REMOVAL: Moving the remains of the SS Dicky will see many photographers disappointed.
REMOVAL: Moving the remains of the SS Dicky will see many photographers disappointed. Justin Fitzgibbon

SS Dicky wreck: Why we will miss her so much

SINCE she washed ashore on a beach near Caloundra during ferocious weather on February 4, 1893, the SS Dicky has become one of the most popular photography subjects on the Sunshine Coast.

Holiday snaps, amateur shots and professional images over the past 121 years show a chameleon-like landmark which, like Uluru in central Australia, looks different in every photo.

But the thousands of images have also documented the deterioration of a sturdy vessel capable of being refloated to a rusty skeleton of broken bones, partially buried in sand at the waterline.

Her resting spot was accepted while she was solid. Caloundra City Council even agreed to give her a coat of fish oil about five years ago in the name of preservation.

But the wreck's condition has declined considerably in the past couple of years to the point where the Department of Environment and Heritage has labelled the deterioration "catastrophic."

A taskforce has recommended its removal and the Sunshine Coast Council brought in archaeologists for an exploratory dig this week. The council is likely to receive a report from the dig this month.

Michael Anderson, project coordinator, said conditions would be favourable to move the wreck in August if approved by the council.

Whether the council decides to relocate the wreck or let nature takes its course, one thing that is sure is that the wreck will not be a feature of Dicky Beach at some stage in the future.

The councillor for the area, Tim Dwyer, has previously been reported as saying that any relocation of the wreck will not be popular with all, noting the connection some feel with the Dicky.

So, what is it that makes the wreck so significant to locals and visitors? And what do they think should be done with it.

The remains of the wreck of the SS Dicky near Caloundra. Photo: Brett McIntosh
The remains of the wreck of the SS Dicky near Caloundra. Photo: Brett McIntosh

Historian Anne Wensley

ANNE Wensley , who has been researching history in the Caloundra area for 50 years, described the wreck as part of local history.

Her research is still leading her to information which paints a clearer picture of the circumstances leading up to the vessel's grounding on the beach.

She recently learned of a downpour of nearly 1m of rain in 24 hours in the hills behind Caloundra during the same period but is still trying to determine if it was the same day the Dicky came ashore.

She points out that transport and communication between Caloundra and Brisbane was limited at the best of times and non-existent during the cyclone.

Somehow, the crew got to Brisbane with news of what had happened to the boat.

After four attempts were made to refloat it, it was left to become part of the beach. And that is where she believes it should stay.

"I'd probably leave it and put signs up around it saying, 'Be careful'," she said.

"It's part of history.

"I think it's going to be much more

than council can afford to get it out and put it somewhere else, and if they do, where are they going to put it away from the salt? It's not that easy in Caloundra.

Lifesaver and historical author Paul Seto

PAUL Seto got people talking about the future of the SS Dicky when he spoke out in the media this year about the recent rapid deterioration of the wreck.

Mr Seto's memories go back to his childhood and family holidays at Dicky Beach.

"I was like every young boy that walks down on the beach - their eyes light up," he said.

"It was something to look forward to. I grew up at Yeronga and there were no shipwrecks in the Brisbane River."

Mr Seto remembers the wreck being a far more substantial structure than it is now.

"There was enough on there for them to have dances on it," he said.

Through his volunteer lifesaving work, Mr Seto has gleaned information about the Dicky's history and has observed the wreck and its deterioration.

He said recent significant weather events had taken their toll but he also blamed council "management" of the wreck for removing large chunks which he claims weakened the structure.

"Once you break the ship shape, you remove the ability to dissipate the force of the water along the side," he said.

Mr Seto believes the council should have acted earlier but has predicted there will be nothing left of the Dicky above ground within a year if action is not taken to preserve it.

Exposed wreck of SS Dicky which was grounded at Dicky Beach on February 18, 1893. It lost a large 10m part of its hull after the heavy seas battered the rusting ruin.
Exposed wreck of SS Dicky which was grounded at Dicky Beach on February 18, 1893. It lost a large 10m part of its hull after the heavy seas battered the rusting ruin.

Photographers Justin Fitzgibbon and Brett McIntosh

JUSTIN, a frequent photographer of the Dicky, described it as one of the best places to shoot on the Coast.

"Number one, you've got water. Secondly, you've got great clouds overhead and sunrises. And thirdly, it's the perfect foreground," he said.

"You can have a perfect sky and other things but you don't have something in the foreground of the photo, you've got nothing."

Justin is envious of photographers who shot the Dicky years ago before so much had been lost.

"You see photos of what it used to look like and it's just crazy.

"But it's an honour to be photographing it now while it's still there."

Justin said that although he would hate to see it removed from the beach, the Dicky had to go - for it's own sake.

"When I see it, I feel a lot of history," he said.

"From a photographer's point of view, it sucks that it will go but we can see over the years that it's fading away and I'd rather see it preserved how it is than be gone in a couple of years."


Brett McIntosh, of Sunshine Coast Scenery, said the wreck had probably deteriorated beyond the point that was useful for photographers.

"As soon as one side disappeared, it was harder to take shots of, and many have lost interest," he said.

"It's still on the photographers' map, though. It's a good location for photograph because it tells a story.

"A shipwreck on the beach is always going to be a good photographic subject," he said.

Mr McIntosh said although the time might come when the wreck had to be moved, it was too early to do it now.

He felt relocation should not be necessary for another five or 10 years.

Click here to see more of Brett's photos here

SS Dicky by Paul Frahm
SS Dicky by Paul Frahm

Surfer Gary Tronc

THE SS Dicky was part of the landscape at Dicky Beach when Gary Tronc started surfing in the Caloundra area in the 1970s.

"I used to live right on the beach and it was always there. It's part of the beach," said Gary, who now lives at Mooloolah and has been out of the water for a few years.

In his day, Gary had a near miss with the wreck.

He came off unscathed but his surfboard did not. He blames himself for surfing too close.

He would like to see the wreck moved from the beach, not so much for safety reasons as for the sake of the wreck and history.

"I myself think they should pull it out and restore it or leave it in the condition that it's in now, just so it's preserved," he said.

"Even if it's just the hulk with a bit of the side that there is now, it's still something.

"It'd be out of the water and out of the wet and at least then people would still know the history."

Three people on top of the S.S. Dicky, circa 1900. Photo - Heritage
Three people on top of the S.S. Dicky, circa 1900. Photo - Heritage

Bill Darby, Caloundra Chamber of Commerce tourism and events chairman

BILL Darby described the Dicky as a part of Caloundra's holiday experience for decades.

"Generations of people have been coming here for the last 60 years who would consider it an icon that they keep an eye on as it continues to disintegrate," he said.

Mr Darby said preservation of the wreck seemed to be the "sensible and respectful thing".

He said Caloundra was nearly 100 years old and the Sunshine Coast as a region was coming up to its 50th year but there were very few visible signs of local history.

Mr Darby said the Dicky could be preserved as a key exhibit in a museum and continue to tell a story about Caloundra's and be a tourist attraction.

"I think it's great that something is being done now," he said.

"I think preserving it is showing respect for it."

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