Michael MacLellan Tracey BA Hons) (ANU)
The Department of Archaeology ~ Australian National University
Australia, an island continent, has depended on some form of watercraft for thousands of years. Upon European settlement traditional watercraft gave way to introduced shipbuilding technology. Timber suitable for shipbuilding was available in the forests although its properties were poorly understood. Concurrently with the timber industry, shipbuilding evolved and shipwrights confronted great technological challenges in the change from sail to steam. Similar to any industry, the timber industry depended upon men of decision, dedication and management, as well as workers to fulfil the entrepreneur’s dreams.
Marine Archaeologists become entrenched in the research of shipwrecks. However, there is more to the life of a ship than a shipwreck. There is the community that needed the vessel, constructs her, pays for her and utilises her for commercial purposes. However, this research is dedicated to a ship and the maritime landscape and is devoid of a ‘shipwreck’.
The research includes ‘a uniqueness’ in that it focuses upon a single wooden ship, the environment that provided the trees to build her, her years of service and loss at sea followed by international exploitation of her memory in a motion picture. A shipwright of convict descent from a dynasty of shipbuilders constructed the vessel. Design changes during construction and choice of building materials impacted on the vessel’s seaworthiness sealing her fate from the time she was launched.
Government authorities sent an unseaworthy ship to sea in an environment contrary to her design capabilities. A Master underestimated a cyclone, losing the vessel along with his crew and passengers. The Government inquiry into her loss did not even know the names of the working class family they lost at sea.
One small wooden ship forced a country to confront its racist and certain sexual phobias and addresses the prospects of murder, kidnapping, rape and cannibalism.
The ship was then forgotten by history.
A thesis submitted for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy to the Australian National University in Archaeology and paleoanthropology
Tracey, M. M., 2007. Wooden Ships, Iron men and Stalwart Ladies: The TSS Douglas Mawson Saga, (unpub) the School of Archaeology and Anthropology, Australian National University, Canberra, ACT.
My sincere thanks goes to Dr Peter Bellwood, Mr Wilfred Shawcross and Dr Chris Carter for their academic advice and encouragement.