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‘I set Fiji anchor’ reveals 91-year-old diver


Anchor from the shipwrecked barque Fiji
Anchor from the shipwrecked barque Fiji

An elderly diver in South Australia has revealed how an anchor from a famous shipwreck was turned into a well-known landmark exactly 60 years ago.

The three-masted barque Fiji had sailed from Hamburg in Germany to Melbourne in 1891 and, after 106 days at sea, was only a day away from her destination. She was carrying crates of liquor, pianos, dynamite and sewing machines among other cargo.

Caught out by poor weather, a navigational error then resulted in the ship breaking up on rocks and sinking near Moonlight Head in south-west Victoria on 6 September.

The barque Fiji
The foundering barque Fiji

The wreck has just been added to the Victorian Heritage Register and a memorial to the 14 sailors and local rescuer Arthur Wilkinson who died was cleaned up. Eleven seamen survived the sinking.

That prompted a former abalone diver, 91-year-old Andrew Coffey, to reveal how the inverted anchor that has long marked what is now called Wreck Beach had come to be there.

He told press that after he and three others had dived the wreck of the Fiji in 1964 they had decided to drag the anchor up onto the beach and set it up as a marker. They had used gelignite to blow a hole in the rock, before setting the anchor in place using a full bag of cement.

There had been no intention to make the gesture anonymous, because the divers had also carved their names into the concrete and rock – but these had long since eroded away.

“I'm the only one left that was mixed up with that anchor,” Coffey told the Standard. “We did a good job because it's been there a long, long time.”

Coffey said that he had also found the wreck of a WW2 Avro Anson aircraft while diving off an island called Deen Maar, and had helped to set up a memorial to the four aviators who had died when it crash-landed in the sea.

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