A team of archaeologists from Flinders University will excavate and document the Randell Dry Dock at Mannum, a major 19th century facility that once serviced the hectic riverboat trade on the River Murray.
From December 14 to 18, the team of staff and students from Flinders will investigate the structure with other experts including conservators, architects and a geophysics operator, with the aim of producing a plan to conserve what remains of the dock.
The community archaeology project is supported by the State Department of Environment and Heritage and the Mannum Dock Museum.
Originally built as a floating dock for use on Lake Alexandrina, the red-gum structure was towed to Mannum in 1876 and installed onshore, where it was the major repair and refitting depot for vessels on the Murray-Darling system up until 1927. The dock has since served as a home and repair site for the PS Marion paddle steamer.
Maritime Archaeology Masters student Britt Burton, who will co-ordinate the project, said the structure is one of only a handful in existence internationally.
“We have very little information on the construction and evolution of timber floating and dry docks, so the Randell Dry Dock is very significant: we hope to have it listed on the National Heritage Register,” Ms Burton said.
“My research suggests that it’s the only one in the world above water and in one piece.”
Ms Burton said a program of managed conservation is a matter of urgency. Expert advice says that left unchecked, the dock’s deterioration is likely to end in complete disintegration within 20 years.
While the basic structure of the dock – a heavy red-gum frame and a layer of planking – is obvious enough, there are many unanswered questions about its construction, and it is hoped that three separate mini-excavations in and around the dock will provide some insights.
“If we can get an idea of how it was constructed, what is original, what has been added, and what the environment is like underneath the dock, it will help us form the conservation management plan,” Ms Burton said.
Members of the public are welcome to visit the site while the excavation is in progress, and the project will be filmed for the dock’s owners, the Mannum Dock Museum and the Mid Murray Council.
The dry dock is located at the end of the Mannum main street, next to the ferry crossing.