Shipwreck Databases Western Australian Museum

Management Plan for the protection and use of historic shipwreck and associated maritime heritage sites in the Wallabi Group of the Houtman Abrolhos System

Author/s J.N. Green and M. Stanbury

Year of publication 2001

Report Number: 151

The events of the United Dutch East India Company (VOC) Batavia wreck on Morning Reef in the Houtman Abrolhos in 1629, and the subsequent massacres on the islands of the Wallabi Group are of international significance in the annals of maritime history, and hold a premier place in Australian popular history. In 1960, some 330 years later, human skeletal remains and historical artefacts associated with the Batavia were found on Beacon Island (Halls, 1964). However, these finds attracted little publicity until 1963 when the location of the Batavia wreck site was discovered. Subsequently, both the island and the underwater site became subject to extensive disturbance by amateur investigators and ‘treasure’ hunters (Edwards, 1966; Tyler, 1970; Stanbury, 1998).

Most of the historical sites in the Wallabi Group of the Houtman Abrolhos System are associated with the Batavia wreck and its survivors, and the victims of the subsequent mutiny. Although damaged by 30 years of non-professional excavations, these places are still regarded as having a high archaeological (scientific) potential and a significant historical, social and interpretive values. The degree of ongoing disturbance called for urgent protection and investigation of the sites. Over the past 8–10 years, the Department of Maritime Archaeology has consistently sought funding to undertake such research. Applications have been made for National Estate and ARC funding, with no success. Small amounts of money have been made available through the Commonwealth Historic Shipwrecks Grant, but this too has been insufficient to launch the type of thorough investigations required.

Funding was eventually provided in 1999 by Coastcare/Coastwest to undertake a survey of sites in the Wallabi Group, to carry out a rescue excavation of one of the land sites, and to develop a plan to manage and monitor the sites.

After a general description of the area, the first part of this report outlines the management framework, in which the objective of this plan, legislation, and the authorities involved in the management of the area are discussed. The second part discusses the actual heritage sites in the area, and their historical, archaeological, social, recreational, educational, and interpretive significance. Finally, the risks and disturbance factors are identified, recommendations are given, and management strategies proposed to protect and preserve our precious cultural heritage for the future.