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WANGANELLA and the Australian Trans-Tasman Liners

285 x 210 mm, 188 pp, 150 b&w photos, 24 colour plates

9781877058806, $32.95, Paperback

Peter Plowman

Available: Now

Although Wanganella was an Australian liner, owned by Huddart Parker Limited, she was very much a New Zealand ship as well, as she operated for the best part of thirty years between the two countries, and finished her career in New Zealand as a workers hostel for a hydro-electric scheme.

The only Australian company to maintain a service across the Tasman Sea was Huddart Parker Limited, which survived numerous attempts by the Union Line to drive them off the route in the early days, and eventually the two agreed to share the route in several co-operative agreements. As a result both companies enjoyed many years of success until travellers turned to the airplane in the 1950s. Before then the only way to travel between Australia and New Zealand was by ship. Up to the late 1870s these ships were mostly owned by Australian companies and primarily intended to transport cargo, with minimal attention being paid to the requirements and comfort of passengers making such voyages. This changed in 1879 when the Union Steam Ship Company of New Zealand introduced Rotomahana to the trade, which immediately rendered all existing tonnage obsolete, and all the Australian companies left the trade.

The years after World War I were very difficult, with long waits for ships to be returned from military duty, and numerous maritime strikes. In November 1921 Riverina was transferred to the route between Sydney and Hobart, leaving Ulimaroa as the sole Huddart Parker representative crossing the Tasman. This situation lasted until April 1932, when Ulimaroa was replaced by the second Zealandia, but at the same time Huddart Parker was actively seeking a new ship for the Tasman route.

Just at that time there was a brand new ship in Britain that was offered for sale, and purchased by Huddart Parker. Originally named Achimota, the liner was renamed Wanganella, and it arrived in Sydney from Britain on the last day of 1932. On 12 January 1933 Wanganella departed on its first voyage to New Zealand, and the start of an amazing career.

For three years Wanganella operated in conjunction with Monowai of the Union Line, which was a comparable vessel, but in 1936 the New Zealand company introduced the brand new Awatea, which totally outclassed both Wanganella and Monowai in every way. Awatea was one of the most outstanding liners of the 1930s, but Wanganella was able to maintain her place on the Tasman trade for the next three years.

The outbreak of World War II soon affected the Tasman trade. Wanganella was taken over for duty as a hospital ship, a role she fulfilled in the most admirable way. Awatea became a troopship, and was sunk in 1942, while Monowai served in a variety of roles.

The end of the war in 1945 did not herald a return to normal coastal services, as Wanganella and Monowai were retained under military control for some time. Late in 1945, Wanganella was released from Government service, and handed back to Huddart Parker Limited, but it would take almost a year to refit the liner for commercial service again. Instead of returning to the Tasman trade, Wanganella was first sent on a voyage to Vancouver, so it was not until January 1947 that the liner left Sydney for New Zealand again.

The voyage almost ended in tragedy, when Wanganella ran aground on Barrett’s Reef at the entrance to Wellington Harbour, and remained there for seventeen days, during which the weather remained remarkably fine. This was the major news story in New Zealand for three weeks, and even today fine days in Wellington are known as ‘Wanganella weather’. After being salvaged, the work of repairing the damage lasted almost two years, and it was not until December 1948 that Wanganella returned to service.

Wanganella struggled on operating a lone ship service, but passenger numbers were rapidly dwindling as more people began travelling by aircraft than by sea. In 1961 Huddart Parker Limited ended their interest in the Tasman trade when the company was sold, but Wanganella continued to operate to New Zealand, though wearing the funnel colours of McIlwraith, McEacharn Limited.

On 25 July 1962, Wanganella arrived in Sydney for the last time under the Australian flag.