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Seven Years in a canoe bound for Australia - Today, Oscar Speck lives as a business man in Sydney

Date: 18 June 1976
Medium: Ink on paper
Credit Line: ANMM Collection Nancy Jean Steele Bequest
Object Name: Newspaper clipping
Object No: ANMS0542[017]

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    Primary title: Sieban jahre im Kanu Richtung Australien

    Primary title: Seven Years in a canoe bound for Australia - Today, Oscar Speck lives as a business man in Sydney

    • Page 6 – No. 139 – Hamburger Abendblatt 18 June 1976 Seven Years in a Canoe [(!!)] bound for Australia Today, Oscar Speck lives as a business man in Sydney. “I was held for two days in the Gulf of Cambray for being a spy. They believed my canoe could be used as a submarine as well as an aeroplane, and hence was perfectly suitable for the purpose of espionage .” This was Oskar Speck’s report from India to Altona in January 1936. Today, he lives as a successful businessman at his country residence Killcare near Sydney on the Pacific Ocean. It took Oscar Speck seven years, from 1932 to 1939, to reach his destination. The young, enthusiastic canoeist left Altona on 13 May 1932. He paddled upstream under the bridges of the river Elbe, then down the Danube, reached the Mediterranean, followed the Euphrates, crossed the Persian Gulf, followed the coastline of India, reached Singapore, Indonesia and, in September 1939, Australia. Why did Oskar Speck leave his home town of Altona? Edgar Walsemann gives an account of his motivation at the time: “He had experienced failure with a small, promising business selling electrical goods, and he didn’t have the courage to throw himself back into the dangerous whirl of business life, which was hopelessly uncertain back in those days. He did not see himself finding a safe harbour in business, had lost faith and preferred to go paddling out into the world in his little kayak, the only possession he had left, in order to find new possibilities in life.” These new “possibilities in life” did not appear so bad at first. But his adventure threatened to get the better of him when he reached Asia. Oskar Speck, who still keeps in touch with his old home town through his friend Johannes Jürgen Harkensee in Wandsbek, remembers: “What was particularly bad was the horror of being lonely and helpless, left at the mercy of the stormy ocean, in total darkness. Racked by fever, fighting tiredness, incapable of using even one muscle in my body. I came to know hours of feeling furious at myself and hours of deepest despair, in which I cursed my boat and my adventure.” The first time he had to fear for his life was on the Euphrates. “I was paddling along the coastline one night, and some itinerant Bedouins started shooting at me. My poor little terrier, which I had been given as a present six months earlier in Turkey, took a bullet. He fell overboard, whining miserably, and drowned.” On the way from Karachi to Kutchmandoi during the last cold days of January 1934, he ran out of provisions. Oskar Speck, preceded by the mysterious reputation that he lived on condensed milk, went and joined oyster fishermen. “There were oysters for breakfast, oysters for lunch and oysters for dinner.” Together with the oysters he caught malaria. As a guest of John Hagenbeck’s he was nursed back to health on Ceylon over three months. “Even today, I am still very grateful to the Hagenbeck family in Stellingen for that. Would you please pass on that message?” he says. The worst incident Oskar Speck experienced was on the Island of Lakor in the Moluccas. Up until then it had happened quite frequently before that he was “detained by seething crowds, who wished to see the magnificent German, who lived on pills and travelled in a boat that could fly and dive”. However, it did not occur to the Moluccans, who attacked him in early 1937 on Lakor, to admire the paddler from Altona. But Oscar Speck defended himself valiantly. He was so badly injured in the struggle that it took him almost two years to recover. What irony! - When he arrived in Australia in September, he was arrested, still on the beach, by three policemen. The Second World War had broke out in Europe and Speck ended up a prisoner of war behind barbed wire for six-and-a-half years. After the war, Oscar Speck started a real estate business in Sydney, of which he is still the boss today. He doesn’t like it when someone makes a fuss over him. “I am not an adventurer or some jack-of-all-trades, and if anyone is so unbelievably stupid as to compare success in business with my canvas boat journey, I can only pity them.” Even though he routinely held fears for his life during his seven-year journey, he wouldn’t want to have missed the experiences he had in those days. “I keep reliving it in my mind even today. I’m just an honest water sportsman. I guess I’m the only one who knows what it takes to make such a journey. Any other person would not be as lucky as I was.” Karl Denkner Second copy of the same article, bearing the stamp of Johannes Jürgen Harknsee including address and inscribed by hand: Dear Oskar, here is another copy, you can have more, too. Please write and tell me. Do you want me to send copies to Grete and Seppel? Regards, Hans.
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