Media Release – Wahine 50 programme – dawn service, choral tribute, sail-by, displays

A dawn service, choral tribute on Wellington’s waterfront, sail-by of 50 boats, and a display focused on future preparedness, are some of the public events scheduled to mark the 50th anniversary of Wahine Day on 10 April 2018.

“The 50th commemoration programme aims to balance three key elements – remembrance, gratitude, and preparedness, ” says Chair of the Wahine 50 Charitable Trust, Lieut Gen (Retired) Rhys Jones (who was recently appointed Chief Executive of Fire and Emergency New Zealand).

“It will be a day to remember those who lost their lives, a time for survivors to thank those who helped in their rescue and in the disaster relief, and a powerful opportunity to emphasise the need to be prepared should disaster strike again.”

The programme (overleaf) is a mix of public events  – from the dawn service in Eastbourne to a gathering at Seatoun School mid-afternoon – and events specifically for the survivors, family members of passengers and crew, and rescuers.

“The Orpheus Choir will sing in tribute to those on the Wahine, many of whom sang on board and in the lifeboats to keep their spirits up in the midst of the disaster,” says Rhys.

A flotilla of 50 to 60 boats, including several that took part in the 1968 rescue, will be offered a formal salute as they sail pass the Wahine mast in tribute to all who took to the sea to help rescue those in trouble. Colleagues of the Salvation Army teenagers who served tea to the drenched survivors once they reached land, will on 10 April serve tea to those visiting the ‘Wahine-50 – P.S. Are you Prepared’ display in Shed 6.

“We’ve already heard from many wanting to be involved in the upcoming anniversary,” says Rhys. “They include some who were infants on the Wahine, former members of university cricket teams on their way to a North Island tournament, overseas tourists exploring New Zealand, crew members, children of parents who died in the disaster, boaties who set out to sea to help in the rescue, police cadets who helped recover the bodies of those who died, and nurses who helped look after the injured.”

“Some are keen to re-connect or find fellow passengers and/or rescuers at the upcoming anniversary. For many it will be an opportunity to share again their profound common experience.”

The Wahine disaster is well documented. On 10 April 1968, the passenger ferry Wahine, buffeted by ferocious gale-force winds, ran aground on Barrett Reef at the entrance to Wellington Harbour, listed, and then sank.  Fifty-one of the 734 passengers and crew on the Wahine died that day, most of them on the rocks at Pencarrow on the Eastbourne coast. Another two died later from their injuries. Most survivors and those who died ended up on the shores of Eastbourne and Seatoun.

The tragedy led to improved safety procedures on ships and prompted the creation of two significant rescue services:  Coastguard Wellington and the Life Flight Trust. The nation-wide storm – Cyclone Giselle – that led to the Wahine’s demise, also triggered the instigation of mandatory civil defence plans by local authorities.

The Wahine 50 Charitable Trust, set up by a survivors and rescuers in late 2015 to plan for the 50th anniversary, has worked closely with the Hutt City Council, Wellington City Council, NZ Search and Rescue, Muritai and Seatoun schools, and various sponsors to finalise the 50th anniversary programme. Wellington Museum, the city’s main Wahine storyteller has been an important contributor to the planning

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