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Report written by Oskar Speck relating to his journey

Date: 1930s
Dimensions:
Display Dimensions: 278 x 220 mm
Medium: Ink on paper
Credit Line: ANMM Collection Nancy Jean Steele Bequest
Object Copyright: © Australian National Maritime Museum
Classification:Ephemera
Object Name: Report
Object No: ANMS0533[002]

User Terms

    Translation
    • Continued Indescribable feeling as I am paddling down the Varda into the Gulf of Saloniki on those cold days of March 1933. What a contrast; a moment ago the dirty brown water of the Varda river flooded with melting snow, and then this clear, deep blue ocean. This short journey to Saloniki has convinced me that I am hopelessly devoted to the ocean. When they were trying at the German Consulate to discourage me from realising my plans to go to Cyprus, from a sense of genuine concern, they met with my determined resistance. So, after I had promised to send a telegram straight away if I actually did make it to Andros, they eventually let me go. I arrived at Andros on the first day of Easter, with any concept of time and holidays totally forgotten. But I had hardly pulled my boat up onto the shore, when I was reminded of it again in the most hospitable fashion. A little girl, dressed in a special white dress for the festive days, brought me a glass of wine on a tray, with some sweets and a small, round loaf into which three eggs with red, painted shells had been baked in symbolic fashion. I stayed on Andros for the holiday period. There, as well as throughout my whole journey in the Sporads, the hospitality I received was amazing. The level of hospitality shown by these island Greeks was only outdone by that accorded me on the Dodecan Islands, where there was some sort of friendly contest between the Italian officials and the Greek population, all of whom wanted to claim the guest for themselves. After a long and beautiful journey, which was not entirely without its hardships, I arrived at Cyprus via Turkey. My arrival there caused great bewilderment, which manifested itself in a number of small festivities in which wine and Greek Ouzo played a large part. My surprise was, therefore, all the greater when I arrived at Limassol two weeks later and heard that a traveller in a folding boat was supposed to have arrived there before me. I asked the officials and they confirmed that a young German had actually been there in a folding boat. However, the official told me with a mischievous smile on his face, that he had been lowered from a motorised yacht which had brought him from Castelrosso, 2 kilometres outside the harbour. Even if this was not altogether honourable, he proved to be quite a capable businessman. He loaded his boat onto a camel cart and drove through the streets of the capital Nicosia with it, where the gullible Cypriots bought quite a few postcards from him. Later, I also crossed the tracks of another "first arrival", whose picture and model boat were even supposed to have been on display at a museum in Munich, and are perhaps even still there today. He claimed to have paddled by himself all the way to Palestine in a similar fashion. For me, too, the Gulf of Adalis was almost my undoing. Because I wasn't aware at that time that I would be extending my journey beyond Cyprus, I was tempted to tie my boat up to a small sailing yacht for one night. This yacht was manned by two German round-the-world sailors and I was tempted perhaps all the more by the prospect of spending some time with my compatriots. But fate intervened here. In view of this disgrace, yet unnoticed by us, my boat detached itself and the next morning the only indication that my boat had been there was the line to which it had been attached. One week later, the Turkish police told me where I could collect my boat, which had drifted back to shore at exactly the same spot where I had committed my act of treason, that is preferring a frail sailing yacht to my own boat. On Cyprus, and seasoned by my experience, I decided to extend my journey as far as Colombo. Initially, I should have taken [passage crossed out] the route across the Red Sea. But I was told that I would not be allowed to paddle my boat through the Suez Canal and people gave me examples of small boats which had been refused passage through the Canal, so I had to change my plans. After crossing to Syria I travelled by bus to Aleppo and from there via Mescene down the Euphrates, across Syria and Iraq and into the Shatt el Arab. My legs blue with cold, I arrived at Basra on the second day of Christmas. I rested there for a few weeks and then continued to Fao, located at the mouth of the Shatt el Arab and from there into the Persian Gulf. After a terrible journey across the notorious Chor Musa, and driven to despair by hunger and thirst, I encountered the first Persians one month later. I was received most kindly by two police guards and after having lived almost entirely on dates for almost 14 days, I was able to dine on rice and chicken. On this occasion I got a frightening glimpse of the poverty of the population there. After I had finished my meal, a village barber who happened to be present devoured the bones which I had already picked quite clean and only then were the scores of half starved, mangy dogs which were hanging around allowed their turn. While I was being entertained by one of the guards, who could speak Russian, and was learning all sorts of things about the local customs and traditions in this country, the other one was inspecting my tent. Unfortunately, some silver coins (Hungarian Pengo coins of all things) and my fountain pen found their way into his pockets. I did manage to prove that the crime had in fact been committed, but [crossed-out word] stupidly, this took place in front of the villagers. So the other official made a plan, which involved everyone moving all together over to my tent. When we arrived there, I was meant to take all my possessions out of the tent one by one. To prove my point, I started with my fountain pen, which curiously I found lying directly on top of my pillowcase. It was then explained to the villagers that it had all been a mistake and with this the representatives of the police force were completely exonerated. I also happened to encounter various other such oversights later and when I was finally allowed to leave Persia nine months later, it just so happened that even the final Persian officials I dealt with were involved in a error which ended up costing me 300 Kran. They can be proud to have such officials working for them, and not just as policemen, but also in all other areas. There are some quite incredible stories involving customs officials in the Persian Gulf. This is to be expected, really, if former international carpet smugglers are elevated to being customs officials in their own country. The purpose of this must be to set an example regarding how much smuggling can be achieved when customs officials and smugglers join forces. Given the population's almost morbid preference for overpoweringly sweetened tea, which is partly due to smoking opium, the government in Tehran could not have failed to notice that they weren't selling any of their sugar in the gulf and that each year thousands of tons of sugar from Europe were finding their way into the area via the small villages situated on the other side in Arabia. They have tried out the most impossible schemes to solve this dilemma, except to purge the existing customs peration by employing experienced Europeans. On the contrary! They threw out the few Europeans who were left, and this was met with the all-round approval of a small gathering of customs officials at Addis Ababa, where I was staying at the time. They then resorted to having the monopoly only selling matches, even though sugar was bought at the same time. They put tax seals on the sugar cones and as a consequence, each shop had one of those sugar cones on display but never sold it, courtesy of the customs officials, who naturally wanted to move their own goods. Every now and then they did catch a smuggler, but he would only have faced a judge if settlement couldn't be arranged outside the court, which did occasionally happen to some of these poor devils. A lot of this was also due to the incredible boldness of the Arabs, who don't consider smuggling to be a criminal act. I myself was chased and shot at by smugglers in rowing boats because they thought I was a European customs official. At other times, however, I frequently enjoyed the hospitality of smugglers, both officials and non-officials, hospitality which was often hypocritical if it wasn't offered by those audacious and brave Arabs. I also came across some sheiks on this journey, and they offered splendid photo opportunities with their fascinating turbans. Ufortunately, I always offended them by refusing to open the little lack box and hand them the photograph. As far as the enowned eauty of Persian women is concerned, I only ever saw one without hr mask; all the others were very old and ugly. In the Persian Gulf al women from the age of about 12 wear a black, half-face mask hich has a slightly longer gap than necessary at the nose and covers the mouth, thus enabling the wearer to take food. Rumour also has it that they engage in a cleansing procedure which involves only taking a bath three times during their lifetime: at birth, on their wedding day and before they are buried. After finally crossing the Persian border, weakened by malaria and totally weaned from the most basic ideas of civilisation and culture, I arrived at British Baluchistan and there I started to become human again, at least in my dealings with officials. Then I arrived at Karachi and repeatedly noticed the positively overwhelming contrast between Indians and Persians. From Karachi I continued on up to Bombay and further along the west coast all the way to Cape Comorin. From there I rossed the Adam's Bridge to Ceylon. After having thoroughly rested for three months as the guest of one of the oldest pioneers of German culture abroad, the famous John Hagenbeck, I left my friendly host and continued my journey - by now with my sights firmly set on Australia. Starting at Colombo, I circumvented Ceylon, past Galle and Trincomalee, on to Port Pedro and back across to the coast of southern India. I had many happy and many grave experiences on this journey. By travelling on the open ocean the risks rose tenfold, with capsizing unavoidable in a swell that size. I lost equipment and notebooks, films and the like, but such exciting times like those in Persia, where virtually every day brought a new adventure, were not to be had again. Happy experiences were also part of it. For example, the rumours that I had only lived on pills. Or that I couldn't escape the crowds of people because everybody wanted to get a glimpse of the German fellow who was travelling in a boat that could fly as well as dive. Or that I was in possession of fish, vegetables, cake and Whisky pills. Also some adventures with the clever and cunning Brahmins, who invited me to tea parties where there wasn't any tea but where I was supposed to give a talk etc. etc. As far as all the events during such a long journey are concerned, books could be written and the story telling could be stretched over days and nights. From Madras I continued to Calcutta and on across the Sundarbuns to Chittagong. The landscape became more beautiful, the difficulties decreased, my relations with the bureaucracy, which had been excellent all along, culminated in such friendliness that all kinds of support was given to me by British as well as native officials. The innate hospitality of the English and their appreciation of this trip, which was apparent over and over again in all sorts of encounters, contributed greatly to my enewing the decision to continue the journey. After my arrival in Rangoon, with the south west monsoon soon to set in, I tried to get in touch with one of the small Burmese movie production houses in order to be able to make documentaries of the beautiful river areas during the monsoon. Unfortunately, I only ever got as far as hearing the friendly Burmese explain to me repeatedly that their people had no interest in cultural films and the only films with an audience in Burma were love stories. Since I hardly fit the picture of a Burmese Casanova, I was forced to continue my journey from Rangoon to Penang during the monsoon. During my time on the Mergui Archipelago the monsoon suddenly started to blow. Those thunderstorms that suddenly speared out of nowhere, combined with gale force winds which simply blew my After a long and beautiful journey, which was not entirely without its hardships, I arrived at Cyprus via Turkey. My arrival there caused great bewilderment, which manifested itself in a number of small festivities in which wine and Greek Ouzo played a large part. My surprise was, therefore, all the greater when I arrived at Limassol two weeks later and heard that a traveller in a folding boat was supposed to have arrived there before me. I asked the officials and they confirmed that a young German had actually been there in a folding boat. However, the official told me with a mischievous smile on his face, that he had been lowered from a motorised yacht which had brought him from Castelrosso, 2 kilometres outside the harbour. Even if this was not altogether honourable, he proved to be quite a capable businessman. He loaded his boat onto a camel cart and drove through the streets of the capital Nicosia with it, where the gullible Cypriots bought quite a few postcards from him. Later, I also crossed the tracks of another "first arrival", whose picture and model boat were even supposed to have been on display at a museum in Munich, and are perhaps even still there today. He claimed to have paddled by himself all the way to Palestine in a similar fashion . boat along for miles, improved my confidence in my little boat and provided me with many adventures. After passing Burma, I followed the Siamese coast up to Penang. I arrived there 2 months late due to the monsoon. I hardly need to emphasise the fact that the behaviour of the Siamese officials and general population towards a German sportsman and guest was most cordial. The trips from Penang to Singapore and on to Batavia were probably the most uneventful sections of my entire journey. I arrived at Batavia on 10 December 1936 after almost five years of travelling and now the motto was "On to Australia"!
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