The life of a lighthouse keeper

Goode Island lighthouse c.1909. Although officially unidentified, this family group is likely the Norgates as they were still the keepers on Goode Island until January 1910. Image: State Library of Queensland.

Goods Island lighthouse c 1909. Image: State Library of Queensland.

The life of a lighthouse keeper is often either romanticised or seen as a desolate life for those who prefer the solitary confines of the role, away from the social rigours of mainland life.

In reality, the life was a mixture of both and so much more. The ANMM has in its collection an extraordinary log book kept by the lighthouse keeper William Norgate from November 1893 to November 1929. The log is dilapidated and fragile but reveals a humble yet extraordinary life.

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A migration story in stitch

One of my favourite objects in the museum’s collection is a charming needlework sampler made by 19-year-old assisted immigrant Julia Donovan on board the Carnatic in January 1879. Immigration records show that Julia arrived in Rockhampton, Queensland, from England on 5 February 1879, and presumably went into domestic service in the growing port town.

Needlework sampler made by Julia Donovan on board Carnatic en route to Australia, 1879

Needlework sampler made by Julia Donovan on board Carnatic en route to Australia, 1879

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The sport of turtle riding and ‘the Greatest Liar on Earth’

Louis de Rougemont died a long way from Australia, the place that made his name. He died a long way from Switzerland, the place in which he was born. In fact when he died, penniless and forgotten in London in June 1921, Louis de Rougemont was no longer his name at all. It was just a name that had once been famous.

It was also a name that came to be synonymous with a very strange and short-lived sport; turtle riding:

'De Rougemont's Lie', Western Mail, Thursday 12 March 1931, page 19

‘De Rougemont’s Lie’, Western Mail, Thursday 12 March 1931, page 19

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History and knitting

Magda and Anu Mihkelson wearing knitted hats in Sweden, 1948

Magda and Anu Mihkelson wearing knitted hats in Sweden, 1948. ANMM Collection Reproduced courtesy Anu Mihkelson

Over the past few weeks I have been working my way through a wonderful collection of textiles, handcrafts, photographs and family heirlooms donated by Anu Mihkelson, who as a toddler migrated from Sweden to Australia with her Estonian parents Oskar and Magda in 1948.

The Mihkelson collection is one of the museum’s richest collections relating to Australia’s post-World War II immigration history. Some of the material will go on display later this year in our Passengers Gallery but in the meantime I thought I would show you a few pieces from the collection that combine two of my favourite things – history and knitting!

Anu’s mother Magda Mihkelson was an accomplished knitter who used her needlework skills to help contribute to the family income. She knitted traditional Estonian Haapsalu lace scarves and intricately-patterned cardigans to order, both while part of the vibrant Estonian refugee community in Sweden in the 1940s, and later amongst the rural migrant cane-cutting and mining hubs of northern Queensland, where Oskar Mihkelson worked.

Oskar, Anu and Magda Mihkelson in Sweden, 1948

Oskar, Anu and Magda Mihkelson in Sweden, 1948. Magda wears a knitted angora bolero. ANMM Collection Reproduced courtesy Anu Mihkelson

Magda was such a prolific knitter that she even knitted up all her leftover wool as the family travelled by train from Sweden to Genoa, Italy, to board the Lloyd Triestino liner Toscana for the six-week voyage to Australia.

Magda knitting beside Anu on Toscana en route to Australia, 1948

Magda knitting beside Anu on Toscana en route to Australia, 1948. ANMM Collection Reproduced courtesy Anu Mihkelson

Anu has written a poem about her mother’s knitting that speaks volumes about women’s work, war and displacement, the industriousness of migrants, and the adaptation of European cultural traditions to the Australian context. She has kindly allowed me to reproduce the poem here and I hope you enjoy it.

Knitting 
Anu Mihkelson

She knitted when the house was asleep
Occasionally at the child in the cot she would peep
Peace around her to concentrate
With each item a little more money to make.
Jacquard, chevron, cable,
Samples set out on the table
Haapsalu scarves to slip through a wedding ring
Others to wear by those who sing
At an Estonian Song Festival.

Haapsalu scarf knitted in lily of the valley lace pattern

Haapsalu scarf knitted in lily of the valley lace pattern. ANMM Collection Gift from Anu Mihkelson

Colourful gloves, bonnets, socks,
Patterns counted off graph-paper blocks,
Traditional snowflakes respecting the trust
Of Estonia left behind, in war’s dust.
In Sweden she did this in earnest
For she was a refugee
And her work was done for a fee.
In Estonia it was a woman’s art
To knit, crochet and dress smart
But then in 1944 with her life she fled
Knitting needles now clicked the feelings not said.

Anu's colourful knitted hat

Anu’s colourful knitted hat. ANMM Collection Gift from Anu Mihkelson

The nickel plated needles are worn
Paper ends to hold the stitches, now torn;
Small double-pointed needles
For socks and mittens and cable sweaters.
Crochet hooks in different sizes –
Later the handkerchiefs won prizes.

Anu's pink knitted jacket

Anu’s pink knitted jacket. ANMM Collection Gift from Anu Mihkelson

All the pieces tell a story
Of migration, and someone else’s war glory
My pink jacket and blue skirt with straps
Other cultures fused
The Christening shawl not used
Since I grew and needed a skirt.
All packed in a trunk
I close the lid,
On all she did.

Anu's blue knitted skirt with straps

Anu’s blue knitted skirt with straps. ANMM Collection Gift from Anu Mihkelson

Life was not to be a failure –
Off again, this time to Australia.
At Tully and Mission Beach
For her family safety was within reach
Swim trunks of merino
White angora bolero
Jacket with cherry bunches
Many hours she hunches
The pattern was wrong
It took so long
The client’s payment seemed a song.

Magda's knitted jacket with cherry bunches

Magda’s knitted jacket with cherry bunches. ANMM Collection Gift from Anu Mihkelson

Then off to Mount Isa we went
There eight years were spent.
Days were hot and dry
Still, there was wool –
And the winter nights were cool
She knitted, ready for a southern clime,
Sydney … it was time.

Anu sewing and Magda knitting in Mount Isa, 1957-58

Anu sewing and Magda knitting in Mount Isa, 1957-58. ANMM Collection Reproduced courtesy Anu Mihkelson

You can read more about the Mihkelson family’s incredible journey from Estonia to Australia via Sweden in Anu’s books Three Suitcases and a Three-Year-Old (Kangaroo Press 1999) and The View from Here (self-published 2011).

Kim Tao
Curator, Post-Federation Immigration

Ferguson Reef archaeology expedition – 1-3 April

Monday 1 April 2013

April Fool’s Day – The wind has been steadily increasing overnight and some of the team – including Frits and Lee – have abandoned Hellraiser 2 to seek more comfortable berths on board the much larger SWII which does not bounce around so much in the increasing swell.

Plans for the day are much the same as yesterday, with the exception that the team will be joined by Steve and Sparra in Hellraiser 2 which – because we are operating more than eight miles away from the main vessel SWII – will act as a temporary rest stop for the teams working out of the smaller dive tenders.

Four teams on and in the water today – Frits and John ‘magging’ in Maggie; Gil, Greg, Lee and Freddy diving anomalies in Caribe; Xanthe, Jacqui, Andrew, Rick, Glen and I ‘magging’ and diving in the Hydro-sport; and Sparra, Steve and Grant on Hellraiser 2.

Kieran magging with Forbes Island in background.

Kieran magging with Forbes Island in background.

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Ferguson Reef archaeology expedition – 30 and 31 March

Saturday 30 March 2013

Woke up this morning to a very empty anchorage at the back of Ferguson Reef – with Silentworld II (SWII) and the Hydro-sport dive tender having left for Portland Roads at 0330 this morning – leaving a much reduced crew (Xanthe, Andrew, Grant, Freddy and I) on board Hellraiser 2 to check out the last remaining anomalies and take the last measurements before cleaning up the site and sailing westward to meet the larger team at Eel Reef, and hopefully the wreck of the Indian-built opium clipper Morning Star wrecked three miles south west of Quoin Island in 1814.

With a much smaller team to get ready we got to the outer edge of Ferguson Reef and the wrecksite of the Ferguson in plenty of time for the high water slack.

Xanthe, Grant and Andrew from the Silentworld Foundation and I jumped in just to the seaward of the ‘picked in’ anchor and allowed the last few minutes of the floodtide to carry us in over the reef top and along the stud link anchor chain which runs back over the top of the reef for some 200 metres before ending amongst flat plate and staghorn coral.

Kieran underwater looking at anchor chain

Kieran inspecting the anchor chain.

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Ferguson Reef archaeology expedition – 28 and 29 March

Thursday 28 March

After a somewhat late night for the expedition team members and crew who had been waiting for the arrival of Hellraiser 2, the team members got together early the next morning to discuss the practicalities of working the ‘end of flood tide’ on the wrecksite so Xanthe could get a complete photomosaic of the site.

We decided to send a small team of divers, including Xanthe, Greg, Gil and Andrew, over to the site just before the ‘end of flood’ at 0700 so that Xanthe would have enough water depth to complete the photomosaic. Just in case, Freddy and Kieran would act as stand-by divers so that the in-water divers could be pulled out of the water if the ebb-tide came in earlier than expected.

Luckily conditions on site were perfect with the strong south-easterly (wind) holding up the ebbing tide long enough for the photomosaic to be completed without incident.

In the afternoon we planned for Frits and John to mag the northern part of the lagoon, have Andrew and Grant record the features of the carronades (cannon) on site, have Gil and Greg record the dimensions of all the various bits on the anchor chain, and Jacqui and I would record the knee and bilge pump dimensions. Unfortunately and unexpectedly the tides refused to cooperate – although for the last couple of days, the tides were behaving relatively normally with gaps of approximately 6 hours between High and Low tide – today the ebb tide was more prolonged, possible due to the effect of the New Moon. This meant the dive tender and Maggie (the shallow drafted magnetometer boat) were unable to get over the western edge of the reef and onto the wreck site.

After waiting for three hours – and noticing no discernible difference in the level of the water over the reef – the team called the dive and returned to Silentworld II.

Photo of Kieran and two of the crew on boat with seagul

We made a friend at sea!

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Ferguson Reef archaeology expedition – 26 and 27 March

Tuesday 26 March

This morning the weather conditions appeared to be improving on yesterday’s so we sent off four teams to work on the Ferguson site.

Team One consisting of Frits and John dove on a series of magnetic anomalies off the south western side of Ferguson Reef, Gil and Greg in Team Two measured up an anchor at the northern part of the site, Peter and Jacqui in Team Three measured a ‘flat’ anchor and Grant and Andrew in Team Four measured an anchor in the surf zone. Whilst all this was going on Xanthe took photographs of the work in progress and I monitored the work from the surface whilst taking part in an open classroom discussion via telephone through the DART virtual excursion program of the NSW Department of Education.

As the teams returned from the wrecksite the whole area was struck by a series of rain squalls drenching everyone – well at least it saved us the job of washing the dive gear.

After lunch, sea conditions appeared to have quietened down once again and in almost perfect conditions we set off to dive on the site. Gil, Greg and I went to measure the length of a stud link anchor chain that was attached to a ‘picked in’ anchor. Peter and Jacqui jumped in to measure up the various iron knees, assisted by Andrew, John and Frits armed with metal detectors they commenced a non-disturbance metal detector survey of the site to find out ‘what lies beneath’. Continue reading

Ferguson Reef archaeology expedition – Monday 25 March

Over the last few days the weather conditions on site have started to deteriorate as as the effects of a new monsoonal trough comes into play.

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Peter Illidge with charts.

With a substantial surf breaking over the southern and eastern edges of Ferguson Reef and with limited space in the boats we decided to send only single teams of snorkelers onto the reef-top searching for the magnetometer hits that John and Frits had detected on the previous day. Continue reading

Ferguson Reef archaeology expedition 21 – 24 March

Thursday 21 March

Before departing Lizard Island this morning the team took advantage of the early start by climbing Cook’s Look the iconic hill on Lizard Island. The same hill climbed by Lieutenant James Cook and some of the crew of HMB Endeavour in 1770 shortly after that vessel had run aground on a coral patch now known as Endeavour Reef, south of Lizard Island. Cook used this vantage spot to find his way out of the ‘labyrinth’ which had so nearly claimed his vessel.

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Expedition team at Cooks Look

After climbing Cook’s Look our expedition vessels departed Lizard Island bound for the Flinders Group, 50 or so miles north.

After a smooth passage the two vessels anchored in the channel between the cluster of islands that make up the Flinders Group just south and east of Princess Charlotte Bay. In March 1899 a cyclone destroyed a pearling fleet anchored in the Bay, with the loss of over 400 lives including at least 100 local Aboriginal people who were swept away and drowned as the result of a huge tidal surge associated with the cyclone. Continue reading

Ferguson Reef archaeology expedition – the lead up

Our maritime archaeology team were set for a three week expedition to Ferguson Reef, off the coast of north Queensland to locate and survey shipwrecks Ferguson and Morning Star until the forces of nature threw some obstacles in their way – a couple of cyclones to be exact! Here, Kieran Hosty our maritime archaeology manager brings us up to speed with the expedition, the cyclones and the new plan.

We’ll be posting more of Kieran’s updates as the expedition continues, so keep an eye out.

Thursday 14 March 2013

Over the last week or so a number of factors have come into play which forced the Silentworld Foundation and the Australian National Maritime Museum to cancel or at best postpone the proposed Ferguson Reef Project.

Towards the end of last week a tropical low developed in the Gulf of Carpentaria and over last weekend formed into Severe Tropical Cyclone Sandra. Whilst TC Sandra has not caused any damage to the Queensland coast the formation of the cyclone in the Coral Sea has prevented one of the expedition vessel’s Nimrod Explorer from reaching Cairns from the Solomon Islands where it had been engaged in charter work. Cyclone Sandra has also whipped up the seas between Sydney and Cairns delaying the arrival of the second expedition vessel Silentworld II. Continue reading

Meet Kieran Hosty, manager of maritime archaeology

Our education team recently caught up with Kieran Hosty, the museum’s manager of maritime archaeology, to find out more about his job and upcoming expedition to Ferguson Reef, off the coast Queensland.

Kieran wearing scuba gear sitting on boat at sea

Kieran Hosty, manager of maritime archaeology

What does your role at the museum involve?

Over the last 12 months my position at the museum has changed from that of a curator with a primary responsibility of managing a collection to that of full time manager of the museum’s expanding maritime archaeology program. When I was a curator I was responsible for immigration, ship technologies and marine archaeology. My work includes research, documentation, site survey and assessment of underwater cultural heritage, along with museum exhibition concept, design and installation. Continue reading

Cooktown: The museum heads north for a week

It’s hot. And humid. But what else can you expect for far north Queensland in December? And it could have been worse – however, the southest trades were blowing across the hills on the coast, providing a margin of comfort across the town.

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Cooktown from Grassy Hill, looking to the south west in the evening

Everyone drives a 4WD, but I was on foot, and in Cooktown to undertake a museum outreach project funded through a grant from the Maritime Museums of Australia Project Support Scheme (MMAPSS). My goal was to document and write a management plan for May-Belle, an iron flood boat and ferry from the gold-rush era of the late 1800s, and part of the James Cook Museum collection, expertly managed by Melanie Piddocke.

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May Belle being measured

The real heat was on the Tuesday – with six hours spent in the tin shed annexe where the boat was stored, often down on hands and knees, or lying under the vessel. It was dusty, dirty and over 30 degrees even with the shutter doors open. Plenty of fluids kept things under control and by early afternoon, after an 8 am start, I had enough data recorded to retire to an air-conditioned room and draw out the elements from the dimensions taken, then give it a check. All good at the end the day, and dinner that night with Melanie and former council administrator Darcy Gallop, who retrieved the vessel in 1973, brought out some stories about the social side of the craft, which is now on the Australian Register of Historic Vessels, along with its close sisters up in Coen, even further north.

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Cherry Tree Bay at 6 am

On Wednesday I began writing the report, putting together a comprehensive management plan about the vessel’s history, construction, current condition and how best to conserve, interpret and display the vessel. At lunch Melanie and I met Ian McRae from the regional council, who had overseen putting the Coen boat up for nomination. Ian is a keen supporter of heritage in the area and was about to let the Coen people know their craft had been recognised.

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An indigenous outrigger canoe made in 2010

For Thursday Melanie had kindly organised a meeting with the Indigenous community in Hope Vale, 45 minutes inland. This is the successor to Hope Valley, formerly on Cape Bedford, which had been forcibly abandoned during World War 2. This incident is not well recognised and is one of a series of sad events that have overrun the Guugu Yimithirr community since the goldrush of the 1870s ‒ the event that brought the flood boats into being.

At Hope Vale I discussed the museum’s work and the experience of the conference Nawi – exploring Australia’s Indigenous watercraft, plus my own particular involvement with building nawi, and heard from them what they knew of their own outriggers. These are hollowed-out logs with a hunting platform at one end, and a single outrigger. Willie Gordon, a well-respected community member and acclaimed leader of tours into his country, was particularly interested. Later in the day renowned local artist Roy McIvor and his wife, Thelma, came by the museum to meet us, hear about the ANMM work and talk about their story too. It was a wonderful exchange, and if the ANMM can host another conference in the future we look forward to inviting more representatives from the Cooktown and Hope Vale area.

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Endeavour river Cooktown, the site where Endeavour was beached for repairs.

As well as the work side there was time early in the mornings and late evenings to walk the coastline bush track, or take in the view from Grassy Hill, where James Cook had stood assessing his situation as Endeavour was being repaired on the shoreline below him in 1770. The James Cook Museum display talks about the community’s stories about this event, too; by 1770 they were accustomed to foreign ships, as Macassan traders been coming for trochus and beche-de-mer for probably 100 years or more before. The Macassans came and went, however, but this visitor in his big canoe did not just come and go in a short time, he stayed for a long time, but did manage to make contact. Both sides of the community, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, recognise the importance of this event. Two key artefacts reside in the museum, the anchor Endeavour lost and one of the cannon jettisoned to make the ship lighter. Through the dry season many tourists come to Cooktown to see these and learn more about the event that dramatically affected this community.

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Endeavour anchor and cannon on display at James Cook Museum

Raine Island: it never Raines, it pours…

Hey, it’s Oli here again to tell you about another one of my tasks as an intern here at the museum: research!!

Early next year (2013), the museum plans on making a trip to the tip of Northern Queensland in the hope of investigating, surveying, and possibly excavating some endangered artefacts from the reef-riddled waters surrounding the infamous Raine Island. Perhaps the word ‘infamous’ is a little strong these days, but if there is one thing this research has taught me, it’s that Raine Island was absolutely treacherous for sailors during the 19th century, with around 40 known shipwrecks in the area immediately surrounding the island (one article I found stated that there had been 51 wrecks in the area in 1854 alone).

“Disaster at Sea”, Woven by the Victorian Tapestry Workshop, concept by Murray Walker, Ausrtalia, 1989. ANMM Collection

From the late 1700s onwards, Raine Island represented an opening in the Great Barrier Reef, and the start of the passage through Torres Strait for ships attempting to voyage from the East coast of Australia to Asia, India, and Europe. Once past the island, ships could enjoy the protection of the reef, and relatively calm waters safe from the furious surf of the Pacific Ocean. However, before ships could take advantage of this calm, they had to navigate waters riddled with small and large reefs, and if a crew failed to properly identify a certain landmark, or else allowed themselves to deviate slightly from the established path, they were almost guaranteed to spend the rest of their voyage in a lifeboat (if they were lucky).

Alongside attempting to discover various facts about the ships’ destination and cargo, I am looking for accounts of the actual wrecking events in the newspapers of the period. This has exposed me to some amazing stories of death and survival, the like of which I would not otherwise have imagined were possible in the Australian context.

One of the most morbidly interesting is the story of the Charles Eaton, which was a barque out of Sydney bound for Singapore with around 40 people on board. On 15 August 1834, the barque mounted a reef and stuck fast under the heavy surf of the Pacific Ocean. Five members of the crew, including the ship’s carpenter and boatswain, immediately abandoned ship on the only boat that was still usable, but the others refused to join them because it seemed utterly hopeless for the little boat to get away. The five managed to survive and navigated their way right across the top of Australia to Timor where they were immediately robbed, and were almost murdered, but for the kindness of an elderly man, who nevertheless held them captive for over a year.

The rest of the crew on board the Charles Eaton set about making a raft from the components of the ship (after the storm had subsided) and finally succeeded in making a vessel large enough to carry around 10 people including three young boys: George and Willy D’Oyley, and William Sexton. The raft was set adrift, and the crew paddled for some days before meeting a man in a canoe, who invited them onto a nearby island, where he promised them turtle meat. Upon landing, the group were attacked by a large number of men, who decapitated all of them, except for the three boys, who were to be assimilated into the community (George D’Oyley and William Sexton were, however, beaten to death around two months later). Meanwhile, the rest of the crew still aboard the Charles Eaton had constructed another raft which would be capable of holding them all. This final vessel was cast off, and paddled around for a full week before also landing on an island at the direction of a man in a canoe. As the crew collapsed, exhausted upon the sand, they were attacked and butchered, and all were decapitated save another young boy who was also subsequently adopted into the community (the very same people who dealt likewise with the other raft).

The cover of a book in the museum’s collection, which is a narritive written by William Sexton some time after the shipwreck ordeal. It tells of his adventure, and some fond memories of his time on the island.

The fate of the Charles Eaton was an utter mystery for many months, before the five remaining crew managed to escape from their captivity in Timor, and sail to Batavia to alert authorities to the wreck. At this point, a rescue ship was sent out, but failed to discover the whereabouts of the survivors until the captain of another vessel reported sighting a white child in an indigenous family. The rescue vessel located them, along with a number of skulls identified as belonging to the crew of the Charles Eaton. The two boys were taken back to Europe, and provided witness to the whole event some two years after it had occurred (despite now having a slightly limited grasp on the English language).

Another interesting (and somewhat shorter) story was that of the Norna, which left for Hong Kong from Newcastle in 1861 under a cloud of controversy surrounding the murderous behaviour of the previous captain. The Norna was wrecked on a reef described merely as being 14 miles away from the wreck of the Constant. The ship and crew had been missing for some time before a search was sent out in the form of the Sphinx, which started searching islands around the Coral Sea, and managed to find a note in a glass bottle buried on a tropical island under a tree with a plaque reading “NORNA”. The note was written by the Second Officer of the Norna, and described the wreck event, and the subsequent months of being marooned on the island. The captain and his family had left after a week on the island, never to be heard of again. The rest of the crew intended to make for the ‘Pellew Islands’ in the remaining boat, but were not found there by the rescue vessel.

After further searches were made of the surrounding islands, the crew of the Norna were located on an island, but in the captivity of the indigenous people who refused to release their captives or negotiate with the would-be rescuers. As a result, the crew of the Sphinx burned down all the villages on the island, and held the the local chiefs hostage until eventually the surviving crew of the Norna were handed over.

These accounts, and others like them, provide an amazing insight into the extraordinary stories emanating from Australia’s maritime history, and the fact that many of these vessels are yet to be properly investigated (let alone discovered) convince me that the maritime archaeologists here at the museum have some of the most remarkable jobs in Australia!

Frederick Reef Archaeological Survey – Day 17

Fri, 20 Jan 2012
Hope Islet

Wayne with his catch, a huge fishKanimbla is moving to Hope Islet today to spend our last day of the survey.  We pulled up anchor at 8 am, it only takes half an hour to get there.  Wayne our technician from James Cook University is a mad keen fisherman.  He threw a hook in as we left and within 10 minutes he had a fish. Tonight’s dinner looks like this!  Wahoo!

We arrived at Hope Cay at 9.30 am and by 10 am the mag team was away in their boat. We also had a team on the cay to survey and metal detect there.  There was nothing of historical significance, but much more evidence of modern visitation than at West Islet.  There were iron star pickets driven into the cay and the shallows in the reef.  There also appears to be the remains of an engine block.  Possibly these were anchorage points left by fishermen who visit the area.

Metal detecting on shoreThe mag teams came back with a few anomalies buoyed for investigation.  Two teams of divers went out for what is likely to be our last dives.  They will be back by lunchtime and we will make a decision to either stay anchored here for the afternoon or start our trip back to Gladstone.  We hear that there are gale warnings out for the Queensland coast, so that may slow us down the closer we get.

Anyway, once we start to move we won’t be able to connect to our satellite to send back any further information.  So this is it, our last  update from the field.  We will give you a final wrap-up once we are back in the office.  Hope you have enjoyed our reports on the progress we made.  It has been a tremendously busy and productive time.

Exploring the sand cay 

Cheers
Paul and the rest of the team

P.S As Xanthe stayed on Silentworld she wasn’t here to provide our usual quality images.  And just so you don’t think Xanthe is a figment of our imagination… Here is one of the rare photographs of our photographer!

Xanthe the photographer