[Interview with Wahine survivor Sharon Major].
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Sharon Major is interviewed about her family's survival of the Wahine disaster. She was travelling with her husband, Murray, and baby daughter Sarah (who is present at the interview, now aged 25 years). They were relocating from Christchurch to Wellington and had pre-booked breakfast on board, so despite the choppy seas Sharon was determined to eat it and was in the canteen at the time the ship hit the rocks. Murray and Sarah were in their cabin. Sharon ran down to the cabin but found Murray lying unconscious in the corridor with baby Sarah on top of him. He had tried to run out but lost his balance when the ship lurched and hit his head when he fell. Other passengers helped her get Murray and Sarah to one of the muster stations. He was put on a couch and drifted in and out of consciousness throughout the morning, while they waited for instructions.
Sharon says that despite camaraderie and a morale-boosting sing-song among passengers, she never felt the crew looked confident that they would get out easily. She says it was several hours between the ship hitting the rocks and the decision being made to abandon ship. She comments that she was very glad to be breastfeeding Sarah as other babies were in distress as there was no hot water and their parents were unable to make bottles for them.
Luckily, Murray had come to by the time they were told to evacuate. The ship was listing badly and it was difficult to move around the ship. She saw lots of people injured as they hurried to get off the ship. They made it around the side but had to jump down to an orange life raft. She couldn't jump while holding the baby, so she threw Sarah down to somebody on the raft. Someone caught her and handed her back to Sharon after she made it into the raft. She lost sight of Murray at that point. She and Sarah watched the Wahine go down from the raft.
Eventually the tug boat arrived to rescue them. The waves were still very high and it was difficult to get between the vessels. She couldn't climb the offered ropes with Sarah in her arms, so was forced to throw her to a sailor again and climb up after her.
She says it was only hours later that she reflected on how easy it would have been for somebody not to catch Sarah. She never even knew who caught her. Sarah didn't even get a cold from the ordeal; Sharon put that down to the fact that she was wearing woollen clothes knitted by her grandmother.
When they finally landed, they were so dazed that it feels unreal. They didn't know where they were or where Murray was. They were in the Interislander ferry terminal and were taken by taxi to the railway station, which was only across the road but felt a million miles away. They finally met up with Murray there, which was an enormous relief. It turned out he had been hanging onto the side of the same raft and ended up on the tug as well, but they didn't know at the time.
Sharon comments that this was before the days of reusable nappies, so they made use of Union Steamship tea-towels. They were not in a fit state to go to their own flat, which was full of packed boxes. One of their acquaintances had a hotel so they were taken there by taxi. On the way they had to stop for nappies. They couldn't think where to go, so they stopped at Kircaldie's. Sharon remembers drifting through the shop, dripping water and wearing a grey emergency blanket, looking totally bedraggled. She had managed to keep hold of her bag and was able to buy nappies. She says it is testament to the staff that they treated her impeccably.
Reference number 17133
Media type AUDIO
Collection Sound Collection
MAJOR, Sharon, Interviewee
MAJOR, Sarah, Interviewee