Newsletter Issue 5, May 2018

Remembrance, Gratitude, and a Legacy

It seemed appropriate that the weather that greeted us on the day of the Wahine 50th commemorations was wild. Although not nearly as fierce as 50 years ago, the strong southerly and rain gave some insight into the conditions the Wahine passengers and crew faced and the courage of those setting out to save them.

Given the inclement weather, we shifted the Eastbourne and Wellington Wahine mast memorial services indoors. The weather and change of venue seemed to enhance the atmosphere of the commemorations, with the tightly packed halls giving a more intimate feeling – than the open air – that lasted throughout the day.

Over the past year, we’ve worked closely with many others to create a programme that would allow time for remembrance of those who died, time to thank those who rescued and supported the survivors, and an opportunity to look to the future and how we all need to prepare given the volatility of our environment, as so tangibly illustrated on the day. We wanted to include the wider community, but also allow those with a very close connection to the Wahine disaster to have time together.

The 50th commemorations started with a dawn service in Eastbourne at 6.41am (the time the Wahine hit Barrett Reef in Wellington harbour 50 years ago) and concluded nearly 10 hours later at Seatoun School, on the opposite side of Wellington harbour. The day included special services, choral tributes, wreath laying, a steam-past tribute, displays on the Wahine and preparedness, a film premier, and launch of a newly donated rescue craft for the Wellington region. Most events were open to the public. You can see more on these events below. A reunion lunch for the survivors, family of those who died in the disaster, and rescuers, was also held.

As Chair of the Wahine 50 Trust, I feel very privileged to have been involved in the Wahine 50th commemorations and to have met many of you during the day. On behalf of my Trust colleagues, I’d like to thank all in the wider community who helped pull the day together and all of you who joined us. I want to give special thanks to the event management team, ‘The Whiteboard’, who have been working with the Trust from the very start and who did a great job in turning our guidance and desires into actual events, thereby creating such a great day. I’d also like to send my best wishes to those who would like to have been with us but couldn’t on this very significant anniversary. You were not forgotten.

This will be our last newsletter. The Wahine 50 Charitable Trust was formed to deliver the 50th commemoration and now that this role has concluded the Trust will be successfully wound up. As a result we will shortly be unable to respond to enquiries or provide further information. The website will remain open until the end of May, when it too will close down.

In closing I would like to thank everyone who has contacted the Trust over the past 2.5 years. We have really appreciated your stories, your responses, and your interest. We are delighted with the success of the day’s 50th Commemoration.

Rhys Jones
Chair, The Wahine 50 Charitable Trust

The 50th anniversary of the Wahine disaster in images

Eastbourne Remembers

About 450 people filled the Muritai School hall in Eastbourne for a moving dawn service. Speeches by the Minister of Civil Defence, Hon Kris Faafoi; Minister of Transport, Hon Phil Twyford; and host Hutt City Mayor, Ray Wallace, were followed by the laying of wreaths and flowers in remembrance of lives lost. Singing and an impressive Wahine display by the school’s students as well as refreshments were included in the early morning line-up. Some 200+ survivors and most of the 51 who died on the day ended up on the Pencarrow coast near Eastbourne. Watch more here … (thanks to KiwiRail) and here

The Songs They Sang

Meanwhile at Wellington Railway Station – where the survivors were bused to on 10 April 1968 – the Wellington Community Choir sang the songs passengers sang as they waited on the Wahine and in the lifeboats … more here

Memories at Wellington Museum  

At Wellington Museum, visitors gathered for the laying of a wreath, displays, and the premiere screening of Anna Cottrell’s filmed interviews of survivors and rescuers.

Wahine 50 – P.S. Are You Prepared? 

The Governor-General, Her Excellency The Rt Hon Dame Patsy Reddy, helped by a young team of Worser Bay Surf Lifesavers, unveiled a new rescue boat, at the official launch of the ‘P.S. Are You Prepared’ public display in Shed 6. The boat (donated by BP, sponsor of the display) will be used by the Capital Coast Callout Squad, a group of highly experienced surf lifeguards who work alongside NZ Police and other emergency services in search and rescue situations. 

Twenty-one of the region’s emergency response organisations were on hand to advise the public about how best to prepare for disaster on land and sea … and get involved as a volunteer – over tea/coffee served by the Salvation Army (who served hot drinks and soup to the Wahine survivors 50 years ago) and a commemoration biscuit.

New Zealand Remembers

Moving speeches by the Governor General, Dame Patsy Reddy, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Wellington City Mayor, Justin Lester,  KiwiRail Chief Executive Peter Reidy, and others,  plus a stunning tribute by the Orpheus Choir were the highlights of the Wellington service conducted in Shed 6 at 11.30am.  Many gathered outside the venue to listen to the service broadcast beyond. KiwiRail sponsored this event and the Steam Past that followed. Watch more here …

The Steam Past – a Tribute to the Rescuers

Many gathered on Wellington’s waterfront to watch 32 vessels, (many of them on the official rescue call-out list) steam past the Wahine mast memorial on Wellington’s waterfront. The parade, led by the NZ Police launch Lady Elizabeth IV, also included the 10 April 1968 rescue boats Rewanui, Pania, and Kokuru.

NZ Police Commissioner Mike Bush saluted each boat as it passed the Wahine mast and an historic bell tolled twice. A narrator made special mention of the 1968 rescuers and rescue boats taking part in the Steam Past.  The parade ended on a moving note, with Scots College student Matt Bloomfield playing ‘Amazing Grace’ on the bagpipes from the bow of the Sweet Georgia. Listen here …

Seatoun Remembers

The Wahine 50th commemorations wrapped up with an inspiring display and generous afternoon tea at Seatoun School – close to the coast where most of the Wahine’s 683 surviving passengers and crew ended up on 10 April 1968. Read more …

Some of the feedback the Wahine 50 Trust has received from those attending the 50th commemorations:

“Such an emotional day that was both sad and uplifting.”
Son of Wahine survivors.

“… All the stories, and memories that had been hidden/buried came back and to have someone thank all the rescuers on the survivors behalf was a wonderful closure for me.”
Wahine survivor

“… I met many amazing people and in some ways I will remember it more than I did that day 50 years ago in extreme weather conditions on Eastbourne Beach.”

“Thank you for an awesome day of events for the 50th Anniversary yesterday. It meant so much to my parents who are survivors.”
Daughter of Wahine survivors

We also heard of some very special re-connections at the 50th commemorations – of survivors meeting their rescuers for the first time in 50 years, of discussions that helped fill in the gaps of what happened to those involved on the day, and more.