Being a hero is all about timing: Oskar Speck’s kayak voyage

Oskar passport. ANMM collection

Oskar Speck’s passport. ANMM collection

As I was examining the letters, journals, photographs and reports of Oskar Speck, as though they were parts of a giant jigsaw puzzle, I started piecing together the life and the incredible voyage of this intrepid German, who spent seven years and four months paddling a collapsible kayak from his native town of Altona in Hamburg all the way to Thursday Island in the Torres Strait.

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A Nautical Name

2014 marks 100 years of submarine service in Australia. It’ll also mark the launch of a new interactive family exhibition with a submarine theme.

Concept sketch for exhibition

Concept sketch for exhibition

When asked to develop an exhibition with the working title Nautilus, I was familiar with Nemo’s fantastical submarine from Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, but I didn’t appreciate how many real submarines have been called Nautilus, their impressive list of achievements, or the role of an Australian adventurer in one of them. Continue reading

The sport of turtle riding and ‘the Greatest Liar on Earth’

Louis de Rougemont died a long way from Australia, the place that made his name. He died a long way from Switzerland, the place in which he was born. In fact when he died, penniless and forgotten in London in June 1921, Louis de Rougemont was no longer his name at all. It was just a name that had once been famous.

It was also a name that came to be synonymous with a very strange and short-lived sport; turtle riding:

'De Rougemont's Lie', Western Mail, Thursday 12 March 1931, page 19

‘De Rougemont’s Lie’, Western Mail, Thursday 12 March 1931, page 19

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Alone on the wide, wide sea : The voyage of the SPRAY

Mine was not the sort of life to make one long to coil up ones ropes on land, the customs and ways of which I had almost forgotten… I was born in the breezes, and I had studied the sea…

(Joshua Slocum Sailing Alone Around the World, page 4)

In the midwinter of 1892, a sailor by the name of Joshua Slocum arrived in the seaside town of Fairhaven, New Bedford, to view a ship. Heading away from the water, he set out to a nearby field where, propped up and under a cover of canvas, was an antiquated sloop called Spray. Continue reading

Happy Birthday Captain Cook!

On 27 October 1728, an extraordinary man was born, a man who became one of the greatest all time explorers. He was born in the small village of Marton, Yorkshire to a Scottish farm labourer who had a very modest income.

Tomorrow is the anniversary of his birthday and a time to reflect on all his achievements and discoveries. He was an exceptional navigator and surveyor which is why he was appointed for such a voyage, even though he had never had command of a vessel nor experience of a long sea voyage.

He sadly came to a savage death on his third voyage in Kealakekua Bay, Hawaii on 14 February 1779 where four of his marines, four native chiefs and thirteen commoners were also killed. He died at the age of 51.

There are discrepancies about his birthday either falling on 27 October or 7 November. Our curator Nigel wrote a fantastic blog last year, to clear this confusion and explain why there is a discrepancy in the dates.

William Dampier – Buccaneer, Explorer, Hydrographer and sometime Captain

Copper engraving of William Dampier. ANMM Collection 00000846

Copper engraving c 1789 of William Dampier. ANMM Collection 00000846

Buccaneer, Explorer, Hydrographer and sometime Captain of the Ship ROEBUCK in the Royal Navy of King William the Third.

So reads the memorial to Englishman William Dampier in the village of East Coker, Somerset, England, the place of his birth in 1651. The memorial lists only a portion of Dampier’s eclectic career and speaks faintly of his contradictory character. Pioneer and pirate, criminal and captain, explorer, author, travel writer and buccaneer. Ironically Dampier, with his less than angelic past, visited Australian shores in 1688, a full century before the convicts of the first fleet. At its bleakest contrast, Dampier was a felon who created a historic legacy in the hallowed halls of literature, science and exploration.

Here’s how it came about. Continue reading

Eighteen months on a leaky boat

 ‘Southern Pygmy Leatherjacket, Brachaluteres jacksonianus’

‘Southern Pygmy Leatherjacket, Brachaluteres jacksonianus’, by Ferdinand Bauer, lent by Natural History Museum, London

There is something intriguing about natural history illustrations. The plants look as though they are sprouting from the page but the animals appear slightly on the edge of reality, with blankly staring eyes and stiffly posed limbs. Perhaps this is because the immobility of plants permit them to be drawn from life whereas animals do not generally allow the painter that luxury unless they are in a more, well, deceased state.

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