The Champion today
The Champion today Contributed

LOOKING BACK: Skeleton shipwreck has interesting history

ONE of the best decisions I ever made was a few months ago when I purchased a second hand kayak.

Since then I have spent as much of my free time as possible paddling over flowing water in the clean open air; out on the bay, in the strait and along the rivers of our region.

Recently I came across the wreck of an old ship jutting out of the Mary River, just downstream of the Lamington Bridge. There is not a lot there, really just a skeleton, but enough to see that what is now a corroding wreck was once a substantial vessel.

The Champion on the Mary River
WRECKED: The Champion on the Mary River in her prime, and today (inset). Contributed

For well over half-a- century it has rested here in the mud as the tides rise and fall to continuously hide and reveal her. As the years, and the floods, have come and gone, she has slowly disintegrated, but yet, is still holding together.

The ship was called the Champion and, as it turns out, has quite an interesting history.

After speaking with some local historians, including Ian Gordon and Jan Downman, last week I met Rita Stephensen, whose father, Allan Kuskie, owned the vessel many decades ago.

The wreck that now lies in the mud of the Mary was an 85 foot tugboat built in 1906 by the firm of Evans, Anderson and Phelan of Kangaroo Point. It was designed by marine architect Charles M'Kechnie and built for WR Black & Co, Brisbane based coal merchants, to tow coal punts and hulks.

However she wasn't tasked with coal movements for long and by 1908 the Champion had been purchased by the Queensland Government to assist with the maintenance of navigation aids like lights and buoys in the Brisbane River and Moreton Bay as well as operating as a tug. In 1910 she was stationed in Townsville, performing similar duties, the following year she was north of Cairns at Cooktown.

In 1913 the Champion was here in Maryborough being used as both a tug and a pilot vessel.

This type of essential work continued up until 1939, primarily in Brisbane but also elsewhere, including Maryborough.

In the early 1920s she towed two famous ships built at Walkers Ltd, the "Euchunga” and "Echuca” out of the Mary River.

After many years of good service, in 1940 while in Brisbane, her boiler was deemed unrepairable; she was condemned and offered for sale.

In late 1941 she was towed from Brisbane and up the Mary River to Maryborough by her new owner, Allan Kuskie, who would use her for a number of years to carry gravel and other transport operations. This was work that enabled the growth and development of the city.

Throughout the 1940s Maryborough locals would have regularly seen the Champion busily occupied on the river with Allan at the helm.

When the great 1955 flood washed down the Mary River the Champion was tied to a gum tree on the river bank.

When the floodwaters receded no amount of manoeuvring could get her back into the water, eventually she toppled over to where she has been ever since.

Coming across this shipwreck has confirmed to me that there is so much to discover all around us.

By taking more notice of our surroundings, be it buildings in our streets, the parks in our neighbourhoods or shipwrecks in the mud, we can gain a closer connection to, and appreciation of, our history.