Historic shipwrecks make a rare appearance on the beach on the NSW North Coast

Recent rough seas triggered by an undersea volcanic eruption near Tonga have uncovered rarely seen historic shipwrecks on the New South Wales north coast.

Maritime archaeologist Brad Duncan said about a meter of sand movement led to further exposure of 50-year-old ferry wrecks, the Sydney Queen, Lurguerena and Koondooloo, at South West Rocks.

Dr Duncan said the turbulent seas helped efforts to document ships on the beach.

“It gives us a better indication of where the vessels are and what’s actually left on those things,” Dr Duncan said.

Part of the Lurguena ferry, which ran aground on Trial Bay Front Beach at South West Rocks.(Provided: Corrinne Boon)

Dr Duncan said the three disused ferries were destined for the Philippines to be repurposed or scrapped in January 1972. But the towline between the ferries and the Polaris tug was severed.

The Polaris made it to Trial Bay where the ferries were moored, but a strong wind a day or two later swept the ships ashore on the beach where they have since remained.

Recent rough seas prompted sea-enthusiast Corrinne Boon to head to Trial Bay Front Beach to see if the wild weather had exposed any of the historic vessels.

Part of a 50 year old ferry wreck
A fragment of machinery believed to have been part of the Sydney Queen ferry has been found at Front Beach. (Provided: Corrinne Boon)

Ms Boon came across what are believed to be two engine steering sections from the Sydney Queen, also known as the Kalang.

She noted that bathers rarely see the historic artifacts from the wreck.

“As a longtime, decades-long resident of South West Rocks, I hadn’t seen one in many years.”

Part of the Lurguena in the shore break at Trial Bay Front Beach, South West Rocks.
Part of the Lurguena in the shore break at Trial Bay Front Beach.(Provided: Corrinne Boon)

The conditions inspired Ms Boon to plan a visit to Crescent Head and along the coast to see if she can find any other wreckage.

“I even look for tiny fragments of wood or anything that might look a little out of the ordinary or a little older than anything else,” she said.

The wrecks of the Koondooloo and Lurgurena ferries
The Koondooloo, the Lurgurena (pictured) and the Sydney Queen ran aground between January 9 and 12, 1972. (Supplied: Pat Westcam Collection, Heritage NSW)

Predict when shipwrecks emerge

Ms Boon and other wreck enthusiasts between the Tweed and Eden border work closely with Dr Duncan and Heritage NSW through the Premier and Cabinet Department to document and photograph wrecks along the coast.

Part of their work in recent years has been to develop a model that aims to better anticipate when historic wrecks will be visible along the NSW coast.

The team found that the tops of a spring tide and large offshore swells, often associated with a low pressure system along the east coast, are ideal conditions that expose shipwreck sites.

“That means we now have a sort of baseline predictive model that we’re trying to finalize,” Dr Duncan said.

shipwreck with ship outline
A glimpse of what Buster would have looked like when he was shipping lumber in the 1800s.(Provided: Department of Primary Industries)

He said the model would be useful in helping locate new wreckage.

“So when we know these conditions are coming, we can actually spread the word to our wreck spotter networks and say, ‘Hey, there’s been a big storm coming through here, it’s spring tides , can you just check out these sites in your area,” Dr. Duncan added.

He said the model would also help continue to document well-preserved ships like Buster at Woolgoolga, which is one of the best-preserved shipwrecks in the country.

The 39-meter Canadian-built vessel has been a main beach staple for tourists and locals alike since it ran aground in 1893.

Overall, Dr Duncan hopes the project will help preserve New South Wales’ maritime history.

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