Fraser Island does not immediately come to mind as having any association with the Great War. In the 19th century the survivors of a celebrated 1834 ship wreck of the Sterling Castle lived with indigenous people who had a long history of occupation of the site, and a century later in the early 1940s the island became a training ground for Australian commandos: the famous Z Force. But a connection with the Great War is to be found toward the north-eastern end of the island, which locals explain is the largest sand island in the world. It is sand that obscures an unexpected, tangible link to the war – the rusting remains of the hospital ship SS Maheno.
Built in Scotland in 1905, the Maheno boasted excellent facilities for the first-class passengers who formed the majority of her cargo on trips between Sydney, Melbourne, Hobart and Wellington. After conversion for use as a hospital ship, early in 1915 – including conventional repainting in white with green stripes and prominent red crosses – the ship sailed to Mudros Harbour, on the island of Lemnos in the Aegean, in August of that year. She paused there for only a day, after which she was anchored just off Anzac Cove, receiving casualties after the battle for Hill 60. The Maheno’s substantial medical staff included five doctors, fourteen nurses and more than sixty soldiers of the Army Medical Corps. She then plied her life-saving trade between the Gallipoli battlefields, the more comprehensive medical facilities on Lemnos and Malta, and the extensive network of hospitals in Egypt. Refitted in 1916, the Maheno was moved to Britain, where she transported wounded soldiers from the battlefields of the Western Front to hospital in England, before she was dedicated to carrying wounded home to New Zealand from Europe.
In 1935, while the Maheno was being taken to Japan for scrap, a towing line broke and the ship drifted on to Fraser Island, where she now lies on 75 Mile Beach, with fragments of her teak decking and the portholes below her upper deck washed by waves.
For an image of the Maheno, painted in the colours accepted by the Haig Convention for use by hospital ships: http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23193984