The History Of The S.S. Maheno Shipwreck on Fraser Island

It’s a bucket list location and one of the most photographed shipwrecks on the Queensland coast.

Michael Ellem from Offroad Images
Michael Ellem
Apr 24 2024
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Anyone visiting K’Gari, formerly Fraser Island, will likely intend on seeing the SS Maheno wreck. It’s a bucket list location and one of the most photographed shipwrecks on the Queensland coast.

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4wd driving on the beach at maheno shipwreck fraser island

Today, it’s hard to imagine the original stature of this ship which drifted ashore onto Seventy Mile Beach, just to the north of Happy Valley, during a cyclone in 1935.

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maheno drone shot fraser island

K'Gari has seen 23 shipwrecks since 1856 with many lives lost as a result. On a good day, with sunshine and a gentle ocean breeze, it’s hard to imagine this beautiful location being the final resting place for so many vessels over the years. However, if you're ever visiting during big seas and bad weather, this magical location displays a vastly different image.

The SS Maheno was originally built in Scotland in 1905 and was equipped with excellent facilities for first-class passengers travelling between Sydney, Melbourne, Hobart, and across the Tasman to Wellington.

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historical photo of the maheno shipwreck

It was converted to a hospital ship in 1915, fitted with eight wards and two operating theatres. A medical team consisting of five doctors, 14 nurses, and more than 60 soldiers sailed to assist with casualties from Gallipoli battlefields, extracting patients to medical facilities on Lemnos, Malta, and Egypt. The Maheno was also used to transport wounded from battles in Europe to New Zealand for treatment.

After her service in wartime, the Maheno was to return to service travelling the Tasman, but the introduction of more modern diesel vessels made her unserviceable and the decision was made to sell her for scrap to a shipbreaker in Osaka, Japan.

In 1935, the Maheno was under tow heading to Japan to be scrapped. The tow line, attached to the 1,758 tonne ship Oonah, broke, leaving the ship drifting in the cyclonic seas with eight crewmen on board, ending up stranded where you can see it for yourself today. The vessel and crew weren’t found for another three days.

But the story of the SS Maheno doesn’t end there, she was put back to work during the Second World War, utilised as a bombing target for the RAAF, the Navy, and Z Force Commando forces. It’s hard to imagine really.

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maheno shipwreck close up

Unfortunately, the harsh seas and environment are gradually eroding this once beautiful ship to what you see today, which is guaranteed to be less of a ship than what you saw yesterday. Make sure your next visit to Queensland includes a photograph of your 4WD in front of this iconic landmark before this photo opportunity is no more.

There are a few rules which are easy to follow... don’t board the ship and stay back a little to ensure you're safe if something falls from the remains. This might seem obvious but unfortunately, there always seems to be someone who decides to climb onboard for a closer look.

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maheno shipwreck birds eye drone with 4wds on beach

A tip for those who wish to travel to this iconic location: Check the tides, as the sometimes-treacherous Eli Creek, just south of the wreck, can be a difficult crossing. While we were there this year, it was an easy crossing, but on a previous trip years ago, it wasextremely difficult , requiring plenty of waiting between the sets of waves to get it right. Low tide makes travel along Seventy Mile Beach a lot easier, that's for certain.

Write down this number: 0428 353 164 from “Fraser Island Towing” ... just in case you have a friend on the Island who needs their assistance
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fraser island towing

Expect that at the time of your visit to the Maheno, others will be doing the same. If you're wanting to create some imagery, you may need to wait a while but I recommend allowing enough time to create an image of just you, your 4WD, your friends, and the skeletal remains of this huge ship.

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toyota 79 landcruiser with canopy next to maheno


Michael Ellem | Offroad Images

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Michael Ellem from Offroad Images
Michael Ellem
Michael Ellem is a long term friend of the Club 4X4 Insurance and voice of The Campfire. He is also an expert adventure, 4X4 photographer from the renowned Offroad Images and has over 20 years experience in the industry.