Our stunningly beautiful, rugged coastline is one of the best things about Sydney’s eastern beaches, but it has spelled doom for many ships and boats over the years.
We uncover the fascinating stories of some of the eastern beaches’ shipwrecks.
Hereward – wrecked in 1898
The wreck of the Scottish clipper, the Hereward, put Maroubra on the map.
On 5 May 1898, the Hereward was caught in a fierce storm as it made its way up the coast to Newcastle to load coal bound for South America. Gale force winds tore the clipper’s sails to shreds and forced it onto the soft sand at the northern end of Maroubra Beach. Fortunately, it avoided the rocky reefs in the area, and the crew of 25 landed safely ashore.
At the time, Maroubra was an isolated, little-visited spot, far from Sydney. But the wreck of the Hereward, which lay on the beach for months before any salvage attempts were made, drew sightseers on horseback and bicycles in their thousands. Another storm in December 1898 broke the wreck into two, but the Hereward’s remains lay on Maroubra Beach for decades. In fact, it wasn’t until the 1950s and 60s that the wreck was finally blasted. Today, the Hereward is remembered by Hereward Street and Hereward Reserve and Playground.
SS Tekapo – wrecked in 1899
Just one year after the Hereward disaster, in May 1899, Maroubra was the site of another shipwreck.
The New Zealand steamship Tekapo was one of the larger ships operating in Australia. It carried cargo and up to 133 passengers between Australia, New Zealand, and India. On 16 May 1898, it was travelling to Port Kembla to load coal for transportation to New Zealand when, in heavy fog in the early hours of the morning, it hit the southern headland of Maroubra Beach. The fog was so thick the captain didn’t realise they were already ashore on flat rocks, and he ordered his crew to lower the lifeboats. The fog might also have been the reason the South Head lighthouse didn’t register the ship’s rockets and distress guns; it was people living in Coogee, Randwick, Rockdale, and Cooks River who alerted the authorities to the disaster. Despite several attempts, the ship couldn’t be refloated, and the wreck attracted thousands of curious sightseers on the Queen’s Birthday holiday on 24 May 1899.
The Tekapo’s anchor was recovered in 1986. Today it resides in the Maroubra Surf Life Saving Club as a memorial to the vast power of the sea.
SS Annie M. Miller – wrecked in 1929
Named after its owner’s wife, the coal ship Annie M. Miller was built in Scotland in 1928. On 8 February 1929, only six months after it was launched, the collier left Bulli with a load of coal bound for Sydney. That evening, after struggling with a dangerous list for most of the journey, the Annie M. Miller sank just north of Bondi Beach. The ship sank on the same day as a fatal shark attack at Bondi, and the six survivors spoke of being worried about sharks while they were in the water. While six crew members survived, another six drowned. No trace of them was ever found. Today, the Annie M. Miller is a popular shipwreck with divers.
MV Malabar – wrecked in 1931
This shipwreck gave the suburb of Malabar its name.
The motor ship the Malabar, named after a small town in Java and launched in 1925, was commissioned by an Australian shipping line to sail the Java to Singapore route. Powered by a diesel engine, it could carry 156 passengers as well as cargo such as fruit, frozen meat, and oil. On 31 March 1931, it was sailing for Singapore from Melbourne when it ran aground on the northern side of Long Bay in dense fog. The passengers and crew evacuated safely, including three stud horses who had to swim to shore. The ship’s cat, however, refused to leave the vessel. Its life was the only one lost.
Much like the Hereward and the Tekapo before it, the wreck of the Malabar attracted great crowds over the 1931 Easter weekend. Newspapers of the day estimated 500,000 people – more than a third of Sydney’s population at the time – visited the wreck. In 1933, the suburb, which had previously been known as Brand or Long Bay, was renamed Malabar.
All that remains of the wreck today is rusting, twisted metal, but it continues to attract divers.
SS Minmi – wrecked in 1937
At 10pm on 8 May 1937, the collier SS Minmi was on its way from Melbourne to Newcastle when, in heavy seas and thick fog, it crashed into Cape Banks, the outer northern headland of Botany Bay. Thanks to the heavy seas, the crew were stranded on the ship, and when it split in two at 12:45am, there were men stuck on both sections. The people in the front half were rescued safely, but it was trickier for those in the rear. Ultimately, two lives were lost. A crowd of 40,000 came to see the wreck on 15 May 1937; 60,000 more turned up the following day. Cars were backed up for four miles towards the city on Anzac Parade (then Bunnerong Road) in La Perouse, and police had to be called in to control the traffic and patrol the cliffs.
The rear section of the SS Minmi is still sitting on the rock platform inside Cape Banks today.
TSS Belbowrie – wrecked in 1939
On 16 January 1939, in poor weather, the Belbowrie left Sydney bound for Shellharbour, where it was due to take on a load of blue metal. Shortly after the captain went below, leaving the mate in charge, the ship ran into rocks at Maroubra Point. It broke up virtually on impact. With the help of police and locals, ropes were tied from the shore to the ship. The crew made their way to safety by moving hand over hand along the ropes before being treated for shock at Maroubra Ambulance Station. The following day, the ship was declared a total loss.
HMAS Goolgwai – wrecked in 1955
Before it was wrecked near Malabar, the Goolgwai had a long and varied life. Launched in Canada in 1919, it was bought by Sydney’s Red Funnell Fisheries in 1928 before being requisitioned by the Royal Australian Navy in the Second World War. HMAS Goolgwai was used as a minesweeper during the war before returning to life as a fishing trawler.
On 29 May 1955, the Goolgwai was returning to Sydney with a haul of fish when it ran into dense fog. It crashed on rocks at Boora Point (also known as North Point) at Malabar. Waves broke over the ship as fishermen and locals helped the crew to safety on the rock platform. The ship’s cat was saved, but its dog, Sluggo, was not. Eight days later, on 6 June, the Goolgwai broke into pieces and was washed from the rock platform into the sea.
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