Michael McFadyen's Scuba Diving - Sydney's Shipwrecks
While Sydney does not have wreck of the quality of the SS President Coolidge in Vanuatu
or the intactness of Chuuk Lagoon,
there are almost 30 wrecks located off the coast that are well
worth diving. They vary from the scuttled wrecks of Long Reef to
the fantastic historic wrecks off Royal National Park. The
following is a summary of most of the wrecks of Sydney (as at 23 June 2009). Unless stated, all the wrecks are boat dives. While many,
if not most, of the wrecks are out of the reach of the average
diver due to depth and location, you can certainly experience the
thrill of the shallower wrecks while gaining experience and
training to enable you to dive the deeper wrecks. More than
anything, experience in diving will enable you to dive the deeper
The 23 metres Valiant was a tugboat that originally
operated out of Melbourne. It was purchased by a Sydney company
but it failed to pass the Maritime Services Board survey. In 1981
after a complicated series of events while under tow be scuttled,
the tow ropes broke and the Valiant sank approximately one
kilometre east of Barrenjoey Head.
At a depth of 27 metres and sitting upright with a slight list
to port, it is basically intact. Quite a good introductory wreck
SS BIRCHGROVE PARK
The SS Birchgrove Park was a coastal collier that sank on
2 August 1956. The 47 metre long wreck is located at a depth of
52 metres. Lying on its port side (why are nearly all the real
wrecks of Sydney on their port sides?), the wreck is still fairly
intact with the boiler, engine, bridge, funnel, stern, bow and
holds easily picked out. A very good dive for experienced deep
The Trio is a barge about 50 metres long located off
Avalon Beach. At a depth of 51 metres it is for experienced deep
divers. I have been unable to find out the exact history of the
wreck but it appears to have been on a voyage from the north to
Sydney. In one of the three holds there is a fair sized ferro
cement yacht. Only worth a couple of dives. If you know anything
more, contact me.
On Friday 24 May 1889 the SS Duckenfield, a 251 ton
collier ran into Long Reef and later sank. In late 1987 Alan and
Neil McLennan rediscovered the wreck in 25 metres of water. The
wreck is not very big and the main features are the boiler and
engine as well as the hull ribs and a couple of anchors and
winches. A very good dive, especially for the less experienced. A
permit is required to dive the wreck.
SS DEE WHY
One of Sydneys most famous ferries, the 70 metre long Dee
Why was scuttled as the first wreck at the Long Reef Wreck
Site on 25 May 1976. Although now beginning to show its age
(almost 70 years), the old ferry is a tragic site lying on the 46
metres deep sandy floor. You can still explore inside the wreck,
between the boilers but the engines and props are gone. A great
Built in Sydney in 1910, the Bellubera was 70 metres long
and almost identical in size to the Dee Why. On 1 August 1980 the
old Manly Ferry was scuttled to the east of her Harbour partner.
I have not dived the wreck but I have been told that the ship is
now in two parts. A good dive, although not too many people dive it.
One of the largest vessels scuttled on the Long Reef Wreck Site
is the bucket dredge Coolooli. She displaced 150 tonnes
and was 50 metres long and 10 or 11 metres wide. In August 1980,
the Coolooli was sunk as part of the reef and now lies on its
starboard side on sand in 48 metres of water. This is an
excellent deep dive, suited to less experienced deep divers as
the shallowest part sticks up to about 36 metres. It is bigger
than its dimensions describe, and takes numerous dives to fully
appreciate its many features. Has collapsed badly in June 2009. Well worth diving.
Also scuttled in 1980, the large 34 metre long tug Himma
now lies at 48 metres, although you can reach 52 metres swimming
through a hole in her hull. A tragic wreck that claimed the lives of two divers in October 1991, it
was stripped of everything but the prop before it was sunk. Only
worth two of three dives and thence once few years.
MEGGOL (ex HMAS Doomba
and HMS Wexford)
Built as HMS Wexford in about 1917 or 1918 it served with
the Royal Navy until December 1921 when moved to Brisbane where
it was renamed the Doomba. During WW2 it served as HMAS Doomba.
After this it was converted into a refuelling tanker and
renamed the Meggol.
Scuttled in December 1976 only 20 metres from the Dee Why,
the Meggol was 70 metres long and today it sits upright on
a sandy bottom of 49 metres. Rusting through quite badly, the
deck is 43 metres down. The vessel is basically intact but it is
a mess. Worth a couple of dives now and again.
Sydneys newest wreck dive location, the Myola sank
in 1919 only six weeks after the SS Undola.
At a depth of about 50 metres, the once pristine wreck has been
plundered badly since it became known to the diving public in
January 1995. Despite this, it is an excellent dive. The two
boilers, engine, stern section and bow area are especially
interesting. Many dives on this wreck are required to fully
appreciate the wreck.
The Centurion wreck is located just off Quarantine Point
in Sydney Harbour. The remains are in 18 metres of water on a
sandy bottom. Twisted iron, masts, timber and some other pieces
of the ship can still be found although it looks nothing like the
63 metre sailing vessel it was. While the actual wreck site is
not very large and can be explored in 15 minutes or so, the wreck
has attracted a lot of fish life which greatly adds to the
quality of the dive. This dive can be a very enjoyable night dive.
The Itata wreck is located up Middle Harbour and is only
ever dived for training dives as it is very dirty (that's why
they dive it for nil visibility).
The Centennial is located in Taylors Bay on the northern
side of the Harbour. Built as the SS Albion in Greenock,
Glasgow, Scotland, in 1863, she was 66 metres long and displaced
668 tons. A passenger and cargo vessel, the Centennial was
a regular sight on the Sydney/New Zealand run. On 23 August 1889,
the Centennial arrived in Sydney and quickly took on a
load of 52 passengers and wool before leaving for Wellington, New
Zealand at 8.45pm. As she approached Bradleys Head, the collier
SS Kanahooka collided with her and she sank. A fairly
limited dive that I have dived only once.
Just off Bradleys Head is the wreck of the TSS Currajong,
probably NSWs most intact shipwreck. Technically illegally
to dive, extreme care must be taken as many hundreds of boats can
pass this spot in an hour on a fine summer weekend. From the
shore it is 200 metres out to the wreck which lies from 18 to 26
The 70 metre long Currajong was rammed by the Wyreema
on 8 March 1910 and sank very quickly. Today it is a great shore
dive, albeit a very dangerous one.
SS ROYAL SHEPHERD
The Royal Shepherd is located just outside Sydney Heads
and therefore visibility is not always the best. The site is not
very big but there is the boiler, engine, driveshaft and
propeller. A good introductory wreck or deeper dive. Maximum
depth of 27 metres.
On Monday 14 July 1890 at 9.35 pm, the Royal Shepherd
left Sydney Harbour for Bulli to load coal under the command of
Captain Thomas Hunter. An interesting point is that Captain
Hunter was the skipper of the SS Duckenfield
which sank less than 14 months earlier in May 1889 only a few
kilometres north of the Harbour at Long Reef.
There is not much left of the 1321 ton Dunbar but still can be an
interesting dive. Located near The Gap at South Head. You will
have to look under every boulder. Very shallow so it means that
you must have flat seas. Sank on 21 August 1858. Today, the
remains of the Dunbar can be found just below the signal
station at South Head. The depth is only 4 to 7 metres.
SS ANNIE M. MILLER
Although built for use as a collier, she was primarily used to
carry blue metal from Shellharbour to Sydney. Only six months
after being launched and less than three months after taking up
service, the SS Annie M. Miller sank just north of Bondi
Beach. Today the wreck lies at about 45 metres and is a very
interesting dive for the experienced deep diver. Well worth many
The wreck of the TSS Belbowrie can be found at South
Maroubra about 200 metres from the beach just off the rock
platform. It sank here on 16 January 1939 and the timber ship was
quickly broken up by the seas. Today the remains of engines,
winches and other bits can be found in the shallows. A hard shore
dive but worth the effort.
One of the larger vessels to strike the New South Wales coastline
is the Union Steam Ship Co. of NZ ship, SS Tekapo. She
sank in 1899 when it ran aground in calm seas on the way to Port
Kembla to take on coal. Today the remains lie almost right at the
end of the point to the south of Maroubra Beach. A boat dive
except if you are of extreme fitness. Not much left now.
Located adjacent to Yellow Rock and just to the east of the
Malabar is the wreck of the Goolgwai. The Goolgwai
was wrecked on Boori Point, Long Bay, on 29 May, 1955. A trawler
used in WWII as HMAS Goolgwai, the wreck today does not
really consist of much except perhaps the prop.
A great shallow (9 metres) wreck dive that can be done from
shore. It is a long walk out to the site, so a boat is better. A
huge diesel engine, driveshaft, prop, rudder, anchor and other
bits make this an interesting dive. Heaps of huge blackfish and
bream inhabit the engine. A very important wreck site as it was
the first motor vessel on the East Coast of Australia and gave
its name to the suburb where it was wrecked. 2 April 1931.
An excellent deep dive with a maximum 52 metres. The boiler and
engine are intact but the rest is broken up. The prop is
partially visible as is the rudder and hull remains. A couple of
anchors and winches make the wreck interesting. Only for the
experienced deep diver. Sank on 13 May 1902 after a collision
with the SS Dunmore.
The remains of wreck of the SS Minmi lie just inside the
northern headland of Botany Bay and some parts reputedly lie
outside the bay next to the rock platform. A possible shore dive
but a long walk. Need calm seas to do outside bay but excellent
in northerly seas inside. Less than 10 metres. The 80 metre long
collier ran aground on 13 May, 1937 with the loss of two lives.
A very deep wreck (60 plus metres?) that I have dived only once. Not
very big, but people it is quite good. Only
for the very, very experienced deep diver.
The Hilda is a very good wreck dive for the advanced
diver. The engine still remains along with the prop, rudder,
anchors, parts of the boiler and other pieces. Worth diving a few
times. The hundredth anniversary of the sinking of one of
Sydney's lesser known shipwrecks occurred on 20 July 1993. The
ship, sometimes disparagingly called the Clayton's
Wreck, is the SS Hilda.
A small tug that sank in about 1970 in Gunnamatta Bay right
opposite the baths. Very dirty and in less than 10 metres of
water the hull is fully intact. A real desperate dive.
At 48 metres, this is only for the experienced deep diver. The
"Tug" is always covered in nannygai as well as carpeted
with wobbegongs. Lying on its port side, the wreck itself is
still very in good condition after almost 75 years down. The rear
section is in one piece with the twin boilers, engine, prop,
rudder, funnel all in place. Affected by current on many days,
care must be taken. Often gets visibility of more than 30 metres.
A bit shallower (45
metres) and smaller than the Tuggerah, the Undola
is almost as interesting and an excellent dive. The boiler and
engine are intact as is the stern and bow. It is famous for its
toilet still sitting upright but out in the open.