Fieldschool Fun at Mount Dutton Bay

For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Milly. I interned with Sarah at ArchaeoMar Australasia in 2015. Since then I’ve completed my business degree at James Cook University and am now a post-grad maritime archaeology student at Flinders University.

I know it seems like an odd mix of degrees, however, as a diver, my long-term goal is to work in heritage tourism, particularly maritime heritage. So for me, maritime archaeology is the next step in my career journey.

So, earlier this year, I attended my first-ever field school at Flinders University and it has to go down as one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences of my life.

The Maritime Archaeology Field School (ARCH8152) was held in Mount Dutton Bay, an 8-hour coach ride west of Adelaide. The journey was incredible! We saw amazing South Australian scenery and wildlife, and stopped for fuel at historic port locations, such as Point Fairy and Port Lincoln. Our final destination was the picturesque Coffin Bay waterways in the district of Wangary.

The field school is not limited to Flinders University degree students. Although entry is by application, it’s open to anyone interested in learning underwater techniques.

Indiana Sarah - Milly Bendell exiting the water on the historic Mount Dutton Bay Jetty

The aim of the field school was to introduce us to the techniques of underwater survey, position fixing, mapping, photography, recording, excavation and conservation. There were two historic scenes for our investigations: Mount Dutton Bay jetty (above) and the oyster cutter Caprice.

Students were organised into three teams — two diving teams of three people each and a six-person land team. There was also a supervisor and an assistant supervisor making sure we stayed on track.

My team (the red team) was given three duties: mapping the historic Mount Dutton Bay jetty; surveying the wreck of the Caprice; and prospecting the bay for any other shipwrecks using side-scan sonar.

Under the watchful eyes of our supervisors, we had to construct a detailed dive plan, including identifying tasks, who was to carry out each task, and what equipment was needed for each dive. We decided to use a baseline-offset system for the survey of the jetty and a mixture of trilateration and baseline-offset for the Caprice shipwreck.

We were tasked with hammering control points for the baseline underwater, which was not an easy job. We each took turns measuring the baseline to the jetty and each of the objects, and photographing and freehand drawing the objects using mylar (waterproof drafting film, also called permatrace).

Luckily for us, the Caprice required excavation! We decided — based on historic records, an excavation undertaken in 2011, and our own hopefulness — to excavate on the eastern side of the shipwreck. We decided to use a water dredge and a 1-metre excavation square. Each of us took turns in dredging, mapping and watching the pile of leftover sand for any extra objects. We were thrilled to find some objects that lead to new information about the Caprice, which was a big plus for our final reports. I have to say here (sorry!) that you must check that you obtain all the required permits before excavating a shipwreck underwater, as all wrecks in Commonwealth waters over 75-years of age are protected by the Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976 and State legislation also applies.

Depending on the weather, we undertook three dives per day, plus briefing, debriefing, air filling and post processing. As a team, we were given responsibility for how our investigations of the jetty and shipwreck were undertaken. This was a big deal for me as it meant we had to fix any problems that occurred, and they frequently did!

Indiana Sarah - Milly Bendell and her dive buddy gearing up

I learnt three key things from this field school that I would like to share with you:

  1. Buoyancy is everything. Proper buoyancy training in underwater archaeological work is so important: you need to be able to concentrate 100% on the task at hand, your co-workers, and any marine life that may be lurking around you — not fiddling with your gear. It was a challenge to work in such shallow conditions and with cheeky jellyfish, but this challenge led to me mastering control of my buoyancy. The extra weights are, and always will be, your best friends here.
  2. Precision is paramount. Guestimates simply will not do. As you can imagine, it take a long time to draw and map out a site plan to a scale (1:20) of the 211-metre jetty and an 18-metre shipwreck. Any mistake is costly. Setting up your mylar the night before is a great tip for students. If you are taking measurements, create a clear and concise column system, or if you are mud mapping, take an extra large board. Once you are in the water, the weight and size is not an issue.
  3. Outreach and community involvement is crucial. It’s not my heritage or your heritage, but our heritage and we all need to be involved. With that in mind, we were very lucky to have been given an impromptu guest lecture from a local resident, who gave us a full history of the jetty and showed us historic photographs, which are available for view in the Mount Dutton History Museum. The local people of Mount Dutton Bay were fantastic to us. They were always available for a chat and are super friendly and accommodating. Thanks everyone!

All in all, this was such a fantastic opportunity that I would recommend to both students and volunteers. I learnt hard skills in maritime archaeology, and soft skills in team management, planning and relationship-building. I was also lucky enough to walk away with the first-of-its-kind annual award of shark shield maiden — but that is a story for another time!

Indiana Sarah - Milly Bendell during her first Flinders field school

A big thank you must go to Dr Wendy Van Duivenvoorde, Enrique Aragon Nunez, Trevor Winton and Celeste Jordan — without your help the red team (Stephanie Morris, Justin Daley and I) would not have achieved the results we did, or the media coverage, the awards, or the ingredients for our ever-growing stories.

Thanks also to Flinders University and all the other team supervisors and students that were on the field school. Lastly, thank you to John Nauwman; John is the technical officer of Flinders University, tasked with such a big job but one that he handles with ease. I am also very grateful to Dr Kotaro Yamafune, Peter Harvey and ABC Open for allowing me to use their photographs.

If you have ever been on a field school, we would love to hear about your experiences…?

Let’s start a conversation below. If comments are not your think, remember you can connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and Google Plus.

Happy diving!


About Milly Bendell

Milly Bendell is an aspiring maritime archaeologist. She is completing a post-graduate certificate in maritime archaeology at Flinders University, an internship with ArchaeoMar Australasia and is training to be an AIMA NAS Assistant Tutor. Milly has a passion for diving, maritime archaeology and aims to work in outreach and cultural tourism.

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(c) Indiana Sarah 2019