Department of Environment and Natural Resources: A business of information

Maddy Fowler, honours student

Over the past few months I have been completing an internship at the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Heritage Unit. Under the supervision of Amer Khan, the sole Maritime Heritage Officer, I have been exposed to the inner workings of the South Australian Shipwreck Register.

Tasks I undertook during my time at DENR were varied. First, I began a project to upload images of shipwrecks from a private collection onto the internal database. This project is useful as some shipwrecks in the database do not have images. Other shipwrecks from the collection are not in the database and these will need further research before they are added.

Another activity I completed was to correct the port built names for ships to make them consistent within the database. For example one ship may be built at Saint John, New Brunswick, CA and another at Saint John. By making them both Saint John, New Brunswick when a search is made based on port built, all ships built at that port will be displayed.

Another task similar to this was to correct the custodian names for relics in the shipwreck register. For example, one relic from a shipwreck may have the custodian recorded as S.A.M.M., whereas another might be SA Maritime Museum and another South Australian Maritime Museum. These were made consistent so that searches by relic location will reveal all relics stored at a particular location.

My last task was to upload a primary image for each shipwreck to the database, either of the ship prior to wrecking, or of the wreck site. These will be visible to the public and are designed to provide as much information in one image about a vessel as possible. Only images copyrighted to DENR were able to be uploaded. Copyright will be sought for images for vessels currently without a primary image so that eventually every wreck will hopefully have an image.

My time at DENR has revealed to me a very different side to maritime archaeology, one in which the information collected needs to be best organised for its future use by professionals and the public. It also reinforced the need to provide as much information as possible for every piece of data collected during field work, so that it actually makes sense to someone reviewing this data in the future, whether that is one year later or twenty. State heritage seems to be a business of information organisation that is often playing catch up.

Many thanks to Amer Khan at DENR and Jennifer McKinnon and Amy Roberts at Flinders University for providing me with this opportunity to see a new side to archaeology in South Australia.

One response to “Department of Environment and Natural Resources: A business of information

  1. are you interviewing – taking oral history – from any people who sailed the ketches in the Gulf of St Vincent? some that might have known about shipwrecks such as the Moorara and the Adonis – part of the Mosquito Fleet. I am writing a book about Port Julia on the YP and have come across information about the above. Regards Anne Chappel