Maritime Heritage Trails
Being a continent isolated from the rest of the world, Australia owes much of its early cultural development to transport by sea. Shipwrecks and their relics thus provide an invaluable and irreplaceable part of the country’s heritage. More than 6,500 shipwrecks surround the coast of the continent, offering opportunities to explore Australia’s past.
In 1976, Australia became one of the first countries to protect its underwater heritage by introducing the Commonwealth Historic Shipwrecks Act. The legislation protects all historic shipwrecks and their associated relics that are at least 75 years old, though more recent wrecks can be declared historic. Delivered through the Historic Shipwreck Program, the Act is administered in collaboration between the Commonwealth and the States.
If the Department of Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts, that administers the Historic Shipwrecks Program, provides annual funding to State and Territory agencies to help protect shipwrecks and their relics, to date a concerted effort has not been made to coordinate education and preservation across the States. Efforts toward the protection of underwater cultural heritage are most oftenly made by individual States. Each State programme offers different opportunities for public participation and different interpretation materials, on land or underwater, paper-based or internet-based.
State government agencies and museums in Western Australia, South Australia and Victoria have been the most active in creating maritime heritage and, in particular, shipwreck trails. Western Australia has some twenty regional, thematic and local maritime trails; South Australia has eight trails, both regional and thematic; and Victoria has at least eight local trails. A total of nearly forty sites are currently open to the public along the coasts of Australia.
State and Territory partners