Oh dear. The guilty pleasures to be had in sorting through old cardboard boxes of memorabilia here at Club Mountaingoat:
It took a while to locate, and I started to get anxious. I’d hate to lose this remnant of my misspent youth. But there it was: flimsy, creased, increasingly delicate, but still mostly legible, in the shoebox labelled “Clippings, etc”, below the one labelled “Japan: First Tour of Duty” and next to “Gig Tickets, etc”.
My filing system is in dire need of some updating.
But first, some back-story.
A few weeks ago, when I was still teaching evening classes, I was enjoying another of my many dozens of strolls across the local mudflats here in Sandgate. The tide was out, but ebbing shoreward, and there, bobbing in the water, was this bottle:
I always have a closer look at bottles when I’m beachcombing. I once found a plastic gallon-jug with an obviously fake* rescue note washed up near my childhood home. Something about a boat going down in Moreton Bay. Even then I thought, “But surely a radio SOS would be more efficient.”
Ever since, I’ve peered hopefully through the glass of the depressingly numerous bottles you find while trawling the high-tide line. No luck, as usual, with this one, which still held a swish of cabernet merlot and a fresh and delicious aroma:
I haven’t had a drink since January, so this heady hint of forsaken pleasures really set my heart pounding with regret and — what? — longing, perhaps.
Anyway, I carried it ashore and deposited it in a bin, and as I often do, started thinking about my brush with hoaxing infamy, back in the late-70s.
We lived one bayside suburb south of here at the time, and almost all my free time, even as a teenager attending a city school, was spent (much as it is now) in roaming the mudflats and mangroves. There was always interesting stuff to be found as the tide receded each day.
This is a recent shot of the driftwood spree in my old mangrove stomping ground:
But one weekend, perhaps inspired by that aforementioned plastic-bottle message, I decided it was time to take less passive role in my beachcombing endeavours. I would have been about 14, too old for such shenanigans, but what can I say? There was no internet back then.
I got some blotting paper — remember that stuff? You always used to get a sheet of it in the front of pads of writing paper. I haven’t bought writing paper in years, so maybe you can still find it there.
Anyway, I tore out this sheet, ripped it around the edges for a parchment effect. I think I might have even burnt a few edges with matches. With a fountain pen, I set about writing my note, and I guess my imagination was soaring, as I’m most proud of the lurid embellishments I devised.
When I’d finished, I tore it into a few pieces, splashed them with a bit of saltwater, and put them in a wine bottle. Then I hammered a stick into the mouth, waited for high tide, and launched my fervid missive into Moreton Bay.
I don’t remember how long afterward my mother showed me the story in the Brisbane tabloid paper of the time. It turned out that the cruel sea, rather than delivering my desperate plea to the shores of some far-off land, had instead redirected it into the hands of a neighbour three houses along the beach.
My disappointment was short-lived, though, and my heart positively swelled with a forger’s pride:
NOTE HOAX A BOTTLER
A note washed on to Nudgee Beach in a bottle and purportedly written by a New Guinea missionary in 1908 was probably a fake, a Queensland Museum spokesman said today.
The bottle was found early Friday morning by Joe W____, 15, while he was looking for dead fish to bait his crab pots.
The wooden stopper was jammed in the neck of the bottle so he had to smash the glass to remove the note. The paper was crumbly and pieces of the note were missing. Some words were also illegible.
Words on the note read: “Oh God! Help me and my comrades…been imprisoned by savages…the year AD 1908…New Guinea…We missionary…(y)…Time running out! Tortured…several friends eaten…savages.”
Joe said he thought the note was genuine because of the old bottle it was in and because parts of several names appeared on it.
The museum spokesman said the note could have come from around 1908, but he said it should have shown signs of marine growth or abrasions from sand.
He said the note was probably too good to be true and would probably not have lasted in such good condition.
I told my mother the truth and we had a good laugh. Though disappointed at the severely truncated journey of my parchment missive, I was delighted to have wasted the precious resources of museum staff and the tabloid press, and that my efforts at forgery were at least partly successful.
Joe, the briefly famous finder, went to my primary school and is still a friend of the family. We’ve never told him the truth — probably shame, at first. Maybe one day…
Too good to be true? Alas, yes. But back then we didn’t just find adventure at the click of a mouse. We had to make, and live, our own…
* At least, I hope it was fake. Uh-oh.
~ And that’s all the Goat wrote