queensland.

Brisbane High Rise Rotary, which is coordinating the project, will host a luncheon, using the Maheno’s Christmas Day 1918 menu (roasts were the order of the day), at the Fraser Island Retreat on Sunday, April 23.

Two days later, an Anzac Day service will be held beside the Maheno’s remains on Seventy-Five Mile Beach where the ship has rested since being wrecked 1935.

The Maheno, named after the tiny North Otago town, was beached on the island in a cyclone in 1935 while being towed to Japan to be broken up for scrap.

The original ship’s bell was removed and retained by the owner (Union Steamship Company of New Zealand), and donated to the Maheno School in 1967.

It has hung there since. Two former Maheno School pupils from 1967 will be at this year’s commemoration.

In 2015, seven Maheno children from years seven and eight, plus parents and the principal escorted the original bell to Fraser Island for the 2015 Anzac service.

The replica bell at the Fraser Island Retreat was cast from the original.

A one-metre-square, bronze, commemorative plaque to be unveiled on the site of the Maheno wreck in the foredune area beside the beach.

It has been sculpted by an Australian, Ross Bastiaan, and will tell the Maheno story through a combination of text, pictures, a ship profile and a map of travels.

The plaque will sit on a plinth fashioned from a piece of volcanic-cooked sandstone quarried near Maheno; the rock was transported to Australia by the Royal New Zealand Air Force in January.

With the wreck slowly succumbing to the forces of Mother Nature, the aim is to establish a permanent memorial to record and recognise the Maheno’s role as a hospital ship in World War I.

It is a stop for many of Fraser Island’s 15,000-a-year tourist trade, but only a few appreciate its historical significance, its links to the Anzac concept of mateship, and its role as a hospital ship.

And, while the Maheno was one of many hospital ships during WWI, it is now a lone survivor representing crew, doctors, nurses and other medical personnel.

The hope is that the record of its history will encourage visitors to reflect on the contribution made by hospital ships, their crews, the doctors, the nurses and the other medical personnel who provided support to so many troops.

A children’s book on the history of the Maheno and its hospital-ship significance will be launched at the April 23 lunch.

It will include drawings by Butchulla children – the Butchulla people have been granted native title to K’gari (Fraser Island).

The Museum of New Zealand (Te Papa Tongarewa) in Wellington has a model of part of Maheno’s hospital-ship interior in its World War 1 and Anzac-legend display The model was created by Weta Workshops.