Culture and heritage

Maritime heritage


MAP - NSW maritime heritage sites

This is a coast of superb natural harbours and Sydney Harbour in particular is truly exquisite. The harbour was formed after the last glaciation. The ice melted, the sea rose and the river valley was drowned, creating a deep water port.

The first maritime activity on these harbours was by Aboriginal communities. For thousands of years they used bark canoes to fish and to access harbour islands, inlets, shores and headlands.

It was here in January 1788 that Governor Arthur Philip arrived to set up an outpost of the British Empire. Circular Quay is the small bay where the fleet came ashore. Survival relied as much on supplies brought by ships as it did on agriculture. Both failed at critical times. Unfamiliar soil and climate and the loss of ships like HMS Sirius and brought the colony almost to its knees. They clung on and Sydney was soon a bustling port. Customs and pilot facilities appeared as well as a quarantine station, coastal defences and all the services required for transporting people and goods by sea.

While Sydney Harbour and Botany Bay offer superb shelter, this was a dangerous coast. Hundreds of ships, of which the Dunbar is the best known, were wrecked in failed attempts to enter or leave port. Today they represent a wide range of naval architecture, commercial activity and on-board living conditions. Their remains provide a rich field of archaeological research and recreational dives.


Page last updated: 31 August 2012