Other sites

Sammy Well

According to Russell Cooper (1997), Sammy Well is quite old, being in operation when the lighthouse at Cape Inscription was in its construction phases around 1907. In that respect, it has intrinsic significance as an indicator of early station activity at the north end of the island. Apparently, fresh water drawn from the well was stored in barrels and carted on horse-drawn wagons to the lighthouse precinct in order to make concrete for the tower. After the light was completed, access to the tower and its facilities (including a large water catchment) was via a light rail and jetty in Turtle Bay, rendering Sammy Well of secondary importance to the light and its people.

While the windmill, the wooden liners, and the abandoned outcamp and tank on the hill above Sammy Well appear relatively modern phenomena, the place has yet another central place in Dirk Hartog Island history and folklore, being a tangible reminder of the presence of 'Sammy Malay' or 'Sammy Hassan', as he was also known. Arguably, it is also the foremost remaining physical reminder of the presence of the Malays who came to Shark Bay after 1872. In that context, a link is also made to the colonial entrepreneur Charles Edward Broadhurst who, with Francis Cadell in the 1870s was the chief importer and employer of Malays in the bay as indentured labour. For his part Broadhurst transported 140 Malays to this coast on the SS Xantho.

Scientists examining the site of the Sammy Well's campsite.
The 'outcamp' above Sammy Well
Image copyright WA Museum

The Walga Rock Painting

Acknowledged as the largest gallery of rock art in Western Australia, the cave at Walga Rock lies 48km west of Cue, not far from Austin Downs Station near the Sanford River, a tributary of the Murchison River that opens onto the coast at the town of Kalbarri.

First recorded by an anthropologist in 1936, theories about the provenance of the painting abound. One story from 1928 indicates that the ship had been painted by an Aboriginal woman 'with fair hair and blue eyes', i.e. by inference a descendent of shipwreck survivors. While another attributes the work to 'Afghan cameleers' and yet another to a group of boys from Cue, the most common is that it had been painted by shipwreck survivors or their descendants. Historian Stan Gratte traced Sammy Malay to the Walga Rock area.

"In 1917, Sammy Malay gathered around him a group of Aborigines 'like a tribe' and lived near the windmill which is about a kilometre northeast of Walga Rock. He was shooting kangaroos for skins and was, I think, there for some time. It was Ryan's opinion that Sammy did the painting at that time. In, I believe, 1922 (but that could be wrong), Sammy was camped at a windmill on Coodardy Stn [station] which adjoins Austin Downs (on which is Walga Rock) and was kangaroo shooting still, but on his own."

The SS Xantho Link

Detailed research into the Walga Rock painting by Phillip Playford, considered possible links to the wreck of the VOC ship Zuytdorp which was lost on the coast a few miles north of the mouth of the Murchison River in 1711.

Though doubts remain there is now compelling evidence that the Walga Rock painting represents the steam-driven auxiliary sailer, the SS Xantho (1872) which sank under Charles Broadhurst and his crew, including a number of Malays at Port Gregory a few miles south of the Murchison.

The painting, which also appears featured in other rock art in the Pilbara, was first linked to the Xantho by anthropologist Dr Ian Crawford and archaeologist Charles Dortch suggested that if Xantho had false gunports, then it could have been the inspiration of the Walga Rock painting. This theory was tested by comparing an existing analysis of the configuration of SS Xantho (e.g. position of the funnel, masts etc.) based on the archaeological evidence and the painting. When false gunports are drawn in, the resemblance is quite compelling, rendering a link with the Walga Rock painting far more likely than with the Zuytdorp or any other sailing ship. This is further strengthened when it is considered that false gunports were a common sight on these shores in the 19th century. For example, the iron barques Sepia and City of York wrecked in 1898 and 1899 respectively carried them.

With links to so many people, places and events, and as a prominent representative of a very important social group, Sammy Malay (Hassan) assumes an importance few would have otherwise envisaged. It renders Sammy Well as one of the most important cultural heritage sites on the island, one requiring protection and interpretation.

The Walga rock painting of what is believed to be SS Xantho
The Walga rock painting
Image copyright WA Museum
Drawing of the major features of SS Xantho
A drawing of the SS Xantho
Image copyright WA Museum

The Turtle Bay 'Grave'

In November 1941 HMAS Sydney II, one of Australia's most prominent warships, disappeared after a battle with the German raider HSK Kormoran. Its remains are yet to be found.

In May 1987 a diver, Mr Colin Sampey, contacted the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) advising that he had dived on the wreck of HMAS Sydney II and that it lay in 110 feet (c. 30 m) of water, 10 nautical miles off Dirk Hartog island. The record also shows that the RAAF then commenced magnetometer search utilising a P3C Orion aircraft, searching from just south of West Point to opposite Dampier reef at the northern end of the island out to a depth of c. 45 m. No evidence of a ship was found.

Over the years there have been numerous claims that bodies from HMAS Sydney were located in the seas off Shark Bay and that some may have come ashore there. Many of these claims are not supported with evidence other than hearsay, however. The archival search conducted by museum staff showed that Mr Sampey, for example, also claimed to have located a grave 'in an open area on top of a red cliff above a cove on the north-east tip of Dirk Hartog Island'. He also claimed that radio operator Able Seaman (AB) D. Williamson from Melbourne had drifted ashore in a carley float and was found by a resident of Cape Inscription, only to die two days later. Apparently he also had on a life vest marked HMAS Sydney. Though there were numerous discrepancies in the report, there were two men of that name on board HMAS Sydney, one M.D. Williamson a Leading Stoker from Tasmania and the other S.T.L. Williamson an acting PO from Victoria (Olson, 2000: 387).There was also an A.D. Williams who was an Able Seaman from NSW.

Subsequently on 3rd August 1987 HMAS Geraldton was asked to investigate and to examine a possible grave 150 yards from the cliff edge, 'measuring 6' by 2'6" and adjacent to the old trolley line'.

During the search the crew did find what they considered to be a possible grave site consisting of an area of 2mx1m surrounded by rock adjacent to the old trolley line connecting the winch house above Turtle Bay to the lighthouse. It appears that no further investigations were conducted at the site, however, and a note was penned on the bottom of the HMAS Geraldton report indicating that '(this) leaves us with doubts still'.

Map depicting the large ocean area examined for the HMAS Sydney
The areas searched for HMAS Sydney by the Orion aircraft
Image copyright WA Museum

An opportunity to resolve the matter arose with the presence of Mr Adam Ford, a terrestrial archaeologist experienced in examining grave sites, on the 2006 Dirk Hartog Island team. As a result he was requested to test the 2mx1m area under the rocks for signs of a grave. On the afternoon of 12th October Mr Ford, assisted by volunteers and museum staff, conducted an examination of the ground down to 50 cm below the rocks at the south eastern end of the site. No evidence of a grave or sub-surface disturbance of any sort was found.

Three scientists performing excavation work on a grave site on Dirk Hartog Islan
Excavations at the grave site on Dirk Hartog Island
Image copyright WA Museum

Mystery Bay

On 3rd June 1858, Lieutenant Arthur Onslow of HMS Herald, landed on Dirk Hartog Island with a surveying party. They travelled down the island arriving at what was later to be called 'Mystery Bay' where there was a rolling swell and offshore breeze. Wanting to cool off, Onslow went for a swim and recorded in his journal the discovery of an old shipwreck, "being very rotten and worm eaten and had laid there a long time - perhaps... old discoverers or an old whaler." A number of attempts were made to visit Mystery Bay by sea and by land to see if anything remained of the wreckage.

In the first instance, in 1997-98 the department's 5.5m workboat was used, but when high seas prevented a landing, a visit was made travelling inland from Turtle Bay via motorcycle. Being unable to carry much gear, and with little time remaining, photography and other recording was minimal. Nonetheless, the visit was sufficient to indicate that the bay was a natural wreckage trap, similar to one found in similar circumstances a few sea miles south of the Zuytdorp wreck. But it was also evident that the material was not necessarily indicative of a wreck in the vicinity.

Flotsam and jetsam have impinged on the Western Australian coast with some frequency over the years, often from great distances away. Relevant examples are the figurehead from the clipper Bluejacket that came ashore on Rottnest Island in December 1871 after it caught fire and was abandoned off the Falkland Islands in March 1869. Another was a lifeboat (Boat No. 4) from the P & O ship Heythrop that caught fire off South Africa in November 1971. It was abandoned and floated into Albany Harbour in February 1973 after a journey of an estimated 7000km.

In 1997 Onslow's report was eventually finalised when an airborne magnetometer search was conducted by a consortium inspired by Phillip Playford's suggestion that missing VOC ships (Fortuyn, Aagtekerke and Ridderschap van Holland) might have come to grief on the Zuytdorp cliffs (Playford, 1998). The group, which included Playford and assorted corporate backers, cultured pearl interests and professional divers were introduced to the museum by their solicitor as the 'Sunken Galleon Guild'.

The solicitor advised that while they hoped to find the missing wrecks and other significant maritime sites, they also planned to cover their costs by the sale of artefacts and coin. Though the proposed sale of objects was vigorously resisted by museum staff and the Director on the basis that it contravened the Commonwealth Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976, the group was advised that there was no legal impediment to the search itself. As a result, they conducted helicopter-born magnetometer searches of the entire area from Kalbarri up to the northern end of Dirk Hartog Island.

In a subsequent briefing, museum staff was advised that 22 targets were located (including the Zuytdorp), of which three were considered of 'significant amplitude'. Though Mystery Bay was also 'searched intently' without result, a 'possible target' was found to the south of the bay, 'with several more in the southern area of Dirk Hartog (west coast) all close in to the surf zone'. According to Playford, the divers investigated these targets out of STS Leeuwin in May 1988, but found no evidence of any historic site.

Finally, though the Sunken Galleon Guild's magnetometer search of Mystery Bay, indicating that there remains nothing of a ferrous nature is considered conclusive, a museum team travelled down to Mystery Bay during the 2006 fieldwork with the intention of performing a line search of the shallows to see if any evidence of Onslow's stern-post and timber remained. This was expected to be in the nature of non-ferrous fastenings of copper, bronze or brass. Heavy seas and swell thwarted the attempt, rendering unresolved the possibility that some fastenings might remain. This possibility, and an unsubstantiated report of possible ballast stones in the surf at the north end of the bay, still requires some explanation.

Some wreckage washed up on a beach
View of wreckage seen at Mystery Bay in 1988
Image copyright WA Museum

The Herald Bay Outcamp

In his work Shark Bay Through Four Centuries: 1616–2000, Hugh Edwards records that F.L. Von Bibra's first homestead 'Killarney' was located 'inland from Herald Bay… about four kilometres from the beach'. In 1999, Edwards and Shark Bay Shire President Councillor Les Moss located the 'homestead' while overflying the island in a helicopter. Despite the relatively thick scrub they landed, examined the structure and took photographs, concluding from their inspection and their aerial observations that it was Von Bibra's first residence on the island. They reasoned, that though it was inland, the isolation would have served to protect the facility from unwelcome visitors, at times when Von Bibra was absent from the island - a regular occurrence. Further, in a recently-published account entitled the The Von Bibra Story, the family historians provide one unreferenced clue which reads, 'on Dirk Hartog Island itself the ruins of a small rock cottage, thought to have belonged to a 'sandalwooder' named von Bibra' can still be seen'. As there are no other substantial rock structures, other than at the present homestead that lies much further south, this entry was seen to support Edwards' conclusions.

Given that Von Bibra was a strong force in developing most of the maritime industries in the bay, it was decided that, despite its being well inland and far south of the 2006 study area, an attempt would be made to locate the Edwards/Moss site if time allowed. This was with a view to its identification and possible marking as a significant maritime site on Dirk Hartog Island, the administrative centre for all mid-19th Century station activities, including those at the north end.

The evidence then is that the stone structure inland from Herald Bay, lying along a fence line that effectively divided the island into two parts, with its own sheep handling yards and water catchment was an 'outcamp' of an age consistent with Von Bibra's time. According to A.R. Richardson, an early pastoralist in the North-West, fences were not introduced before 1878 and shepherds were employed to manage the sheep until fences became commonplace. While possibly a shepherd's hut, against that assumption is the relative sophistication of the structure and its thick laborious rock work. While it is doubted that a 19th Century employer would construct a complex structure for a shepherd, there are possibilities it was constructed with a view to either the owner (Von Bibra or a relative) occupying it as the occasion demanded. One question put during the inspection was the possibility that it reflected the building practices of other German-born immigrants in the eastern states, requiring a comparative analysis to be conducted. Either way, there is a possibility that the shepherd, if a skilled man or long-term employee of Von Bibra's, could have developed the place, making it more comfortable and secure over an extended period.

In his assessment, historical archaeologist Darren Cooper concluded that when considering the limited water storage, poor economy of effort in travelling so far inland and an inability to see incoming vessels the stone hut could not be Von Bibra's homestead. He concluded also that the hut is a well-made outcamp and that the homestead must be on, or near the shore. In the interim, further expert analysis and interpretation is required and the structure needs to be managed as one of the most intact, untouched and significant early occupation sites on the island and indeed in the entire Shark Bay region.

Black and white portrait of Francis Louis Von Bibra
Francis Louis Von Bibra
Image copyright WA Museum
Two people standing near the remanants of a stone hut
The stone hut
Image copyright WA Museum
A window in the wall of a stone hut
Details of window in wall of hut
Image copyright WA Museum