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Shipwreck discovery at Byron Bay – warning not to disturb fragile remains

Media release: 6 March 2013

The NSW Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) has appealed to the public to respect the fragile remains of a shipwreck off Byron Bay, which is believed to be a timber vessel which ran aground during huge gales in July 1889.

Director of OEH’s Heritage Branch Petula Samios, who is the NSW delegate for administration of the Commonwealth Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976 for NSW coastal waters, urged visitors to the site to respect the fragile nature of the historic shipwreck and not interfere with it while it is exposed.

“The wreck is a protected historic shipwreck under both the Commonwealth and State law and survives as a fragile part of our maritime archaeological heritage,” Ms Samios said.

“The remains, which are exposed within the beach sands of Belongil Beach on Byron Bay’s main foreshore, have become a local tourist attraction and we are concerned by reports that some people are carrying away timbers and copper alloy fastenings from the exposed timber hull.

“It is an offence to damage the archaeological site and associated relics, or to remove anything from the wreck site.

“Penalties up to $1.1m or six months jail can apply.”

The site was recently reported to OEH by local Byron Bay resident Greg Thompson and staff of the Ballina Naval Museum.

Heritage Branch maritime archaeologists have been monitoring the shipwreck with the assistance of Cape Byron Marine Park staff.

The wreck was beginning to naturally rebury under shifting beach sands last week but recent storm activity has again exposed more of the vessel.

“Identification of the timber vessel is currently unknown but it could be one of four vessels that wrecked ashore at Byron Bay during huge gales in July 1889,” Ms Samios said.

“In total seven vessels were lost from Byron Bay south to Coffs Harbour during the 1889 storm event.

“The wreck comprises the lower hull of a sailing vessel with outer hull planking and internal frames exposed for about 30 metres in length.

“The hull contains both timber and copper alloy fastenings and copper sheathing (thin plates) that protected the hull, making a mid-late nineteenth century date most likely.

“The discovery provides another glimpse into the fascinating maritime history of our State. These sites form a part of the fabric of our coastal and riverine communities and deserve to be preserved and for their stories to be remembered.”

Maritime archaeologists from OEH will visit the site to obtain detailed measurements of the hull timbers and a sample of wood for species identification, to see if the vessel was Australian built or foreign.

The NSW Government is committed to conserving, safeguarding and celebrating our State’s unique maritime heritage.

All shipwrecks lost in NSW can be searched through the Office of Environment and Heritage’s Maritime Heritage Online website http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/

Contact: Gabrielle Last

Page last updated: 07 March 2014