Ships have been linked to Australian history through an umbilical cord. And so have been shipwrecks. Sail by the coasts of Australia, and you are sure to find one or two submerged hulks peeping out of the ocean surface. Sail by the North East coast, and chances are you will join the host of submerged hulks in the Great Barrier Reef, a magical stretch of ocean that has brought down many. There are many enchanting and romantic tales of such bravado, ill-fate, or sheer pig-headedness around such wrecks. This is one such.
Early in 20th century, 1911 to be precise, Magnetic Island was a rising centre of commerce. Doctor McCabe had a lavish paradise, aptly named Arcadia, where his rich female friends and acquaintances could visit. It was also the high time for bloomers and hooped skirts. The windy bay was precarious to the women's modesty and Doctor McCabe, a dentist by profession, wanted to indulge the dignity of the women. He decided to install a breakwater, thus softening the windy ambience so threatening to his female friends. The idea was to tug along Moltke, an 827 ton vessel that had seen better days, which had ran aground on a reef at the northern end of Flinders Passage, between Townsville and Cape Bowling Green.
Our doctor brought in a local bloke who claimed some expertise in explosives. They attached the Moltke to a tugboat, planning to blow the explosives on the Moltke when it was situated properly to act as a breakwater for Arcadia's jetty, the prospective abode of our modest ladies. Our explosive bloke lit the fuse a little bit too soon, and seeing this tug-boat skipper cut the rope leaving Moltke on its own. To make virtue out of a situation gone hilariously wrong, the bloke and the doctor jump against an impressive firework, and they survive to 'drill and fill another day'. Moltke went straight in the wrong place, and in shallow water.
She did provide a sheltered anchorage for small crafts for many years, although she was no use as a breakwater for McCabe's jetty, and the merry citizens of Magnetic Island still remember the day a dentist blew the Moltke away. Today, many ferry services carry tourists to a concrete ramp only hundred metres away from where the Moltke gloriously sank.
The stretches around the Great Barrier Reef is the graveyard of many more such glorious wreckages. A little further away from where Moltke sank, is the remains of another vessel called Maria - but it is another nice tale to be told another day. Lieutenant James Cook famously came along this route only, and discovered an island continent. In his train he brought criminal inmates, plundering gold prospectors, and today's tourists. They come, they see, and they leave with enchanting tales of submerged hulks peeping out of historical times, shaking hands with a precarious present.
Magnetic Island lies off Townsville. It is well connected by ferries from the mainland. Unless you plan to stay in Townsville you may stay in nearby Cairns (about 300 kms), and make a day trip to Townsville. And while you are in Cairns, you lavish the charms of Ellisbeach Bungalows.