Newsletter Issue 4, April 2018

Tremendous interest in the Wahine 50th commemoration events

The 50th anniversary of the Wahine disaster – on Tuesday, 10 April – is drawing close.

For many of you, this is a very significant anniversary, reflected in the emails, phone calls, and letters we’ve received from across New Zealand, and from Australia, Thailand, and the United Kingdom.

It’s also an important milestone for the Wellington region. The Wahine disaster – with the loss of 53 lives – was the worst shipwreck in in New Zealand’s modern history, and it happened on Wellington’s doorstep. The local community responded – setting out in boats in appalling conditions to rescue passengers and crew, providing dry clothing, hot drinks, and beds where needed. Police, nurses, ambulance crew, and other emergency staff were an integral part of the rescue effort. Thanks to their response, 683 passengers and crew survived.

Fifty years on, the community is again responding. Behind the scenes school children, choirs, emergency response organisations, owners and crew of more than 40 vessels, and others are preparing for the Wahine 50th commemorations in Wellington and Eastbourne on Tuesday, 10 April.

We look forward to meeting many of you on the day. For those unable to make it, we’ll be sending a wrap-up newsletter on the highlights.

Please feel free to share details of the newsletter to all.

Rhys Jones
Chair, The Wahine 50 Charitable Trust


Choral tributes at the 50th Wahine Day commemorations

Wahine passengers sang to relieve the tension and distract children as they waited on the ferry for the storm to abate and later in the lifeboats/rafts – hymns, nursery rhymes, 60’s pop! On 10 April, the Orpheus Choir and Wellington Community Choir will sing some of those songs in tribute to those on the Wahine that day.

Australian-based Wahine survivor Danny O’Neill talks about singing with his siblings on the ferry 50 years ago with the ABC, Canberra … Read more (and listen) …

The Wellington Community Choir, directed by Julian Raphael, will perform The Songs They Sang from 7.30am to 8.30am in Wellington’s Railway Station –the official reporting centre for survivors brought in by buses from the coastlines of Seatoun and Eastbourne on 10 April 1968

The Orpheus Choir of Wellington will perform a choral tribute at the New Zealand Remembers service starting at 11.30am by the Wahine mast memorial on Wellington’s waterfront.













School children learn archiving skills from the experts

School children in Eastbourne and Seatoun are gathering Wahine memorabilia, their own works, and photographs from New Zealand’s National Library archives to display in their schools on Wahine Day.  Read more

Muritai School students learn how to care for artefacts and curate displays from the experts at Wellington Museum in preparation for their Eastbourne Remembers display.

Seatoun School students look out to the reef the Wahine struck on 10 April 1968, as part of their studies on the disaster in in preparation for their school’s Seatoun Remembers display. As well as studying the coastline and conditions on the day the Wahine foundered, the students are researching the support local people gave to survivors, and learning how to prepare for natural disasters.















P.S. Are You Prepared
– learn from the experts
The public is encouraged to find out how to best prepare for disaster. Twenty-one of the country’s leading emergency response organisations will be on site at the Wahine 50 – P.S. Are You Prepared display in Shed 6 on Wellington’s waterfront. Read more


Hot off the press
– filmed interviews with survivors and rescuers
A 10-minute slice of life – filmed interviews with Wahine survivors and rescuers by documentary-maker, Anna Cottrell, will be screened at Wellington Museum on 10 April. Read more


Filling the gaps on the rescue front
Wahine 50 Trustee, John Brown, who skippered the harbour board launch Tiakina on 10 April 1968, is drawing up a list of all the boats involved in the Wahine rescue effort on 10 April 1968. It has gaps that he’d like filled. Please send an email with details to if you know of a boat and/or crew who are missing.


50th anniversary of Wahine disaster commemorated in Huntly

Duncan’s official officer’s jacket and this painting of the Wahine (a 60th birthday present from his family), along with newspaper clippings provided by Seth, the brother of John Bird, the Wahine’s chef on the day, and images by local photographer Ted Bland, are on display in the front windows of The Bookshop and Allenmara Computers on Huntly’s main street.

Huntly historian Jean Beverlands was inspired to create two Wahine 50 displays in the north Waikato town after interviewing two local engineers with a close connection to the Wahine.

Duncan Gillies (left), a young Kiwi marine engineer, joined the Wahine in Greenoch, in Scotland, for the last of its sea trials, before working on the ferry’s maiden voyage to New Zealand in 1966. Read more …

Colin Jenner (right), a young Aucklander, joined the Wahine for its last voyage two years later, after a tour of South Island and its railways. As one of the last to disembark, Colin barely got his feet wet when he stepped off the severely listing ferry into a life-raft, was then picked up by a naval reserve boat, and dropped off at the Seatoun wharf. His luggage – like the belongings of most passengers and crew – ended up in Wellington harbour with the Wahine. 





Wahine 50 stamps launched

NZ Post has launched a range of Wahine 50 stamps, first-day covers – featuring the iconic photographs of Wahine steward Frank Robinson, Warwick Pryce, and others – as well as a coin to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the disaster. Read more






Maritime radio marks the 50th across April

A special radio event station ZM50GW will be on air the entire month of April 2018 to mark the 50th anniversary of the loss of the Lyttelton-Wellington ferry TEV Wahine  … Listen in


Q and A with Lewis Robinson, organiser of the ‘Steam Past – a Tribute to the Rescuers’

Steam Past organiser Lewis Robinson (left) and Chair of the Wahine 50 Trust Rhys Jones sit by the former pilot launch Arahina, one of the ‘special’ group of rescue boats taking part in the Wahine 50 Steam Past on Wellington’s inner harbour on 10 April. The Arahina rescued 55 Wahine passengers and crew.

A seldom seen ‘Steam Past of about 50 boats and small ships will take place on Wellington’s inner harbour from 12 noon to 12.45pm on 10 April 2018.  We ask Lewis Robinson, marine safety expert and organiser a few questions.

What is a ‘Steam Past’?
The term Steam Past is the merchant vessel equivalent of a Sail Past (for yachts and other recreational boats) or a Fleet Review (for naval vessels).

What is this ‘Steam Past’ for?
This ‘Steam Past’ will be a review of the vessels available for ‘call out’ by  the NZ Police, the Rescue Coordination Centre of NZ [administered by Maritime NZ] and Regional Civil Defence, should there be an incident at sea in which large numbers of people are endangered.
It is a very sincere tribute to those who perished in the Wahine disaster, and to those whose fortitude and bravery saved the lives of many Wahine passengers and crew. It’s also a tribute to the rescuers of today.
Police Commissioner Mike Bush will acknowledge each of the small ships and boats as they pass the Wahine mast in Frank Kitts Park and each will receive a double ring from the bell of the Union Steam Ship Company’s World War I Hospital Ship Marama.

How many vessels will take part?
Up to 44 from the ‘call out’ list. Over and above these, there may be 10 more vessels of ‘opportunity’ – that is vessels that might be in the area when something is happening or that may respond to a ‘general all ships call’ for assistance.

Does this mean private boats can join in?
To properly manage the ‘Steam Past’, private boats are not encouraged to join in.  They are welcome to stand off 200 metres east of the Wahine’s mast, however, and as may be necessary, take advice from harbour rangers in the Wellington Harbour Board’s Patrol Boat Sea Care.  She will be flying the Code Flag ‘R’ (ROMEO), which is bright red with a yellow cross on it.

Any of the boats that rescued Wahine passengers and crew taking part?
Yes, several boats, including the Arahina, the launch Rewanui, and Saucy Sal. They’ve been given ‘special’ status and will be highlighted in the commentary.

What about rescuers from the day?
We expect a few will be taking part. One of them, Tony Coard, the then 14-year-old skipper of Pugwash, the Worser Bay Yacht Club pick-up boat, will be on board the East-by-West ferry along with about 60 Otaki College students.

Why are the students on board?
The students will be there partly in tribute to the pluck of the Otaki, a merchant ship caught up in a very different battle [… read more]

What’s the format?
Five groups make up the Steam Past: the Lead Group, including police, coastguard, airport crash, fire, and surf lifesaving boats; Red Group – tugs and pilot boats; the Special group of Wahine rescue boats; Blue Group – commercial and fishing vessels; and White Group – charter, harbour ferries, research vessels etc.
Led by Police Launch Lady Elizabeth IV they’ll set out from near the historic Hikitia steam crane – used in the salvage of the Wahine in 1973 – and steam past the Wahine mast in single file.

Any potential problems with the wake of vessels?
The speed will be five knots, so no wake, and the masters/skippers are all professional.

Are Steam Past reviews common in New Zealand?
Fair to say they’re not common – special occasions only, with the most recent a sail past of five Polynesian waka on 23 February to open this year’s NZ Festival in Wellington.
In November 2016, the 75th Anniversary of the Royal NZ Navy was marked with a Fleet Review on Auckland Harbour, and  prior to that a Sail Past to commemorate the loss of the Police Launch Lady Elizabeth II and two of her crew. 

What happens if the weather is awful?
If the weather is foul we might have to make a few modifications – but the event will still take place.

Where were you on 10 April 1968?
I was running a 17.5m fast ferry, carrying workers (power station) to and from the power station being built at West Arm on Lake Manapouri and recall the wind blasting a lifebuoy off the top deck, smashing windows, and injuring passengers.

The Steam-Past will be recorded and a copy sent to the International Maritime Rescue Federation, a branch of the United Nation’s International Maritime Organisation of which Maritime NZ and Coastguard NZ are members.

KiwiRail is sponsoring the ‘Steam Past’ as well as the ‘New Zealand Remembers’ service that precedes it on Wellington’s waterfront.