Tragic shipwreck site recognised

Thursday 14 March, 2024

The dramatic site of one of Victoria’s most notorious and tragic shipwrecks has become the latest Parks Victoria site to be recognised for its historic significance, thanks to the efforts of local people and rangers.

The Fiji Monument, on the Shipwreck Coast in Great Otway National Park, is the latest Parks Victoria site to be inscribed on the Victorian Heritage Register.

On cliffs at Moonlight Head, it commemorates the lives lost on the barque Fiji, which was wrecked nearby in 1891.

The dramatic wreck and rescue efforts cost the lives of 11 sailors. One local rescuer, Arthur Wilkinson, heroically died to save a drowning man.

In the early hours of 6 September, 1891, the Fiji ran aground in squally weather soon after sighting Cape Otway.

The crew attempted to launch boats, but they were dashed to pieces on the rocks. One young sailor, Julius Gerbauer, swam ashore and was found by a group of land selectors, who raised the alarm.

A local rescue team arrived at the wreck, armed with a recently supplied rocket device that could fire a rescue line from the shore to the stricken boat.

One of the rescuers, Arthur Wilkinson, tried to swim out to help a struggling crewman. The pair were unable to make it to the beach and swam back to the wreck, where Wilkinson died.

Although a rocket managed to attach a light line to the ship, the heavy rope and bosuns chair required for people to make it to shore was not among the rocket equipment. Ten men drowned as they attempted to make it to shore via the light line.

Only seven bodies of those who had perished were recovered. Coffins were made from the wreck timbers and the men buried on the cliffs above the wreck.

In the aftermath, the coastal community raised funds for a monument to Wilkinson and the others who died. It was installed at the Moonlight Head cliffs in March 1892.


Six people standing next to a large white stone monument shaped like a gravestone.

Parks Victoria’s Tina Garrett, Andrew McKinnon and Kim Wilson at the Fiji Monument with historian Alan McLean and Danielle Wilkinson and Liam Phillips from Heritage Victoria. Credit: Parks Victoria


In 2022, local historian Alan McLean and descendants of the rescuers asked Parks Victoria to restore access to the monument. It is a short diversion from the famous Great Ocean Walk.

“We were really happy to be able to honour this important story from Victoria’s maritime history," says Andrew McKinnon.

Rangers and contractors cleared a 1km track to the monument and removed the thick vegetation that had grown around it. Later, a replica of the original white picket fence around the monument was built.

"My grandmother Etty was a long-serving member of the Port Campbell historical society, and she often spoke to us about the wreck of the Fiji and what a significant story it was for the local community at the time,” Andrew McKinnon says.

Alan McLean will give a talk about the Fiji wreck on 18 April at the Mission to Seafarers in Melbourne, as part of the Victorian Heritage Festival. More details are available at

The Fiji Monument is about 1km walk from the Devil’s Kitchen campground on the Great Ocean Walk and a 7km round trip from the nearest carpark at Wreck Beach.

The Victorian Heritage Register lists and provides legal protection for significant historical places and objects. The Fiji Monument is the latest of nearly 150 registered sites on Parks Victoria land.

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