The Wreck of the Cherry Venture

The Queensland coast is a treasure trove of underwater mysteries. From the Torres Strait to Tweed Heads, centuries of colonial and pre-colonial history has been buried beneath our iconic crystal blue waters and beached upon the thousands of kilometres of world-class coral reef.

This series of blog posts will explore several of the iconic maritime wrecks in Queensland’s history, as well as some of the lesser known wrecks and their fascinating stories.

A well known sight for locals of Noosa for 34 years, the wreck of the Cherry Venture used to stand almost perfectly upright in the glorious sands of the popular Teewah Beach. But the history of her beaching, and the attempts to return her to the water, are an interesting and adventurous tale in their own right.

Quietly rusting away beneath the beating Queensland sun, the Cherry Venture was originally a Scandinavian cargo vessel completed in 1945 in Gothenburg, Sweden. Over the three decades that she operated she received four different names, beginning her life as 'Scania' and later carrying the names Slott, Timor Venture, and finally Cherry Venture. The ship was reportedly destined for the scrap yard in Taiwan when she began her fateful journey from Auckland, New Zealand, to Brisbane.    

Wreck of Cherry Venture with Double Island Point in the background, 1978. 29336, Leigh and Barbara Hemmings Slides, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Image number: 29336-0001-0009.

A Dramatic Wreck and a Daring Rescue

 

On 6 July 1973 storms originating in the Tasman Sea wound their way northwards. These storms brought with them catastrophic gale-force winds and ocean swells measuring over 12 metres from peak to trough, or the equivalent of a four-story building.  22 ships were caught in these storms, all of them attempting to reach the Port of Brisbane.

The Cherry Venture faced several additional challenges to this weather, as her journey was being made with no cargo and minimal ballast to weigh her down in the churning waters. Her draft was unusually high as a result, and as she crested each wave, her 3.7 metre wide propeller was lifted above the waterline.

The ship battled against the waves for hours, facing directly into the wind and making no headway before her captain issued a mayday call at 6:50am. The 9 Squadron RAAF, based at Amberley, answered that call, dispatching Iroquois rescue helicopters fitted with winches to assist in the evacuation of the ship. However, the 70km winds, high swell, and near impenetrable cloud cover, forced the military helicopters and their veteran crews to land at Maroochydore and await changes in the conditions.

As conditions remained catastrophic for Cherry Venture the decision was made to evacuate, but lifeboats were ripped clean from their fastenings by the brutal waves leaving crewmembers stranded. It was hours later, when the ship had already found its way up onto the sands, that a local aviator was able to assist the Iroquois helicopters via radio through a daring, low-altitude flight path that has been considered some of the most dangerous and well-executed flight mission undertaken by Australian defense forces during peace time. The flight path they undertook was previously unknown to RAAF forces and remained well below the cloud line, relying heavily on local topography to provide shelter from the blistering winds. Though the helicopters were able to airlift all of Cherry Venture's crew to safety, including two pet monkeys, the ship was unfortunately too far ashore to be assisted. 

 RAAF Iroquois helicopters preparing to land on HMAS Tobruk, Moreton Bay, 1982. 31655 Mal Lancaster's photographs of Royal Australian Navy and Defence Public Affairs events, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Image number: 31655-0002-000.

After the Storm

 

The Cherry Venture's life did not end with her dramatic beaching. In fact, the reputation of this ship would soon make it an icon for the local community, drawing thousands of tourists over the course of her three and a half decades standing proud upon the sand.

Adventure tours would take domestic and international holiday-goers out over the sands of Teewah in Jeeps to climb over the wreck and take photographs, as seen in the stunning slide collection of Leigh and Barbara Hemmings. So popular was this stop on the beach that on weekends one could even find an ice cream cart pulled up conveniently beside the ship to indulge all sweet toothed cravings while exploring. Though several attempts were made by an Australian entrepreneur Peter Vagellas to reunite Cherry Venture with the sparkling Queensland waters, including an ambitious attempt to dredge the sand around her and bring her afloat where she rested, the efforts were ultimately for naught. A decade after her beaching, she suffered a disastrous fire which gutted the radar and navigation equipment upon the bridge, effectively rendering her inoperable. 

Sun Safari Tours at wreck of Cherry Venture, Teewah Beach, 1980. 29336, Leigh and Barbara Hemmings Slides. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Image number 29336-0001-0079.

View from Cherry Venture southerly along Teewah Beach, 1980. 29336, Leigh and Barbara Hemmings Slides, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Image 29336-0001-0080.

So impactful was the Cherry Venture upon the identity of the local community that State Library even has a tea towel featuring the Cherry Venture, complete with her sand bank and rusting streaks, courtesy of the Glenn Cooke Collection. This item serves as a testament to the importance that this ship held within the Cooloola region. Her legacy still looms large, long after her silhouette has disappeared from the beach. 

Tea towel: Wide Bay: Glenn R. Cooke Souvenir Textiles Collection : item no. 329. Glenn R. Cooke Souvenir Textiles Collection, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Image number 28634340-0329.

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