Tuesday 2 September 2008
SEEING the wreck of the ancient boat jutting out of the water on arrival at Heron Island, you could easily assume it ran afoul of one of the reefs circling the island.
Or perhaps it was the vessel of some travellers who happened upon the island and just decided to stay.
In fact, the ship – the HMAS Protector – has a proud and significant part in Australian history, starting when it was commissioned back in 1884.
Built in Newcastle, England, the light cruiser was outfitted as a gunboat and was stationed in South Australia for 15 largely uneventful years.
However in 1900 South Australia offered Protector to the Eight Nation Alliance to help in putting down the Boxer Rebellion in China.
Protector spent a couple of months in China doing despatch work before being sent home in time to be part of the celebrations of the newly federated Commonwealth of Australia.
It was cheered out of Sydney Harbour on 2 January 1901 and took up patrolling positions around the country for the next decade.
When World War I broke out, Protector was used to guard Australian ports, survey the wreckage of a German ship and do minesweeping duties off the Victorian coast.
After the war it went through name and job changes, eventually being sold off and used as a transport vessel.
During World War II the Americans requisitioned it for use in the Pacific, however a collision with a tug while on the way to New Guinea spelt the end for the ship.
It was towed to Heron Island and used as a breakwater on the edge of the channel, as well as providing an area for diving and snorkelling.
That's where the wreck has stayed since 1943 – an imposing welcome to the island.
Diving is now forbidden within the ship, which thrusts completely out of the water at low tide.