Personal space is, well, a personal thing. How much personal space do you require? Do you get uncomfortable by the press of people on a crowed train? Perhaps you like a little quiet time at the end of the day, just you, a cuppa and Foxtel? Have you ever considered life aboard a ship? Your personal space might comprise, you, your kit bag, and 80 other sweaty guys in less space than a suburban train.
In Part 1 of this Three Part series, I wrote about my recent visit to Sydney. I started my day at the Australian National Maritime Museum.
After the indoor exhibits came the outdoor exhibits, the ships. I began with the replica longship. Compared with the looming destroyer nearby (HMAS Vampire), it would be easy to overlook the tiny vessel. Or to underestimate the maritime capabilities of such vessels. Or the courage of the men and women that sailed such craft (I say ‘men and women’ because the historical evidence suggests some women participated in voyages and raiding parties – known as ‘Shield Maidens’). With such ships, the Vikings made extraordinary voyages – south from Scandinavia along the rivers of modern-day Russia, into the Black Sea and onto Constantinople (now modern Istanbul), capital of the Byzantine Empire. Also south-west to the coasts of modern day France and Spain, and even around into Mediterranean. And due west, to modern day England, Scotland and Ireland; and even further west to Iceland, Greenland and even Newfoundland.
Next came the replica of HMB Endeavour. On ships such as the Endeavour, living in extraordinarily cramped conditions, eating bad food, and drinking foul water, crews of the Royal Navy charted the Pacific, and the coastlines of Australia and New Zealand in the late 18th and early 19th Centuries. James Cook commanded three such voyages (HMB Endeavour, 1768-1771; HMS Resolution, 1772-1775; HMS Resolution, 1776-1779), dramatically expanding the knowledge of British seafarers of the Indian and Pacific Oceans. Amongst his notable achievements was the confirmation that a significant landmass did exist in the Southern Ocean (the legendary ‘Terra Australis’). On later British voyages in the 1790s and the early 1800s, navigators such as Matthew Flinders and George Bass charted the Australian coastline. From such charts can be glimpsed the now iconic outline of the Australian continent.
Finally, onto the much more modern vessels, the Vampire and the Onslow. I remember visiting the Vampire in the mid-1970s, during a public opening of the vessel. As a small child, I thought the vessel was huge. As a (much) older person, I was struck by the cramped living and working conditions. As with the Endeavour, I had to constantly look out for my head below decks. By the time I boarded the Onslow (backwards, down a forward hatch), I was becoming experienced with ducking and weaving around machinery and through hatches.
My visits to all four vessels – the longship, the Endeavour, the Vampire and the Onslow – gave me a renewed respect for people who endure considerable personal hardships over extended periods of time. And who are remembered (at best) as side notes and footnotes of history.
In Part 3 of this Three Part Series, I will write about my visit to the Art Gallery of New South Wales.