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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Historic Shipwrecks - Our Maritime Heritage of Australia

The Commonwealth Historic Shipwrecks Program aims to enlarge knowledge, use, appreciation and enjoyment of Australia's historic shipwreck heritage, while also ensuring the continuous conservation, protection and preservation of these wrecks and relics.

More than 6 500 wrecks lie extremely soon beyond Australia's surf-worn shores. Few of us will ever see them, but each has its own single story and forms an important part of our heritage.

Australia has a rich maritime history which can be traced back some 60 000 or more years to the appearance of Aboriginal people. They were followed later by the Macassans, who came to fish Australia's northern waters. In the 17th century, Europeans, including the Dutch, English and French, began arriving on the coast of the southern continent, having braved extraordinary distances in small sailing boats.

The earliest recorded remains is the English vessel Trial, which foundered in 1622 on the North West Coast of Western Australia. Other wrecks followed in the 17th and 18th centuries, which saw a number of Dutch East India Company ships foundering on the gravel coast of Western Australia.

After Captain James Cook's 1770 voyage in the Endeavour, Australia's coastline became the focal point for hundreds of ships from the Northern Hemisphere. But some of these little European sailing ships venturing into Australia's often treacherous waters never returned.

These shipwrecks and associated relics often give us with what may be the only means of documenting and understanding important aspects of our history. Some, like HMS Pandora off the Great Barrier Reef or the Japanese I-124 submarine in the Northern Territory, are internationally essential for their historical associations.

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