Tusk find elephant in the room

Therese ColmanAugusta Margaret River Times

Margaret River’s Mick Scott and Jock Salkeld are the divers behind a shipwreck expedition that could unlock the key to the mystery of the 1726 Dutch East India ship the Aagtekerke.

Last month, the pair uncovered an elephant tusk in the ocean near the Abrolhos Islands, north-west of Geraldton.

They were part of a team of shipwreck hunters, which included skipper Garrett Orr and WA shipwreck historian and author Hugh Edwards. Mr Scott said his father was good friends with Edwards, and the pair were asked to join the expedition because of their diving and surf experience.

“The water is treacherous out there and it’s really difficult conditions for diving,” he told the Times.

“We were being dragged over coral, reef, staghorn ... and we were getting absolutely smashed by the surf. It was a wild-goose chase.”

Mr Salkeld said when the pair spotted the elephant tusk, it was rolling along the sea bed.

“There were a pile of old cannons, like ones you see in the movies, and the current was pushing the tusk up against them,” he said.

The team set out to a known site for the Zeewijk, another Dutch East India ship that the WA Museum believed wrecked on the Abrolhos Islands in 1727, a year after the Aagtekerke went missing.

“What Hugh was trying to prove during that trip was that there’s a second shipwreck in the area, and he believes the elephant tusk came from the Aagtekerke,” Mr Scott said.

WA Museum documents say the ship was lost between the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa and Jakarta. Edwards had spent the past 60 years searching for clues and was adamant the tusk would help his team’s claims as discoverers of the Aagtekerke.

“The point of the mission was to get the shipwreck back on the agenda of the WA Museum and for Hugh to prove the Aagtekerke shipwreck happened in that area,” Mr Scott said. Mr Salkeld said they were honoured to be invited on the expedition.

“Garrett Orr and Hugh Edwards were the drivers behind the trip,” he said.

“They have done all the research, but we were honoured to be the divers that got to retrieve the tusk.”

The elephant tusk is currently at the WA Shipwrecks Museum and was being examined by conservation experts and undergoing DNA testing.

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