May 18, 2016

'Wrecked' heralds fresh look at Maggie

Denise Secomb

6th March 2016

'Wrecked' heralds fresh look at Maggie


Above; City of Adelaide, elegant and proud in her heyday (Photo: John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland).

This year's permanent exhibition at the Magnetic Museum is about the historic shipwrecks of Magnetic Island.

Called 'Wrecked', the exhibition will open on March 12. It heralds a new era in the depiction of the history of our wrecks. Members of Magnetic Island History and Craft Centre and Magnetic Museum have been beavering away for months, anxious to ensure the accuracy and consistency of the outcomes. The exhibition will remain on show for the remainder of the year.

'Wrecked' has been professionally researched and written by Bryony Barnett, of Townsville who developed the new signage for QPWS for The Forts.

Bryony, of TYPO Consulting, is developing the exhibition with the assistance of members of MIHCC who have obtained a $24,000 grant. The funding comes from the Everyone's Environment grant program administered by the Queensland Department of Environment and Heritage Protection. The grant was instigated with the help of Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority's Maritime Archaeologist, Peter Illidge, of Nelly Bay.

Project works have focussed on the research and establishment of the display about shipwrecks around Magnetic Island and the development of a shipwreck trail. Included in the funding is an interpretive sign to be located on the bank of Gustav Creek near the bridge along Sooning Street, Nelly Bay. This sign acknowledges the early boat building enterprise carried out in that location by Messrs Murrie and McKarracher from as early as 1900. As a requirement of the grant, all research material will be made available to DEHP as a reference source for future use.

The exhibition is about historic shipwrecks, with more than 20 shipwrecks reported around the island since the 1890s, among the 1400 ships wrecked along the Queensland coastline since the 1700s.

There is reference to the Wulgurukaba, or 'canoe people', who are the traditional owners of Yunbenen, as they call Magnetic Island, but as Peter Illidge puts it “the Indigenous heritage of Magnetic Island would be an exhibition on its own and one best served with the full attention of a standalone exhibition”. Therefore the reference is only a fleeting one, as is the mention of Lt James Cook, who named “Magnetical Island” when he passed close to the shore in 1770, noting in his log his belief the rocks were responsible for variations in his compass.

Says Bryony of the Murrie's boatshed site: “Standing here over a century ago, looking seawards, you could have heard the ring of a mallet and chisel coming from Murrie's boatshed beyond.” Murrie lost the roof of his boat shed in Cyclone Leonta (March, 1903) and in 1907 took out a one-acre lease on the area. The boat shed was also to become popular for social occasions until it was destroyed by fire in 1933.

The 'Wrecked' exhibition looks at paddle boats, steamers and sail boats and shipping in Cleveland Bay, in which Magnetic Island is located, including strandings and the many scuttlings that form the majority of our wreck trail.

Of particular interest to all, particularly divers, is the production of a wreck map, which is being produced complete with GPS co-ordinates for the location of each wreck.

However, perhaps the most accessible shipwreck for people to see, especially those who are unable to dive, is the wreck of George Rennie (Picnic Bay, 1902) scuttled as a breakwater at the eastern end of the beach in the lee of Hawkings Point. It is still visible at low tide and you can walk to see her on a very low tide.

The history of the 50-ton paddle steamer built in Middlesex, England is given in detail. George Rennie had a career spanning about a 40 years as a Victorian Government vessel connected with royals – and convicts. In 1897, Howard Smith and Sons bought her and stripped her down to run as a lighter between Townsville and Cairns.  In June, 1897, she sank in Townsville laden with goods bound for a Charters Towers draper in the heyday of the gold fields there. She was re-floated and worked another five years before being scuttled as a breakwater. The story is told of pioneering family, the Butlers, who were at George Rennie's “last gasp”. On the day of her scuttling, she was towed back into position and holes put in her to release trapped air so she would go down in the designated spot where she can still be seen today.

The exhibition is divided into themed panels, all beautifully illustrated and captioned, with bite-sized “grabs” of headlined text

Magnetic Attraction: Island Connections sets the scene. Magnetic Island is 8km from Townsville. The first picnickers from among the pioneering community came to the island in 1865 to what became known as Picnic Bay. The first pioneering settler, Harry Butler, settled at Picnic Bay in 1876 building the first guest house, which was popular with Townsville visitors.

The narrative about early pioneers also tells of Robert Hayles building Magnetic Hotel and a jetty at Picnic Bay in 1900 and the Hayles' boats, then details the cutters and three sturdy launches built at John Murrie's boatshed in Nelly Bay on the banks of Gustav Creek.

The panel Stripped and Dumped deals with scuttled vessels: Moltke (Geoffrey Bay, 1911) George Rennie (Picnic Bay, 1902) and Presto (Nelly Bay, 1896) a legacy from this era, deliberately sunk to provide breakwaters for these bays. Moltke “continues to excite divers with its coral encrusted frame”, according to researcher, Bryony Barnett, whom you will discover has a wonderful lilting quality to her turns of phrase. A Presto remnant is still visible in the rocks, for those who walk to the end of Presto Breakwater, where it has been relocated.

Up in Flames informs viewers about several craft that have gone up in flames and down to the bottom in Cleveland Bay, among them Scotia (Picnic Bay, 1913) Nellbay (Cleveland Bay, 1925) and Argonaut II (Horseshoe Bay, 1978).

Butler's boat, Nellbay, features on this panel, with the wreck's estimated location marked on the exhibition map.

According to Peter Illidge: “The search continues for the Nellbay wreck but research tells us it is close to the co-ordinates on the wreck map and we will eventually find her.”

Past their Prime: More Hulks looks at a number of once proud ladies of the sea that became hulks around Magnetic Island, beginning with details of City of Adelaide (Cockle Bay, 1915) which was scuttled on the reef flat. The panel details her history during World War II during which she was used for bombing practice. One aircraft, a Beaufort bomber with four crew on board, clipped her mast and crashed in 1942, killing all on board.

Above: The anchor and one capstan from City of Adelaide (Cockle Bay, 1915) is outside the Harbour Master's Office, Townsville, embedded there in concrete in 1974 by John Nagan and Peter Braddick (dec.).

An admiralty anchor and capstan from City of Adelaide is set in concrete outside the Harbour Master's office, Townsville, embedded there by self-proclaimed “builders and anchor-bedders” John Nagan and Peter Braddick (dec.) in 1974. A second and larger capstan was removed from the wreck and sent to Brisbane to form part of a maritime museum set up on the South Bank Dock.

The 50m bucket dredge, Octopus (Nelly Bay 1914, Florence Bay 1928) depicted in Dredge in the Depths, is a fascinating look at the “pride and joy” of the Department of Harbours and Rivers when she started working in Brisbane. By 1889 she had joined the Platypus in Townsville, excavating the harbour basin and channel.

The story of her scuttling by boat builder John Murrie and Don McKerracher in Nelly Bay in 1914 also highlights that “a decade on, locals were by then more particular about wrecks on their beach and insisted that the 'eyesore' be removed”.

The history of her removal to a location off Florence Bay draws in another favourite boat, Hayles' powerful Malanda.

The exhibition opens on March 12, 2016. Do yourself a favour, go and read the rich detail in this wonderful exhibition. As a Magnetic Islander, even if you don't have grandparents in the cemetery, if you regard yourself as a local it would be wonderful to be a repository of this well researched local history, checked and rechecked so painstakingly by all at Magnetic Museum.

The museum is a wonderful place to take your visitors. You will want to visit again and again.

In a word – wonderful.

Above: The wreck of City of Adelaide (with the white arrow indicating the capstan and the black indicating the anchor) printed in the Townsville Daily Bulletin July 10, 1974 (Photo: courtesy MIHCC).

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