Shipwreck Databases Western Australian Museum

A Study of the Riverine and Underwater Archaeological Landscapes of Rocky Bay, North Fremantle, Western Australia

Author/s Cooper, D.

Year of publication 2012

Report Number: No. 32

The Swan River has been poorly researched with respect to underwater archaeological sites. To date, no systematic archaeological survey has been undertaken of the riverbed, and only one volume collating sunken vessels has been compiled. 

In order to address this lack of research, a systematic archaeological investigation of the Rocky Bay area was undertaken. Rocky Bay is a small bend in the Swan River located approximately two kilometres from Port of Fremantle, within the suburb of North Fremantle. In recent years North Fremantle has undergone a dramatic transformation from coastal light industrial area to a high value residential neighbourhood. 

The survey found a number of previously unrecorded archaeological sites that represents various phases of industrial development dating to the initial establishment of the colony in 1829. Many of these sites have been adversely affected by redevelopment of areas overlooking and surrounding the bay, which has seen industrial estates give way to residential housing. 

The aim of the thesis is to demonstrate that the Swan River has the potential to contain undiscovered archaeological sites, other than sunken watercraft, that can provide tangible links with the past that are no longer found on its shores. I posit that such sites reflect changes in society of the surrounding areas and can provide information towards a broader understanding of land and river usage. 

Finally, the dissertation addresses the question of whether the archaeological signature of Rocky Bay can be meaningfully accommodated within the conceptual framework of a maritime cultural landscape. In particular, I argue that current broad-brush applications of the concept need to be tempered by due consideration of site context and function rather than the mere propinquity of sites to maritime and riverine areas.