The Mast of the Macdhui - Searching for relics.The Mast of the Macdhui

by Lance Melbourne

The Burns Philp passenger cargo ship SS Macdhui* was a 4,480 ton passenger and cargo motor vessel servicing east coast Australia and P.N.G. ports. Built by Barclay Curle & Co, Glasgow, Scotland and launched on 23 December 1930, she was bombed and sunk by Japanese aircraft in 1942 during the Pacific War.
Caught alongside the wharf at Port Moresby discharging cargo on June 17, she suffered bomb damage. Next day during another air raid she was cut free and run deeper into Fairfax harbour to manoeuvre where, straddled by bombs, she rolled onto her port side ablaze.
The Mast of the MacdhuiIn 1967 as crew on the Burns Philp passenger cargo ship TSMV Bulolo at Port Moresby our captain was preparing for salvage. Arranging for the motor lifeboat to be equipped with the necessary gear he set out with two cadet engineers planning to recover certain relics including port holes from the wreck of the Macdhui. In this he was successful; returning with several undamaged ports complete with deadlights which he at once displayed on the boat deck.
Meanwhile ashore more than several of his crew needed salvaging from their own wrecking. A great melee erupted at the Port Moresby hotel garden bar between locals and crew with all our people being arrested. It was pay day, the ship schedule was to overnight so next morning all faced court, relieved of their pay in fines and discharged.
Macdhui as she appeared in 1970.Returning to Moresby in 1970, this time on the MV Safia the foremast of Macdhui appeared to be missing from the hull. Aided by binoculars, looking across the harbour at the ship lying on her side, the time and tide had to be right to reveal any ports that may still be there. Sometime between visits the foremast had been removed from the wreck … and for what purpose?
A visit to the Royal Papua Yacht Club near Port Moresby showed the prized structure again employed … but as the club’s signal mast. The port authorities were anxious to locate the wreck owner to bill them for fuel oil seepage caused by an attempt to blast off the propeller which made the wreck off limits.
Macdhui mast re-employed outside Royal Papua Yacht Club.A run out in a hired launch to the Macdhui at low water showed several ports indeed uncovered. A few items were collected at that time but nothing of any consequence for the museum in mind. The sunken battleship Arizona still ‘weeps’ a droplet of oil every thirty or so seconds and after all these years one could observe oil as the ‘tears’ broke surface to radiate away from this memorial.
A foreigner wanting to hire cutting gear around the waterfront of Moresby gave the game away … or was it my native launch driver. It was just as well I’m sure, as later I believe the Macdhui wreck was designated a memorial.

*Possibly named after the mountain in Scotland.