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Great Barrier Reef continues to reveal its hidden heritage

by GBRMPA Media on 18 Aug 2013
That wonderful natural wonder of the world known as the Great Barrier Reef. © John Curnow
The Great Barrier Reef is still revealing its hidden heritage with the discovery of three possible historic shipwrecks since April — the most recent in the past month. Heritage experts are conducting investigations to accurately identify the wrecks which are thought to be from the early 1800s.

The latest find was made just north of the Frankland Islands, while the other two shipwrecks are located in the far northern region of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

The discovery comes as Bowen, which was home to a Catalina maintenance base during World War II, prepares for a memorial event on August 17 that will mark 70 years since the Catalina A24-24 flying boat crashed off the town’s shores, claiming 14 lives.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority’s general manager for biodiversity, conservation and sustainable use Bruce Elliot said there was an increased emphasis within the agency on protecting aircraft and shipwreck sites.

'It’s great the wrecks have been discovered and it underlines the potential of finding so much more important maritime cultural heritage in the Marine Park, some of which is still to be fully explored,' he said.

'There have been hundreds of incidents involving planes or vessels that have gone missing. The challenge for the agency is to locate and protect these sites.'

The general vicinity of the Catalina wreckage had been known to fishermen since the 1960s, when trawlers dredged up parts of an aircraft which were unmistakably from a Catalina. In 2011, the wreck was discovered by husband and wife dive crew Brian and Ann Mecklem from Bowen who became the driving force behind the memorial project.

'The most touching and rewarding part of being involved in the project is that when we contacted relatives of the crew lost in the crash, some didn’t even know it had been located,' Mr Mecklem said.

'The daughter of one of the crew who died said her mother had simply received a letter from the King at the time to say her husband was missing. She apparently waited years in hope of his return, so I think it will bring important closure for many of the relatives who will be attending the event.’’

The Catalina A24-A24 of 20 Squadron RAAF took off from Bowen on 17 August 1943 on an air to sea gunnery training exercise flight. On its return, the aircraft was making a run across the wave tops of choppy sea — it is assumed its wing hit the water, causing the aircraft to crash.

The Bowen Catalina memorial event will include a service and the unveiling of a new memorial on the town’s foreshore, as well as a plaque listing the names of casualties.

The event’s ambassador is actor Shane Porteous who lost his father Stanley Porteous in the crash. For more information, visit Bowen Catalina Memorial.

Anyone who discovers a wreck is urged to report it on the Australian Government’s shipwreck Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority website
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