The HMAS Sydney II warship anchored in Sydney Harbour

The Western Australian Museum has received a major boost to investigate, manage and interpret the site of Australia’s greatest naval tragedy – the World War II wrecks of HMAS Sydney (II) and the HSK Kormoran – with a $483,248 grant from the Commonwealth.

The Your Community Heritage grant will allow the Museum, Curtin University and other project partners to use recently developed high resolution imaging technology to survey the shipwrecks in much greater detail than was originally possible, so that they can be properly protected, conserved and interpreted for future generations.

Museum Chief Executive Officer Alec Coles said this meant firstly developing a heritage management plan for the sites, and then creating a virtual visitor experience that would give people permanent access to two of Australia’s most inaccessible, yet significant heritage locations.

“The loss of the HMAS Sydney (II), with all hands, off the coast of Western Australia in 1941 is still, to this day, Australia’s greatest naval tragedy and a very significant part of WA’s history,” Mr Coles said.

“Both ships lie approximately 2,500 metres deep on the seabed and, partly because of their isolation and inaccessibility, they are still in a state which is recognisably the same as immediately after their sinking.

“However, both wrecks also show evidence of decay which will inevitably lead to structural collapse so it is imperative that we capture the heritage value of the ships now and plan, as much as possible, for their protection and conservation into the future.”

The project to document the wreck sites using the latest imaging technology, including 3D stereoscopic imaging developed by Curtin University, is scheduled for completion next year.

Curtin has also developed the interactive virtual environments which could form the major component of a virtual visitor experience to the sites. Completion of this element is dependent on securing additional funding, hopefully in time for the 75th anniversary of the battle which saw the destruction of both vessels and such a heavy loss of life.

“Out of respect for the family and friends of those brave souls who perished, it is essential that we approach this project in a sensitive manner,” Mr Coles said.

“This is an incredibly important story to tell and the Museum is honoured to be working with such eminent authorities in the field including Ted Graham, the former chair of the Finding Sydney Foundation which led the initiatives that resulted in locating the wreck sites.”

The project is being undertaken in partnership with corporate sponsor DOF Subsea which will provide the vessel, engineering and maritime operational expertise; Curtin University which has developed the interactive virtual environments and 3D stereoscopic imaging; the Friends of the WA Museum; the Australian National Maritime Museum; the University of Western Australia; the Royal Australian Navy and the National Naval Association, the latter representing Veterans’ interests.

Media contact:
Flora Perrella
Western Australian Museum
0424 027 646 flora.perrella@museum.wa.gov.au