Waler Database @ Facebook. Image: Article from Sydney Mail & NSW Advertiser, 2nd May, 1906.
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Photos of Timor ponies on Timor, taken by Oskar Speck in 1937.
Born in Germany in 1907, as an adult Oskar went kayaking as a hobby and ran an electrical business – however the Great Depression sent him bankrupt and he didn’t like the way Hitler was rising. He decided to leave and seek work in Cyprus, hearing there was work there. So he set off in his 18 foot fabric folding kayak, in 1932. Once he got there, after various mishaps and finding the work no good, he decided he’d rather keep going and kayak to Australia. Oh – and he couldn’t swim.
It took him seven and a half years to get here. Giant sharks and crocs at times eyed him off at very close quarters. He stopped at several places on the way, worked where he could find work and and was a keen photographer and also took some 16mm film. He got malaria at one time. He was feted in India and Pakistan by the British and maharajahs who liked his sense of adventure. By 1934 Hitler had gained power back in Germany. Oskar didn’t turn back, but being German was now becoming a problem – he was suspected of being a spy, and his kayak of being a submarine or plane! Oscar wasn’t into politics at all, no-one knows to this day what he thought of the Nazis and it really doesn’t matter. He flew the flag on his kayak at times as it had become his country’s flag, replacing the previous design. He just liked doing things and loved his country but loved adventure more; his family always wanted him home.
When he first set foot on dry Australian land, in fact Thursday Island in 1939, Oskar was met by Australian police – arrested, interrogated for a month, and put into a concentration camp for many years. Menzies had declared war on Germany just before he finally got here. He had a boring and rough time in the camps here and finally, in 1946, was freed. He set off opal mining. After a time he turned to opal trading instead and did well for himself, and lived in a nice house on the NSW central coast at Killcare, that overlooked the sea. Oskar passed away in 1995. He did the longest kayak trip in history. And left us some beautiful photos.
The Australian National Maritime Museum in Sydney has his boat and many of his photos – a great record of many places of the times – letters and other papers., and is the source of these photos.(Janet).