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Field work with Flinders University: The search for the schooner Emu.

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Agnes Milowka_magnetometer survey

The 2007 Flinders Maritime Archaeology Field School was held at Victor Harbour on the Fleurieu Peninsula in South Australia. Victor Harbour and the surrounding area has been the center of early Australian and South Australian history so there was lots to survey, explore and get excited about. Re-live the exhilaration of the search for the remains of the schooner Emu, as our team completed a reconnaissance of Middleton Beach using a Geometrics magnetometer.


Today has to be put into perspective - the last three days the 'Green Machine' team has been slogging it out just to reach our survey site. The Star of Greece inconveniently wrecked 1.4km from the closest beach access, which for us meant 'death marches' dragging all our gear, including tanks and weights across the sandy beach. All worth the effort of course as it's a gorgeous little wreck, great fun to survey and with an interesting history to boot. You can tell my muscles are no longer sore and I can look at the bright side of things… at the time the team motto was 'we will forget the wreck… we won't forget the walk.' Given this, the idea of putting up our feet and taking a gentle stroll on the beach holding a magnetometer was most appealing.

To some, walking backwards and forwards with a magnetometer in hand might seem a tad on the boring side - not so the green team - we had a fabulous time!  Bit of sunshine, blue skies, a beautiful beach and most importantly nothing too heavy to carry… Who could ask for more? But it's not all beer and skittles. First, I had a mag slapped onto my chest, then a pole with the mag head shoved into my hand and finally a GPS was attached to my head! I was officially geek girl and looking like a goose (and secretly enjoying every minute!). If nothing else, we certainly attracted the attention of the locals and the beach goers.

Further woes included the rather pungent odor on the beach as the seaweed piled up. Of course equipment issues stayed with us. Short story: make sure the magnetometer has plenty of juice left in it, as it doesn't seem to work too well with drained batteries… and it's a great idea to make sure the GPS turned on before embarking on a 2km walk.

So we spent the day 'mowing the lawn' looking for the remains of the schooner Emu, which reportedly sank on the 28th of April 1853. She tried to return back to Port Elliot to seek shelter after getting a flogging from the elements. The rough weather meant the crew weren't able to bring her into the harbor and into a safe mooring, so instead they dropped an anchor. Here she was exposed to heavy swell and dragged straight onto the sharp edges of Frenchman's Rock where she broke up. In the morning her scattered remains were found on the beach driven up on the sand. Her captain and crew perished, the only remainder of the disaster where the washed up Captain's hat and logbook.

From an archaeological perspective it would be a real find given it's a rare example of an early Australian built ship and could give us great insight into the methods and materials used in the construction of these early ships. Historical data provides details of it destruction on the beach and provides several position locations, so we were enthusiastic throughout our search.

Today we were doing a preliminary survey and walked many kilometers, in fact we did 14, one kilometer tracks at about 2m intervals. Then the real hard stuff began. Away from the field we spent the following day with our faces stuck to a computer screen interpreting the data collected. The nice air-conditioned and shady room was a welcome change and our sun burnt skins were grateful.

Later on in the week the other teams narrowed down the search patterns to the anomalies we identified and concentrated their search patterns. Unfortunately little was found and the whereabouts of the remains of the schooner Emu continue to be a mystery.