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Adventure in the Sunda Seas

Date: 8 September 1938
Medium: Ink on paper
Credit Line: ANMM Collection Nancy Jean Steele Bequest
Object Copyright: © Australian National Maritime Museum
Object Name: Newspaper clipping
Object No: ANMS0542[035]

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    Additional Titles

    Primary title: Adventure in the Sunda Seas

    Assigned title: Abenteuer in den Sunda-See

    • Adventure in the Sunda Seas Encounters on a journey in a collapsible boat by Oskar Speck Conclusion A successful escape After a few minutes of tossing my body around I had managed to undo another twist and that was enough to pull one foot out of the tie. The next moment I was up on my feet. I staggered over to my boat hoping to find the knife in order to cut through the tie on my wrists. But the boat had been ransacked and the knife wasn’t there any more. An incredible excitement had come over me. My torturers could come back at any moment. I was perfectly aware that I would not have a second opportunity to escape. I tried to cut through the ties using rock – without success. I even tried to undo the knot with my teeth, but that didn’t work either. But as I was trying all this I happened to touch the end of the tie with my chin. This was how fate was showing me a way to reach my freedom. [Image of Oskar Speck with a bandage around hid head with the caption:] The author at the hospital in Ambon My ties consisted of raw, almost rancid Buffalo skin that had just been dried in the sun. The leather had turned very stiff and hard that way. That’s why it hadn’t been possible to pull the last loop in the knot perfectly tight. So if I could manage to push the end of the tie back through the loop, the loop would big enough to grab with my teeth and to open up. As much as I had cursed the rigid leather cutting into me at every movement before, I was really glad about it now. After about ten minutes I had pushed the end of the tie so far back with my chin that I could reach the loop with my teeth. The first knot was open. The next one was even easier, since I had a longer piece of tie to work with. The blood started to flow back through my stiff fingers and a few seconds later I could throw off the tie. That meant I was free, but by no means safe. If the natives did come back I had nothing apart from my bare hands to defend myself with. The only escape possible was with the boat. As the tide was coming in, the road along the beach was cut off. The only way out of the bay was to use the path along which the natives would return. It took me the greatest effort to get the boat back into the water and I breathed a sigh of relief when I had done that. Since the natives had no boat in this spot, they would be unable to give chase straight away. Now I had time to look around everywhere to see if I could find any of my things the natives might have left behind. I was very lucky that the natives had thought my large metal trunk was a water container and thought they could wait until morning to open it. After having put the trunk and even the ties back in the boat, I sat down in the boat about 30 metres off shore, waiting for the natives to return. It was only about five minutes before I saw the brightly burning torches approaching. Since I was in safety then, I could stay and watch the natives’ surprise. They ran up and down the beach excitedly with their torches. I’m sure they thought it was a miracle. It was only when the light from one of the torches [illegible] they started a mighty jelling. If I had had my pistol, I would have returned to get my stolen things back. As it was, I had to make sure I moved away from the proximity of this inhospitable island after washing the blood off my body. The sun would come up in two hours at the latest, and by then I would have to have disappeared from the natives’ view. There were sure to be boats at the village, and they would start pursuing me soon. With a strong wind at my back I reached the island of Sermata around four in the afternoon. I landed in front of some huts. There was a religious service in progress and I had to wait for a few minutes for the guru to come. I was received there very kindly and if I hadn’t had my injured body and my swollen and cut joints as proof, they would not have given any credence to my tale of the assault. The guru took me to the Rajah of Sermata, who became very upset about the event, especially since the guru had brought a paper from Ambon containing some pictures of me leaving Surabaya harbour. There was no police on Sermata, and I had to go as far as Tepa, on the island of Barbar. The Rajah wanted to give me a guard, but I declined, since it would only take me two days to get to Tepa. In Tepa I reported the incident to the relevant government office and sent a telegram to the German Consul General in Batavia at the same time. There was no doctor in Tepa, and I was forced to continue as far as Saumlaki, one of the Tanninbar islands, despite the terrible pain in my ear. As a precaution I had asked for an official letter, in order to be protected from any more such incidents along the way. [Photo of a native with the caption:] The leader of the attack on the island of Lakor. He received a six year prison sentence. From the island of Barbar I went across to the small island of Dawelor and from there on a 22 hour journey to cover the distance of around 140km to Saumlakai. The crossing was very difficult and I had to use the compass virtually the whole way, since the islands are very flat, and I was very glad to arrive at Saumlaki safely. I immediately consulted the Javanese doctor stationed there, and he diagnosed a middle ear infection stemming from the maltreatment I received on the island of Lakor. The next day, the Dutch Governor of the Moluccas and the Commander of Police for the whole area arrived on Saumlaki on an inspection tour. I had to recount the incident again. The governor, who had served on the Moluccas for many years, believed that the natives must have thought I was a head hunter. He promised he would go straight across to the island of Lakor and investigate the event. I was very well received at the mission hospital on Saumlaki and stayed there for five weeks. Then the pain in my ear got so bad I had to have an operation. I was transferred to the military hospital on Ambon, but they could not do the operation there either, so I went on to the hospital at Surabaya. There they performed the operation and I had to stay there and receive further treatment for four months. In the meantime I learned that the Dutch Government found that my statements were true. Six of the natives were punished. The leader received six years in goal, two other natives two years each and three others one year each. But the Government also could not explain why I was attacked. Most of the items that had been stolen, the majority of them mere trivial ones, apart from the pistol, were returned. On my way back to Saumlaki in a steamer, I came past the island of Kissar. There I had the opportunity to see some of the natives that attacked me in prison. They were forced to work for the Government and looked quite harmless in their prisoners’ clothes. Apart from the problem with my ear, which is still not quite healed even today, my adventure did not cost me just time and expenses, but it also contributed to the Dutch Government’s refusal to allow me to continue my trip to Australia via Southern New Guinea, as I had planned. The natives there were said to be too unpredictable. It is therefor my intention to go via Northern New Guinea, touching the former German territory and British New Guinea. If official institutions create difficulties for me there as well, I only have one route to Australia left: via the Timor and the Arafura Sea to Port Darwin. This is a risk I will only take if there are no other possibilities of reaching my goal, for which I have spent six years in extreme danger and hardship.
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