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The Ancient History of Thistle Cove, Cultural Connections, and the Search for the Mountaineer Shipwreck (1835)

December 9, 2019

 Join us on an expedition to uncover the cultural history, marine ecology, and maritime history of Thistle Cove, Cape Le Grand National Park, Western Australia. 


December, 2020


 Join our team of Traditional Owners, maritime archaeologists, and professional surveyors to embark on a collaborative expedition to Thistle Cove – a place of remarkable ancient connection, biodiversity, and maritime history.  


Thistle Cove area is known culturally as Mandoowernup (the place of where the sun shines on the dead man) – a place of immense cultural significance to the Traditional Owners. Cultural mapping work here has documented hundreds of cultural places, features and archaeological sites, that collectively, document aspects of the integrated cultural landscape. Thistle Cove itself contains many archaeological sites, and we know that the Traditional Owners observed the The Mountaineer (1835) shipwreck survivors over those ten days that they were stranded on the beach.


The Mountaineer was a 23-ton cutter involved in sealing and trading with sealers in Bass Strait, Kangaroo Island and Spencer Gulf in South Australia.  In January 1835 the Mountaineer was on a return voyage from Albany, Western Australia, when it was wrecked while anchored during a strong gale at Thistle Cove, Cape Le Grand.  All the crew and passengers survived, and after spending ten days on the beach, made their way to Middle Island, as the closest known settlement.  This island was the base operations for the infamous American sealer - Jack Anderson. 


The Mountaineer is a great story about cultural contact between Europeans and Nyungar People – and this event represents the first time Europeans trod that part of the coast between Cape Arid and Albany. The court documents of the time related to the indiscretions of Jack Anderson are the only source of information about activities in the Archipelago of the Recherche at that time.  Here, our team will explore the incredible connection and continuity between deep, ancient history, the contact period and the present day – with a collaborative study of Thistle Cove.


The project will involve 5 main stages:


Stage 1. Cultural Mapping


Stage 1 is a full cultural survey and cultural mapping project with Doc and the representative from each of the six main Traditional Owners of the region.  This work will document the cultural connections, traditional ecological knowledge, and map and record the cultural features of Thistle Cove.  Under cultural supervision, test archaeological excavations will take place in targeted areas to explore the sub-surface potential of cultural deposits, and provide a chronological context to the human history of connection.


In searching for the wreck of The Mountaineer, by our specialized team, we will examine the interplay of the cultural and historical stories of place – where the Cove itself was a ‘contact event’ and survivor camp location. We will also explore how this story also relates to the subsequent survivor trek of shipwreck survivors (Newell and Manning) between Cape Arid and Albany along the South Coast, also with the assistance of Nyungar People. Juxtaposing these kind of early European contact events and ‘discoveries’ with long-term knowledge and understanding of the landscape by Traditional Owners, is a great way to present the continuous and interwoven histories of the area.


Stage 2: Coastal Geomorphology Study


The team will map and document the coastal geomorphology of this landscape, to understand the way the beach and headland was formed – related to rising seas associated with the end of the last Ice Age. 


This component will also involve luminescence dating of the high sand dunes, that will help us understand when the present-day coastline was formed, and the associated coastal ecosystem. 


Stage 3: Sea-floor mapping


Our team will then carry out a full-scale survey of Thistle Cove, using a combination of an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) and survey grade depth sounder.  With our UAV, we will capture a 3D model of the topography to within 50mm.  Additional, this platform will also give an up to date aerial image of the survey area. 


The UAV will also be coupled with an infrared red thermal imaging camera – a