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The Hon Peter Garrett AM MP
Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts

Mermaid's final resting place protected

Media release
15 January 2009
PG/198

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Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts, Peter Garrett today declared a protected zone around the wreck of the historic HM Colonial Schooner Mermaid recently discovered off Flora Reef in Queensland.

The Minister made the announcement during a visit to the Australian National Maritime Museum in Sydney, the home of the maritime archaeological team that discovered the wreck on 5 January 2009.

"The Mermaid was built in 1816 and is an important part of our Australian story - the ship became famous when it was used by Lieutenant Phillip Parker King RN in the 1820's to survey parts of the Australian coastline," Mr Garrett said.

"Lieutenant King circumnavigated the Australian mainland in the HMC Mermaid, conducting the first reliable survey of the Great Barrier Reef Inner Route and eventually opening this passage to commercial traffic.

"The Mermaid was wrecked on 13 June 1829 and was later sighted by HMS Crocodile in 1830 on a reef six nautical miles east of Frankland Reefs in the northern Great Barrier Reef.

"The original description of the wreck's location formed the basis for the search area which led to the wreck's remarkable discovery on the southern side of Flora Reef almost 180 years later.

"Although much of the small survey ship has long disintegrated into the ocean floor, a small kedging anchor, anchor chain, compass components and iron barrel rings continue mark the presence of this great ship.

"The protected zone put in place under the Australian Government's Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976, will control access at this site so that it can continue to be a part of Australia's heritage.

"The Historic Shipwrecks Act protects Australia's historic shipwrecks and is administered by the Australian Government in cooperation with the States and Territories. The Act gives legal protection to the shipwreck and its relics from damage, disturbance or removal."

Nationally significant shipwreck relics are also protected under the Australian Government's Protection of Movable Cultural Heritage Act 1986.

Mr Garrett also announced today that the Australian Government is reviewing vital legislation governing objects of significant cultural heritage importance, including artefacts and relics of shipwrecks.

"The Protection of Movable Cultural Heritage Act 1986 and attendant regulations are being reviewed for the first time in 13 years," the Minister said. "In consultation with the public, we'll be finding out how effectively the Act has been operating."

"An important aspect of the review is that it will consider the operation of the National Cultural Heritage Account, which assists public institutions to buy nationally significant items they could not otherwise afford.

"The Act and Regulations mean significant items - deemed to be of cultural and artistic significance - cannot be exported without a permit.

"And the valuable work of the National Cultural Heritage Account means the Australian public's exposure to these artefacts and artworks here at home can be ensured.

"The review invites public submissions until 6 March 2009, to ensure consideration of a wide range of views.

"It is vital we preserve Australia's historic shipwrecks and their artefacts, as they are often the only windows to understanding important aspects of our vast maritime heritage. Currently there are over 7000 shipwrecks that are protected under the Historic Shipwrecks Act including the prestigious HMAS Sydney II and German raider HSK Kormoran off the coast of Western Australia," Mr Garrett said.

More information on shipwrecks: www.environment.gov.au/heritage/shipwrecks/index.html

Copies of high resolution photos of the Mermaid: www.environment.gov.au/heritage/shipwrecks/mermaid-images.html

Details on how to participate in the review of the Protection of Movable Cultural Heritage Act 1986: http://www.arts.gov.au/?a=86083 

Commonwealth of Australia