Today is Wahine Day, and the Alexander Turnbull Library is making available 60 personal accounts of the Wahine disaster collected by the Wahine 50 Charitable Trust as part of last year’s 50th commemorations.
Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson
“These first-hand accounts by survivors, family of those who died, and those involved in the rescue are a significant addition to the documentary heritage the Library holds on the Wahine disaster,” says Dr Shannon Wellington, the Alexander Turnbull Library Manuscripts’ Curator.
“They offer valuable insight into an event that touched the lives of many New Zealanders.”
The stories are diverse. Some were written in the days following the disaster, others were documented more recently. They range from pithy paragraphs to lengthy manuscripts. Sound recordings, photographs and news clippings also feature in the collection.
“Together they build a tangible picture of what it was like 51 years ago when the passenger ferry Wahine hit Barrett’s Reef in Wellington harbour and foundered, causing the deaths of 53 passengers and crew.”
“What also comes through in the personal accounts is how local community rallied to help, setting out in small boats in dangerous conditions to bring people to safety. Providing dry clothes, food, medical care and transport once passengers and crew were on land; 681 people survived the ordeal.” says Dr Wellington.
For Rhys Jones, former Chair of the Wahine 50 Charitable Trust, the donation of this new collection of stories to the Alexander Turnbull Library marks an appropriate finale for the Trust, which was set up to organise the 50th commemorations on April 10 last year.
“These stories, along with the documentary film Wahine – 50 Years Oncommissioned by the Trust and the donation of a new rescue craft, which the Trust facilitated for Surf Lifesaving New Zealand, form a significant legacy to all New Zealanders,” says Jones. “The Trust, its role successfully completed, is now winding up.”
“We appreciate and thank the Alexander Turnbull Library for taking on the guardianship of the stories of the day. We consider that the Wahine tragedy, and the effect that it had on the lives of those involved and the country, is an essential part of New Zealand’s heritage.”
The collection will be available by request in the Katherine Mansfield Reading Room from 10 April.