Shipwreck Databases Western Australian Museum

Historic Sites in Shark Bay. Prepared for the Shark Bay Study Group 1986

Author/s M. Stanbury

Year of publication 1986

Report Number: 199

It has been stated that, ‘properly undertaken, the study of the past has a vital social role to play in encouraging feelings of community and stability…’ (Jack, 1979:7). Furthermore, that ‘…no individual may act in a manner such that the public right to knowledge of the past is unduly endangered or destroyed’ (McGimsey, 1972:5).

Implicit in these statements is the recognition that historic sites and relics, whether on land or underwater, offer the Australian public a tangible experience of the presence of history. At the local or wider community level, this shared experience has the potential for generating a feeling of cohesiveness and national pride. Such feelings are likely to be maintained as long as the social, cultural and/or historical significance attached to a particular site or relic continues to attract the same degree of public recognition. Any action which is seen to endanger or destroy the knowledge of the past inherent in such sites is, therefore, capable of altering the perceived level of public significance and associated community stability. The aim of this paper is to give a brief outline of the historic sites and relics known, or reported to be, in the Shark Bay area in order to demonstrate the historical significance and potential of these sites as a source of knowledge about the past which may serve to consolidate local and broader community feelings concerning the importance of the region as part of Australia’s national heritage.

To date, the Department of Maritime Archaeology (Western Australian Museum), which the author represents, has undertaken only minimal field-work in Shark Bay, mainly in connection with its wreck inspection programme (Sledge, 1979). Information relating to the various sites mentioned has thus been compiled from archival and literary sources, public communication and reports from professional colleagues within the Museum. It is not anticipated, therefore, that this paper presents a conclusive coverage of sites and/or relics in the shark Bay area, nor that any substantial material remains exist to identify all the sites referred to.

Although the Department of Maritime Archaeology is concerned primarily with the archaeological investigation of underwater cultural resources, provisions in the State Maritime Archaeology Act, 1973 (Section 4.1) allow for the protection of maritime archaeological sites, as defined in the Act, which may not necessarily lie underwater. Such sites may include relics, structures, camp sites or other locations of historic interest that may have been associated with, occupied or used by, persons presumed to have been in a historic ship1. Given that these provisions exist, this paper discusses a number of sites on land which, while they may not specifically comply with the definitions of the Act, are closely related to major maritime historical events and/or the early development of maritime trade and industry within the Shark Bay region.