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It was an autumn day in 1963 when Hugh Edwards sought refuge from pounding waves in an underwater cave near Ledge Point.
As the silvery bubbles from his diving gear pooled on the roof, he picked up a dark object from the sandy floor.
When he rubbed the black corrosion, it revealed the name of a Spanish king and the year 1654. It was a silver "piece of eight" from the Vergulde Draeck, a Dutch East India Company ship that sank 124 years before the Endeavour reached Botany Bay.
A friend's reaction - Dead Men's Silver - gave Edwards the name of his autobiography, released today.
It details his extraordinary life as a shipwreck hunter from his first boyhood glimpse below the ocean's "silver skin" to his part in discovering the wreck of the notorious Batavia, filming great white sharks and being waved through a Cambodian road block by Pol Pot.
Shipwrecks, Edwards said, were found either through "outrageous good fortune" or extensive research.
A reluctant student, he found his "spiritual home" at Perth's Daily News, where his appetite for stories on shipwrecks led him to several expeditions.
But the Batavia, made famous by a mutiny and massacre, remained elusive. When the paper would not pay for another expedition and government funding was largely unforthcoming, Edwards paid for most of the trip.
It was his 30th birthday when his group finally dived on Morning Reef, in the Abrolhos Islands, and he saw the Batavia's bronze cannon.
The success of his Batavia book led Edwards to apply for a grant to write about the Zeewyk wreck.
It was a turning point. He left the newspaper, wrote 32 books and was awarded the Order of Australia for writing and services to maritime heritage.
Edwards will speak at the WA Museum's Shipwreck Galleries at 6.30pm on December 12.
Courtesy The West Australian
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“Treasure – If it’s out there, we’re going to find it!” (Tommy Vawter)
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