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The SS Dicky: See It Before It’s Gone

On the 4th of February 1893, the SS Dicky was in the wrong place at the wrong time. In a strong storm and heavy seas, the crew knew that the trader ship from Rockhampton was lost and beached it at what is now Caloundra’s Dicky Beach, mainly to avoid crashing into the rocks at Moffat Beach nearby. As a result, everyone on board survived rather than having to face swimming ashore in cyclonic seas, and the 800m stretch of beach around the wreckage was named in the boat’s honour.

An Unforgettable Dawn at the Dicky

Sunrise over the remnants of the SS Dicky (and the headlands of Moffat Beach in the distance) in early 2014.

Over 100 years on, the shell of the SS Dicky still graces the beach, joining the SS Wollongbar at Byron Bay and the Maheno on Fraser Island as local attractions (as well as the now-removed Cherry Venture at Rainbow Beach). It’s a particular favourite for local photographers, who have been flocking to the rusted iron shell for years in search of that elusive perfect sunrise photo.

Dust Storm Sunset at the SS Dicky

A dust-filled sunset turns the sky purple over the SS Dicky in 2009.

That’s how I first became acquainted with this particular shipwreck. As I became more involved in the Brisbane photography community, I heard of more and more people spending starry nights or early mornings shooting the wreck. No matter what the conditions, you’d usually find at least one keen photographer there at nearly any time of day.

Photographers Surrounding the Dicky

Ghostly figures of photographers surround the wreck of the SS Dicky in September 2009.

The weather of 2011-2013 wasn’t very friendly to Queensland, bringing us devastating floods, constant heavy rain, and strong winds. As a result, all of the beaches in South East Queensland badly eroded — many to the point that the stairs down onto the beaches suddenly had 2m drops or more before there was any sand at all. Suddenly, the wreck that had both sides still intact turned into half a shell, and then that half shell began to wither away as well. It’s fitting that it was a storm that put the wreck on the beach and it was a storm that took it away again.

Casting a Long Shadow on the Beach

Casting a long shadow across the beach in June 2011.

The erosion of the sand from these storms means that the wreck itself is now deeper in the surf than it ever has been, making it much more inaccessible to those on the beach…and much closer to anyone that may be swimming (even though they should be swimming between the flags further down the beach).

Me Photographing the Dicky

Me on the beach photographing the end of the sunrise over the SS Dicky, February 2014. Photo courtesy of Ben Ashmole.

As a result, the Sunshine Coast Council announced a few months ago that the Dicky was a danger and needed to be removed. The reaction to this announcement has been mixed; many believe that the wreck should stay because it’s been there for 120 years without hurting anyone, while others believe that it’s now deteriorated to a point where it could become a hidden hazard — especially at high tide — to swimmers and surfers that are caught unawares. Personally, I wish the wreck didn’t have to go as it’s quite the landmark — one I often take visitors that have never seen a real shipwreck to see — but at the same time, the rate of decay in the last few years has been shocking and it would be nice to see some of the wreck kept for future generations to see, especially since the beach is named after it.

Moonrise Over the Dicky

The full moon rises over the SS Dicky in May 2014.

So when will the Dicky be relocated to its new home (presumably in a custom-built building near the surf club)? No one is really sure, other than the fact that it’s supposed to happen sometime this winter. The council has already begun excavation works to see how difficult the task at hand is, although there was no evidence of them when I went to the beach recently for a farewell full moon photo shoot.

Full Moon Over the SS Dicky

This side-on shot shows just how little remains compared to 2009.

If you want to see this piece of Queensland history, I’d recommend heading to the Sunshine Coast sooner rather than later. Even in its current state, its prow can still be seen sticking regally out of the surf, stirring the imaginations of passersby as they wonder what it would have been like to be on that ship in that time so long ago. It’s a fantastic feeling to sit on the beach, listening to the waves and watching as the sky bursts into colour above the wreck…and that’s a feeling that won’t be possible when the wreck is in a museum.

The Rush of the Tide

I was so lucky to be able to witness a sunrise like this when I did. Hopefully a few more people will get to see a similar sight before the Dicky is gone for good.

What do you think? Should the Dicky stay where it is or be moved and preserved for future generations?

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