“A bunch of [Zeewijk] sailors lived on the shipwreck itself for months while it was perched on a reef,” says Sutton, who now lives on the Houtman Abrolhos Islands. “It’s one of the most remarkable stories I’ve ever heard.”
Tourists need not leave Perth to dive into this state’s maritime history, says marine archaeologist Jeremy Green. The British shipwreck Omeo, which capsized in 1905, rests just 80 feet from the shore in the azure waters of Perth’s Coogee Beach. It is part of the Coogee Maritime Trail, a 750-foot-long snorkelling route embellished by artificial reefs and underwater sculptures.
Further wrecks lie 10 miles northwest of the Omeo, at popular tourist destination Rottnest Island. This car-free haven is ringed by exquisite beaches, surf breaks, and coral reefs, which have sunk a dozen vessels over the past two centuries. These ruins are tailor-made for diving, due to translucent water, shallow depths, and the presence of 25 species of tropical coral.
(Why there’s more to shipwrecks than just sunken treasure.)
What tourists can’t explore is the SS Koombana. It has never been found. A Titanic-like, luxury passenger ship, it was ferrying more than 150 people between Port Hedland and Broome, in WA’s far north, when it vanished into the swirling wrath of a cyclone in 1912.
“Several attempts to find Koombana’s final resting place have been made over the decades, and finding the wreck is an outstanding maritime mystery we would love to solve,” says Ross Anderson.
More than 400 years after it became a colossal ocean graveyard, Western Australia still holds seafaring secrets.