Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Wahine Disaster (Happy Wahine day, Lorraine)

Hi there

Yesterday, 10 April, was my birthday (happy birthday to me, happy birthday to me).  Every year I wake up on my birthday, bleary-eyed, turn on my radio and immediately hear the announcers going on about "today is one of the saddest, most tragic days in New Zealand's history".  A bit of a let-down for a birthday girl.

All through the day on radio and television there is talk again of what a tragic day it is.  Listeners ring up Talkback, television has retrospective looks, memories are dug out, newspapers print special pages....  It's all too depressing, really.

It's the anniversary when the New Zealand inter-island passenger ferry, Wahine, sank in Wellington Harbour - 10 April 1968.  With loss of lives.

The terrible thing about the whole episode was that the ship was so close to shore.   Wellingtonians could only watch and not do anything.  It was the worst storm Wellington has ever had, two big storms clashing together over the city.    Hundreds of roofs were blown off, trees blown down, roads blocked.  The ship was so close to berthing and it still couldnt combat the fierce waves, wind, rain, and the rocks of Barrett's reef.  I can remember my father telling me about so-called "Wanganella weather".  In 1947, the inter-island ferry, Wanganella got stuck on Barrett's Reef as it entered Wellington Harbour.  Passengers were rescued but salvagers needed at least 18 fine days - without any sort of bad weather - to get the ship off the rocks.   And they got those fine days, henceforth any good period of weather became known as 'Wanganella Weather'.

I was a junior typist at the time of the Wahine disaster, working in Government Buildings, (the largest wooden structure in the southern hemisphere), at the bottom of Lambton Quay.  From my third floor front window, I could see the devastation all around.  Anything that wasnt tied tightly down was blowing madly down the streets in the gale-force winds.  There is a big wide tree beside Parliament Buildings gates.  I can remember a woman with her chest tight to the tree, arms out-stretched clinging tightly to the tree-trunk, lest she be blown away.

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