Sunday, June 17, 2007


Closing in on mystery

By Luce Carne
June 17, 2007

THE century-old mystery of a galleon believed to be buried in a North Stradbroke Island swamp could finally be solved within months.

Rumours have long circulated that the remains of a 16th or 17th-century Spanish or Portuguese vessel lie in the snake-infested 18 Mile Swamp at the southern end of the Moreton Bay island.
Tales persist of Aborigines finding gold coins and amateur explorers stripping the ship of its anchor, fastenings and planks.

Brisbane archeologist Greg Jefferys has been searching for the wreck for nearly 20 years and is confident he is closing in.

Last week he found three metal artefacts – a brass button, a sword blade and a fishing weight – that point towards the presence of other mariners on the Australian east coast well before Captain Cook make his voyage of discovery in 1770.

Boosted by his latest findings, Jefferys has accepted an offer from geophysics company UltraMag to do a free spectral analysis of the swamp. The scan, which normally would cost about $20,000, should detect the presence of any metals in the swap's vegetation.

"I really think there is a strong possibility of uncovering where it is. I think I will find it this year," Mr Jefferys said.

He hopes the ship was carrying treasure.

"I've spoken to quite a few people over the years who have told me they've seen gold Spanish coins circulating in the Stradbroke Island community," he said.

"One guy, Frank Boyce, who lived there in the 1920s and '30s, was taken to the wreck by Aborigines after he saved the life of an Aboriginal woman who was drowning.

"He said they told him they had been taken the gold over the years to pay for things in town."

Mr Jefferys said the artefacts he found recently also were strong indicators of a Spanish presence on Stradbroke Island.

He said the rapier blade was of an unusual style, popular in 16th-century Spain.

"The construction of the brass button also puts it within 100 years of that period," he said.

"The lead weight I think was made by the wreck's survivors for fishing nets because it's very crude."

Mr Jefferys said he found the artefacts about 900m inland, suggesting the ship had gone aground hundreds of years ago and the island's sand had built up around it.

Queensland Museum maritime heritage senior curator Peter Gesner said the theory that the first European explorers of Australia were Spanish or Portuguese was "all cloak and daggers".

"If they did, they never came back," he said. "But it's very unlikely as this was not their stomping ground.

"It's quite possible something was seen but the big question is why does it have to be Spanish or Portuguese or pre-date Cook?

"Every time someone comes up with what they think is evidence we can confidently prove it's not Spanish or Portuguese.

"I'm sure (Jefferys) has found something; it's the interpretation that is wishful thinking."

Redland Shire councillor Craig Ogilvie welcomed the possibility of the wreck's discovery. "If someone can finally put the rumours to bed, that is a good thing," he said.

But he warned weekend treasure hunters to stay away from the island.

"We don't need amateur archeologists traipsing through the swamp – leave it to the professionals," he said.


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