Two invasions, two nations and a solitary carving

Old Man’s Hat, where the 1940 inscription marking the detention of <em>Pierre Loti</em> was carved, offers spectacular views over South Head, the Tasman Sea and hundreds of historic inscriptions left by sailors, passengers and Sydney residents. Image: Ursula K Frederick, Sydney Harbour National Park.

Old Man’s Hat, where the 1940 inscription marking the detention of Pierre Loti was carved, offers spectacular views over South Head, the Tasman Sea and hundreds of historic inscriptions left by sailors, passengers and Sydney residents. Image: Ursula K Frederick, Sydney Harbour National Park.

Saigon bristled with terror in April 1975. As shelling and small-arms fire sounded out an ever-shrinking cordon around the South Vietnamese capital, wails of a different kind split the airspace above the city. On board a Royal Australian Air Force Hercules aircraft, over 200 traumatised children and infants – primarily orphans – were being tended by nurses, doctors and military personnel. Leaving Ton Son Nhat airport on 3 April, these bewildered passengers were then transferred to a Qantas flight bound for Sydney. Numbering among the 2500 children scooped up by ‘Operation Babylift’, they arrived at North Head Quarantine Station just weeks ahead of the final collapse of South Vietnam.

Oddly enough, the Babylift children were not the first displaced Vietnamese to be held at North Head. It would be another year before the earliest refugee boats – the vanguard of a rickety flotilla escaping the humanitarian crisis afflicting Southeast Asia – landed on northern Australian shores. Although two small groups of these arrivals were briefly accommodated at Sydney’s Quarantine Station in 1977, in April 1975 only the Babylift evacuees were being tended by nurses and community volunteers at this hilly headland near Manly.

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In the footsteps of Cook, La Perouse and d’Entrecasteaux

Efforts are now well underway to get Endeavour ready for her voyage to New Caledonia. You’ll note that the dates for the voyage have changed slightly. The amended dates avoid clashes with other events underway in New Caledonia and are now:

  • 27 May to 6 June Sydney to Noumea.
  • 10 June to 17 June Noumea to Noumea. Coastal sail and visit Isle of Pines.
  • 19 June to 29 June Noumea to Sydney

The program looks really exciting and for those joining, the voyage provides an opportunity to sail this wonderful ship while going to a new destination. Hopefully you’ll disembark with an appreciation of what Cook and other 18th century explorers achieved, a knowledge of square rig sailing, a love of the sea and a little French language.

If you would like to become involved in this exciting event, full details are now on our website.

Sailing programs on HMB Endeavour

Sailing programs in Cook’s Endeavour are all designed to give those joining an unforgettable experience. Unlike passengers in a cruise liner, those joining this stunning ship do not enjoy a swimming pool, a casino or an evening in the cocktail bar. In fact, the ship is dry. Those joining the ship are not even referred to as passengers but as voyage crew and supernumeraries. The 36 voyage crew help sail the ship, climb the rigging and sleep in hammocks. The four supernumeraries occupy the cabins once the home of Cook’s scientific team including Banks and Solander. Whilst not compelled to crew the ship, the four supernumeraries often find themselves drawn into the same tight knit team of true voyagers.

With no modern sailing aids onboard, crew must climb aloft up to 39 metres to unfurl and furl Endeavour's 17 sails.

With no modern sailing aids onboard, crew must climb aloft up to 39 metres to unfurl and furl Endeavour’s 17 sails.

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Frederick Reef Archaeological Survey – Day 13

Mon, 16 Jan 2012
Saumarez Reef

The wind has shifted to the north overnight and is blowing about 25 knots.  Our current anchorage is not a good one in these conditions! We start moving to the north looking for a calm spot to wait this out.

A couple hours later we are anchored further north in a calmer location, and take a moment to check out the equipment that arrived with the re-supply vessel.  We now have working magnetometers again which we’ll need for either the Noumea or any other wrecks we will search for now.

Saumarez Reef

Photographer: Xanthe Rivett

After lunch we raised anchor again and started moving north towards Northeast Cay where the survivors of the Noumea took refuge.  The cay was surrounded by heavy breaking surf on all sides.  There also appears to be a strong current running from north to south on both the inside and outside of the cay and reef, which means we can’t dive today. It would also be difficult to get a small boat through the breaking waves to land a group on the cay to see if there was any evidence of the survivor’s camp.

It is clear that the successive construction of a number of beacons and lights on the cay have been subject to some degree of disturbance.  Whether this would have had a negative impact on any archaeological deposits is a question that a survey of the island may answer.  It is doubtful whether we will be able to accomplish a survey on this trip. 

We went back south to anchor for the night.  The Kanimbla is still rocking a far bit even in a relatively protected part of the reef.  The swell will prevent the people onboard Silentworld from joining us for dinner tonight.

We’ll see what tomorrow brings in terms of changing weather and plans for the last days of the project for this year.  We will have to leave for Gladstone by Friday night to get back by Sunday, especially if the wind and waves are up.  We have heard from Knight Passage, our re-supply vessel, that they are still making their way to Gladstone and encountering 40 knot winds and huge seas.  Not a pleasant crossing at all!

Paul Hundley  (Sr. Curator and archaeologist)

Frederick Reef Archaeological Survey – Day 8

Wed, 11 Jan 2012

Today my team was assigned the task of doing a measured site map. When we headed out for our first dive, the outside of the reef had a lot of surge which made it very difficult to use long tape measures on the site.

Inside in the lagoon, James and Maddie from Flinders University were measuring a newly discovered timber which may be part of a keel or keelson – a major structural timber low in the bilge of a vessel.  It also appears to have articulated timbers that disappear into the bottom sands.

Two scuba divers inspecting a piece of timber from shipwreck

Photographer: Xanthe Rivett

We were back at Kanimbla to swap tanks for a second dive, but had to wait on a surface interval of one hour.  We went back out and got in another 35-minute dive before lunch.
While we were in the water there was another team that was doing a final sweep over the coral cay with metal detectors.  We had used the magnetometer on land a couple of days before, but it didn’t show any concentration of ferrous metal.

Man with metal detector walking along sand cay

Photographer: Xanthe Rivett

Xanthe, our photographer did a fly over of the outer reef site taking photos of the different deposits of small finds that had been identified…

Artefacts and archaeological equipment

Photographer: Xanthe Rivett

…and some of the not so small finds, like this piece of collapsed lead sheathing (pictured left) which is about 500 x 750mm and weighs about 200 kg.  We aren’t sure what it is exactly, but some theories include lead sheathing associated with a powder room.

After our final dives we discussed the results we had achieved and the potential for further significant discoveries.  We decided that with the change of weather being forecast, it would be better to make the crossing to Saumarez Reef before the wind increased.  That way we will have a few days to potentially work on the Woodlark or the Noumea – two ships of interest that are known to have wrecked there.  The Woodlark was a Sydney merchant ship lost in 1829.  The Noumea was a black-birding vessel, recruiting labourers for the Queensland cane fields in 1880. 

We will let you know how things go.

Paul Hundley (Sr. Curator and archaeologist)