The Wahine tragedy of 1968 had a shuddering effect on New Zealand. It was one of those events where people alive at the time can clearly remember what they were doing when they heard of the tragedy unfolding. This book narrates the story of one group of people on board the Wahine on that awful morning and afternoon of April 10 1968 as the storm lashed the passenger and vehicle ferry, and it seemed as if the end of the world had really come. Tragically, for 53 of the 734 passengers, it was.
The Wahine left Lyttleton on it’s regular journey to Wellington on April 9 1968. The University of Otago cricket team had made the journey from Dunedin to Lyttleton as part of their planned travel to Wellington and on to Palmerston North to play in the New Zealand Universities Easter Tournament. Due to arrive in Wellington at 7am on April 10, the ferry entered Wellington Harbour just before 6am. The storm increased in intensity causing the ferry to strike a reef and, after hours of waiting out the storm and waiting for help, at 1.30pm the order came to abandon ship. The Team That Never Played relates the stories of how each player survived the lashing storm and the authors paint clear and vivid pictures of each one of them both as cricketers and as people.
It’s a gripping and tense read as we experience the struggle for survival that the team’s members endured. Some clung to rafts, some clung to upturned boats, some arrived at shore in lifeboats. They landed or were thrown up on different areas of Wellington’s rocky south coast, not knowing if their friends and teammates were alive. The tragedy had been filmed live on TV and reported on radio. Parents and friends were distraught waiting for a phone call or a message confirming survival. All the team survived but at some cost.
There is an especially strong chapter on ‘Life After Wahine‘. Two of the team – Murray Parker and Murray Webb – would go on to play cricket for New Zealand. Some would play first-class cricket, others club cricket. All, in their own individual way, offered much to society and their stories after the tragedy are portrayed with as much narrative skill as the events on the day it unfolded.
The book is handsomely produced with copious illustrations. There isn’t an index but it does have a statistical appendix for the players on the team. There’s also an informative introduction from Glenn Turner and recollections of the event from Bruce Murray, Spiro Zavos, and Richard Collinge. It’s a book that draws you in and can easily be read in one or two sittings. Of course it is about cricket but it’s also about tragedy, resilience, and reflection. These qualities are skillfully and sympathetically drawn out by the narrative skills of the authors which make it a book we could all do with reading.
Ronald Cardwell and Bill Francis The Team That Never Played: Wahine and the 1968 Otago University Cricket Team (The Cricket Publishing Company, Cherrybrook, 2013. ISBN 978-0-9805727-7-3)
Ship Wahine on her side in Wellington Harbour, New Zealand. Further negatives of the Evening Post newspaper. Ref: EP/1968/1594/2-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23057482