On the 13th-19th July 2014, I attended the Maritime Archaeology Field Practicum (ARCH8159), based on the Gold Coast, as part of my Masters of Cultural Heritage Management. We had a great deal of detective work trying to work out where the Coolangatta shipwreck (1846) had run aground and whether sections that had been recovered in 1974, were actually the Coolangatta and not a later shipwreck, the Heroine (1897).
Before the field school started, we were given some background reading, which consisted of some newspaper articles and a booklet on the Coolangatta written by the Shoalhaven Historical Society. I found it interesting in the booklet that they stated that:
‘… the captain, crew and prisoners carried what gear they could, and walked along the beach to the pilot station at Amity Point. This was 70 miles (112 kilometres) away, and the journey took them five days. Aboriginals in the area proved to be very friendly, and each evening they provided fish for the shipwrecked men’ (Shoalhaven Historical Society 1982).
With my background being in Indigenous heritage, I was interested to know if there was still any oral history about the Coolangatta wreck, particularly among the Aboriginal people, the Quandamooka people of Stradbroke Island. Amity Point, where the shipwrecked men walked to, is on Stradbroke Island. I emailed Elisabeth Gondwe, who runs the Stradbroke Island Museum to see if there was any information about the shipwreck or if she had heard any information about it in any oral history or through dances from the Quandamooka people. Elisabeth said that nothing came up in the Stradbroke Island Museum search apart from the newspaper articles in Trove that we already had. If I had more time I would have contacted the Quandamooka Elders. I would strongly suggest that anyone undertaking further research to contact them as many of the Quandamooka people have remained on Country and there might just be a wealth of information there on the background of the Coolangatta that no-one has yet researched.
Once on the field school, it became apparent that the material that was salvaged from the recovered wreck in 1974 and that was subsequently moved to the Gold Coast City Council Depot at Tugun, was in a badly preserved state. Added to this, there were no site plans, conservation plans or records of when the wreck was taken from it’s location somewhere on the beach near Coolangatta in 1974. It was clear that there was only a limited amount of information, that we could glean from the poorly preserved timbers in the depot. We had heard of parts of the wreck being turned into monuments and various sculptures and visited what we could, which included a section of the wreck and an anchor on display in two parks on the Southern end of the Sunshine Coast. Again, there were no records to go with these items. This is where the importance of including other disciplines, such as historical research comes in.
A small team of us headed off to the Tweed Heads Historical Society where one of the staff from the Department of Environment and Heritage, Patrick Waterson, commented that there were supposed to be some artefacts from the Coolangatta stored in a condemned building. We were not allowed access to the condemned building; however, with the wonderful assistance of the Historical Society staff, they shared with us information they had gathered on both the Coolangatta and the Heroine. We found a whole lot of newspaper articles and photographs, which we did not have beforehand. The most important breakthrough was a photograph of the Heroine when she was wrecked, photographs of the Coolangatta artefacts in their collection and newspaper articles showing the wreck exposed pre-1974 and some of the chain of the wreck.
Photograph of the Heroine (Photo: Kate Greenwood).
Photograph of the wreck in 1974 (Photo: Kate Greenwood).
We were able to find out and gather a wealth of information just from talking to the historical society volunteers who knew what was in their collection and their previous historical research/ compilation of documents.
The whole team then visited the Bundall Museum. There we found a sculpture made out of new metal and some timber which was said to be from the wreck of the Coolangatta. This enabled us to take wood samples from the timbers. It also allowed some discussion with John Burns (Bundall Museum) and Trevor Winton (Maritime Archaeology Association Western Australia) in regards to geomorphology / environmental history of the Southern end of the Gold Coast (QLD) through analysing their aerial photograph collection.
The team at Bundall Museum (Back row from left: Amelia MacArthur-Lacey (Department of Environment and Heritage QLD), Brad Guadagnin, Dana Gilmore, Peta Fray, Trevor Winton, Bob Nancarrow (Bundall Museum), John Burns (Bundall Museum). Front from left: Lauren Davidson, Wendy van Duivenvoorde, Patrick Waterson (Department of Environment and Heritage) and Kate Greenwood) (Photo: Kate Greenwood).
Whilst undertaking the subsurface surveys on the beach where the wreck was supposed to have washed up on the second last day, I kept thinking, there must be an elderly local who saw the wreck in the 1970s and remembers roughly where it was. On the last day, a write-up in the local paper on our research and subsurface survey came to the attention of a elderly local gentleman called John Hogg. John was driving a bulldozer for mineral mining in the area around fifty years ago and uncovered part of an old shipwreck. He met with some of us near where he said that he had hit the wreck and uncovered it. We asked him some questions and he told us that the ship he uncovered was not on what is now the beach (where we had done the subsurface survey the day before), but was actually close to where the road is. This threw some weight into the argument of whether we were indeed looking at two shipwrecks.
Some of the team undertaking oral history recording (from left: Wendy van Wendy van Duivenvoorde, Patrick Waterson (Department of Environment and Heritage), John Hogg, Jane Austin (Gold Coast City Council) and Peta Fray (Photo: Kate Greenwood).
See, oral history has its problems as it is not seen as flat-out truth; however, it can add value through being another ‘layer’ of information. I really feel that value adding through cross-disciplinary processes, much similar as the famous ‘Time Team’ approach, adds that bit more information, and adds to a layering approaching, or puts together a few more pieces in the puzzle, so much so, that they might just assist in solving the detective story of the Coolangatta. The cross-disciplinary approach on this field school was brilliant, in that we were not just archaeology students but also budding historians who researched documents, oral historians who gathered oral information from the local people and geomorphologists/ environmental scientists who tried to paint the picture of what the landscape looked like previously. I fully believe that working in collaboration with other disciplines and broadening ones own skill-set will greatly add to the field of archaeology as a whole.
Shoalhaven Historical Society 1982, A Shipwreck Gave its Name… the Story of the ‘Coolangatta’, Shoalhaven Historical Society, Nowra.