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Letter from Oskar Speck to his friend Elli

Date: 14 February 1938
Medium: Ink on paper
Credit Line: ANMM Collection Nancy Jean Steele Bequest
Object Copyright: © Australian National Maritime Museum
Object Name: Letter
Object No: ANMS0534[011]

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    Letter from Oskar Speck to his friend Elli typed in German over two pages with text on both sides of the fisrt page and only one side on the second. Dated 14 february 1938, the letter discusses the treatment he is receiving for his burst eardrum, and he is waiting for a new boat from Pionier.
    • In this beautiful world we find stupidity in abundance, yet little money Surabaya 14 February 1938 Dear Elli, Whenever I get upset about really bad cases of backwardness and about the stupidity of some people, I feel the need to write to you. Now, if you turn the tables, you’ll be saying I don’t really have a reason to complain, because I hardly ever write to you. In the meantime I’ve had to bear quite a lot. The doctor opened my head a bit, but couldn’t find anything though, so he’s closed it tight again. However, that hasn’t made me feel any better and I haven’t experienced any enlightenment either, which one might have hoped for, either. I suppose you’ve heard or read about the incident with the savages from somewhere. I was actually very lucky, i.e. assumingin case all will goes well now. I was dismisseddischarged from hospital a month ago, but I’m still being treated. Last week I even lost consciousness, a bit, which was quite interesting; one has to experience everything, you know. I actually feel sorry for the doctor; my eardrum is so fantastic (the other drum isn’t bad either) that, it heals over everyach day, which givinges the doctor the daily opportunity to practisce cutting it open again on a daily basis. It’s a shame this type of sport hasn’t been accepted as an Olympic discipline, because then my doctor would become world champion. Naturally, you’re thinking I should be glad my eardrum heals that well, considering it normally stays open after an operation. But in this case it isn’t good; you see, I’m still wet behind the ears. As there aren’t any secrets between us, I actually didn’t have to tell you that. But that’s the way it is: he, who picks his neighbour’s nose, is a pig [humorous variation of the proverb: “you can easily fall into your own trap”][1]. In accordance with the proverb, I wanted to write about other people’s stupidity, but now I have revealed my own foolishness. I still hope to leave Surabaya in this season, but who knows what might become of this affair? I’m living with a certain Herr von Keiser; his father used to be wing aide-de-camp for Lehmann, but he’s still a good fellow. I’ve received your kind letter written in December. It went on quite a long journey, because it had to be sent back from Thursday Island to Surabaya. Your inquiry regarding an Indian fortune teller and marrying a shepherdess (he was reading wool, wasn’t he?) is unlikely to come true. That fortune teller had also forgotten to tell me not to travel to the island of Lakor. The Indians believe in the wandering of the soul. Perhaps my soul was meant to be saved on Lakor and then to travel into an Australian sheep. In the meantime the niggers have made sure we don’t get to see each other very soon and I’ll be an old dodderer anyway when we do – I’m ageing rapidly. I want to prepare you for the fact, that I will expect to be treated considerately, as one would treat an elderly gentleman. Perhaps we will be able to pose as father and daughter. Incidentally, why don’t I ever get a photo of you? Isn’t that proper anymore, once you’re married? Normally I’d write to Hans and give him a dressing downsermon, only I’m a bit scared, with him weighing 200kg. I currently weigh 135 pounds - including bones. I used to weigh 140, but they took away a bit of my ear bone during an operation and that makes up the difference. So that you don’t lose the true perspectiveevery respect regarding my weight, I must add, that my weight was measured while my eardrum was open. To counter that, I shut my eyes, but the doctor said that wouldn’t make much of a difference. Pionier are sending another boat. I don’t really need the new boat, as the old one, which is now on the Tanimbar Islands, would probably get me to Australia. However, I have to wait anyway, so I might at least make use of the time by waiting for the boat. Besides, I have special plans for the new boat. I prefer not to reveal them to you yet, for fear they won’t be put into effect, which is what usually happens. So, you see, I’m superstitious, too. My host is currently in Borneo, so I have the house and the servants all to myself. I don’t get to mix much with our local compatriots. Many of my former acquaintances have left and the younger folk in the colony are unable to socialise with me; at least not until I’m dry behind the ears, too. Otherwise, I’m fine. In the event that everything works out the way I hope it will, I’ll leave Surabaya on a steamship in mid- March and travel to Dili on Timor. From there I’ll take the collapsible boat to the island of Kissar and continue by some means, probably motor boat, to Saumlaki on the Tanimbar Islands, where my journey washad been interrupted. I will continue to Australia via New Guinea, if the Dutch Government, with whom I am still negotiating, gives me permission. The Dutch would like me to give up travelling any further and have partly refused permission for the trip along the coast of New Guinea. Took the matter to the consulate general and will have to wait and see, for now. Alternatively, I would be forced to cross the Timor Sea, which would probably be possibley with the new boat. What is it like in Pinneberg? You really gave me a scare, writing about your kidney problem. Kidneys are no joke, at least not as long as they’re your own ones. So, take good care of yourself and especiallyin particular, don’t get a cold. I once had nephritis, back in British India; the pain nearly made me godrove me insane. You’ll probably be punting around on the Elbe in your new boat, before this letter reaches you. I can imagine us paddling together in collapsible boats, if Hans were to lose weightreduce his size by the time I get’m back toin Germany. However, instead of an engine we’ll have a lot of canvass. I normally travel on 3sqm. Unfortunately, I often have to pull down the jib, because of the stupid winds around here. Enclosed is a separate letter for Sonja. Please send it to her, whenever it’s convenient. Sonja wants to give up paddling in a collapsible boat, due to [that] experience and so on. If that were a reason to give up paddling in a collapsible boat, I shouldn’t even set my eyes upon one anymore. Let’s hope, Sonja will be alright and even make proper use of the tandem boat for two, instead of giving it up altogether. Sonja will surely call these statements harsh and insensitive, but I know I’m right. [1] Translator's note: Humorous variation of the German proverb “You can easily fall into your own trap”
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