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Thursday, 9 December 1976


Mr YATES (Holt) - I am glad to have a few moments to discuss the national treasures that are lying off our coast, not only the west coast but also in Victoria. This is a moment, of course, to congratulate the Pigott Committee for what it has discovered and what it has done to bring the attention of the nation to marine archaeology and to a sense of responsibility for our early history. Off the coast of Warrnambool there lies what is known historically as the Mahogany Ship. About 8 years ago Dame Mabel Brookes drew my attention to this particular ship and suggested that further exploration should be undertaken in that area. I went down to see what remained of the Mahogany Ship. Of course, all honourable members want to know what the Mahogany Ship is supposed to be. Spaniards based on Lima made very many voyages to the South Pacific. One vessel, the Santa Isabella, from Mendana's expedition was lost in 1393. The question is: Did this ship happen to go aground east of Warrnambool? The Captain in charge of Belfast or, as it is now called, Port Fairy, Captain Mills, recorded in his annals having seen the ship on the hummocks east of Gorman's Lane. Therefore, I went down to look at the area and to find out as much as I could about this very early boat. The boat's galley lock was produced from Warrnambool museum. A shaving was taken from the lock -


Mr Charles Jones -Do you mean from the ship?


Mr YATES - I mean a metal shaving from the lock. I am referring to the galley lock of the ship. Does the honourable member for Newcastle understand my meaning?


Mr Charles Jones - Yes, of course I do.


Mr YATES -The honourable member for Newcastle is a tremendous sailor. A shaving from the galley lock was sent to Birmingham University to ascertain the actual date of the metal. I was surprised to learn that the metal of the supposed galley lock of the Mahogany Ship could not have been earlier than about 1770. One then researched the wood. The story is that the early whalers down there pillaged the ship. I do not really believe that happened, but that is the story. One would find in the various houses of the early whalers evidence of this ship. I visited 2 houses and with the permission of the house owners I took a shaving of the wood. Also I moved across to Captain Mills' house. It is sad to think of it. The house of the early harbour master of Port Fairy or Belfast, whatever we wish to call it, is just a ruin. I went into it to try to understand why the National Trust had not preserved it. The Trust just had not bothered. The wood was interesting and seemed to compare with that of the old houses belonging to the whalers. Shavings of this wood were sent off to Princes Risborough in Britain, where wood and trees are analysed to determine their age. The wood was analysed and it was found that the wood was not earlier than about 1720. The wood which I found in the house of the whalers was of much later date, about 1870. It was a Tasmanian hardwood. This proved, as far as I was concerned, that the early whalers, the Mahoneys and the Hentys, and the other families there, had not pillaged the ship.

Let me now discuss the question raised by the honourable member for Shortland (Mr Morris). Had anybody from a white nation come ashore and entered Australia? I draw the honourable member's attention to the book Riders of Time by Dame Mabel Brookes. She notes that a black gin, Jim Caine 's second wife Nellie, had completely divergent features and colouring- not that of the usual half caste. She was from the Yangary tribe. Nobody yet has been able to prove one way or the other whether this ship came ashore and whether the Yangarys had Spanish blood in them. It would be very useful if some research was done into the matter by universities. Of course, those who went out as settlers travelled with all the implements necessary for farming and to set up a colony. It is presumed therefore that people coming ashore from any ship would be allowed by the Aborigines to work in peace. There is quite a lot of research work to be done in this area particularly with relatives from the Yangary tribe.

This Mahogany Ship caused a great deal of excitement. It was viewed in 1836. It was viewed again in 1849. The Royal Geographical Society in 1891 set aside an enormous sum of money- £50- as a reward for anybody who discovered anything more about this vessel. What am I getting at? I know that people from 2 universities nave been down to the area with buckets and spades. I have seen signs of other school expeditions in the area. I have discussed the matter with Sir Alfred Oppenheimer from South Africa. We think that the only way to find the ship is to use a sand pump to take away the sand and thereby uncover the ship. I suggest to the Attorney-General (Mr Ellicott) that he takes the greatest possible care to declare the area east of Gorman's Lane one of the areas where they may or may not be one of these famous ships which will be important to our history.

What further research did I undertake? It seemed to me that local stories were quite extraordinary. It has been established by the Colonial Office, for example, that an official naval officer was sent down to write a report concerning the Mahogany Ship. That report was never published in the Colonial Office. A Spanish sword, found in Belfast Harbour, was to be sent to the Mitchell Library in Sydney. That sword never reached Sydney. Spanish corns were found as a gift in the local church. It all goes to show that there is something of interest to us in that area.

I do not think that Dame Mabel Brookes got it exactly right. I feel the ship was built in 1 8 12 and was involved in the Napoleonic Wars. By her construction I would think she was probably built in Panama. The big mahogany panelling on the side of the ship puzzled Mrs Manifold and baffled the early harbour master. I think therefore the ship could have been constructed in Panama. That conclusion would seem to fit in well with the time factor. She probably ran aground during the Napoleonic Wars. She was probably carrying Spanish coin and coming back towards Europe at the time when Spain became involved in the Napoleonic Wars.

This is not the only wreck of importance off the coast of Victoria. Off the entrance of Port Bay Bay there is a large number. I do not understand why Victoria does not have an Act of Parliament similar to the one in Western Australia. I suggest that the Minister consult the Victorian Government to endeavour to have the left and right heads of that harbour declared another zone where only people who are authorised can go and look for what they think to be treasure. Unfortunately those people's idea of treasure is not the same as that of a marine archaeologist. All they want to do is see whether there is a quid in it, or gold coins or something there which they can exchange. We need most of all more accurate information where these ships lie and in particular their age. I think the research should be handled by universities or by those who are competent to do the work. I am not against any amateur organisation joining up with a university team and doing the exploration work.

I do not want to detain the House any longer. I think the Bill is an extremely valuable one. I must congratulate the Opposition for appointing the Pigott Committee and for its part in bringing this Bill before the House tonight. I hope that what I have said shows that most Australians, including myself, are deeply interested in our history and would hate to think that something of value was lost through the negligence or incapacity of a person to understand what he was actually handling when using his diving kit and going into a ship.

I suppose it would be polite if I extended my congratulations to the Clerk of the House who will retire before this House meets again. He is the third Clerk with whom I have worked. The others were Sir Edward Fellows, Sir Barnet Cocks and now Mr Norman Parkes. The only advice that a Clerk of the House ever gave me as a member is one which I always remember. It was: 'When you are thinking of the Opposition or those who oppose you, you are only opposing their opinions; you are not opposing them personally'. In that spirit, on behalf of myself and my electors, I extend good wishes to the Clerk of the House and to members of this honourable House. I have enjoyed participating in the debate on this Bill. I look forward to taking part in other discussions at a later time.







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