The Stradbroke Island Galleon Coin
A Good Day In The Eighteen Mile Swamp
The image above was taken by Oliver McClelland after the fact but of the exact place where we found the coin, the remnant of a sand ridge which extended into the Swamp, probably many hundreds of years ago, before the Swamp had taken on its current form, probably before it was a Swamp at all. Importantly this area had not been sand mined, the sandy soil strata was intact and the the humus layer above the sand was undisturbed. Placed in a context with several historic maps which show the wreck in the immediate vicinity, numerous oral accounts or the wreck being in this location, as well as a collection of other artifacts which have been found in this proximity the coin gives a 17th century date for the Stradbroke Wreck. No earlier than 1598 no later than the 1690's.
The aim of the day was to reach a location in the 18 Mile Swamp marked on an old Military map by Captain Cyril Broome who saw the outline of the shipwreck in the Swamp during his time as a pilot in WW2. Captain Broome worked as a pilot in the submarine spotting planes searching the Ocean for Japanese submarines and as a pilot trainer teaching new recruits how to fly. The Air above the 18 Mile Swamp was set aside for pilot training. Captain Broome's son Ivan found the old map and contacted me with the story. We arranged to try to reach the location marked on his father's map on the last weekend in August 2007. I contacted geophysicist Phil McClelland about the idea and he was keen, it was also a chance for his son Oliver to accompany him on an expedition into the now legendary Swamp. Fortunately Phil had some time off and used his computer skills to superimpose the co-ordinates from Captain Broome's map onto a hybrid of LandSat and Google Earth maps to give us a GPS fix on Captain Broome's location. It seemed like a good time to do the trip as there had been an extended drought and my visits to the Swamp in June and July confirmed that the Swamp was mostly dry. Unfortunately the week before the planned date Queensland experienced its wettest August week on record. But Phil had his flight booked and Ivan was all packed so we decided to go anyway and hope the weather forecast for the rain to clear late Saturday was right.
Well it did clear late Saturday, but not before we got thoroughly soaked. Sunday was just that, a sunny day, unfortunately the rain had re-charged the water table and the Swamp had refilled. Ivan and Oliver had a very apt introduction to the joys of Swamp tromping
Neither Ivan nor Oliver had ever experienced the 18 Mile Swamp before so I guess it was appropriate that they should enter it for the first time with plenty of dark, scum covered water to wade in. The water was knee to waist deep, with the occasional hole threatening to swallow the unwary walker while roots and stumps hidden by the coffee coloured water tripped sodden shoes.
To my surprise the razor grass was thicker than I had ever seen it before so on our walk out we tried to stay under the paper bark trees for as long as possible as the shade they created reduced the growth of the razor grass slightly. Walking out through the Swamp we formed a single line with Phil calling our path off his GPS. We took turns bashing a path through the reeds which served the duel purpose of warning any sun bathing snakes of our approach.
As Oliver was the youngest and fittest he was given the honor of being the chief path maker and snake scarer.
Oliver seen on right of screen contemplating dubious the honor of being first in line.
Once the paper barks ceased to provide cover we were forced to push our way through a vast field of razor reeds. These unique reeds are called this name because the edge of of each leaf blade has a razor sharpness. It is also known as cut grass. To move through it one must wear long sleeves, long pants tucked into long socks or boots and long leather gloves as well as eye protection from the occasional patch of spear grass that needed to be crossed.
Generally the razor grass is too densly intertwined to cut through with a machete or brush hook, the only way to move forward is to throw one's body into the wall of reeds and crush them down. Sometimes even this in not enough and one must actually crawl over the top of the reeds and jump up and down on them then the person following does the same until a path is formed. Its an extremely slow and exhausting process. It took us nearly 6 hours to travel the 800 meters to the location marked on Captain Broome's map
Aerial view of the last section of our walk, the area in middle of the image is the target area.
Since about 1950 the paper bark trees have been encroaching into the Swamp and overwhelming the razor grass and other reeds. Now we notice that the paper barks trees appear to be dieing back and the reeds are regaining their old territory. The reason for these changes is likely linked to changes in the water levels of the Swamp. Each form of vegetation has very specific requirements in terms of water depths
The coin was found when we were resting on a sand spit near the edge of the Swamp. Ivan was idly scratching away at the sand with his machete jibing me about archaeologists and their little trowels and brushes when I heard a slight metallic clink as he ran his blade through the sand another time. At first I thought it was the blade hitting a bit of shell or even a bit of stone, whatever it was it caught my attention and I kept my eyes on Ivan's scraping. I picked up a few bits of shell before I noticed a couple of millimeters of the corroded, curved rim of the coin protruding from the sand. At first I thought it was the rim of a cannon or machine gun cartridge which we find quite regularly in the sands around the Swamp from WW2 days.