Bir Tawil – the land nobody wants

On the border between Egypt and Sudan, you’ll find Bir Tawil, a small, 2,000 km (795 miles) square patch of land. It is a desolate region, mostly just sand and mountains. With no roads or permanent inhabitants, Bir Tawil is pretty unassuming at first glance, not unlike many other unsettled places in the world.

But Bir Tawil is actually quite unique. Due to a discrepancy over border recognition between Egypt and Sudan, it is one of the few places on Earth left unclaimed by any country or state.

Bir Tawil – sand, rocks and not much else.

The origins of Bir Tawil’s unclaimed existence go back to the end of the 19th century. In 1899 the Anglo-Egyptian Condominium Agreement for Sudan set the border between Sudan and Egypt at the 22nd parallel. However, in 1902, the United Kingdom decided to draw a separate administrative boundary, hoping it would better reflect the actual use of the land by tribes in the area.

The location of Bir Tawil.

Bir Tawil had previously been used as grazing land by the Ababda tribe based near Aswan in Egypt. Thus, it was placed under Egyptian control as outlined by the new boundary. Conversely, another patch of land called the Hala’ib Triangle was placed under control of the British governor of Sudan.

These imaginary lines went largely unnoticed until 1956, when Sudan finally achieved independence. The new Sudanese government declared its national borders as those expressed in the 1902 administrative boundary, which made the much larger Hala’ib Triangle part of Sudan, and the smaller Bir Tawil part of Egypt.

Egypt, on the other hand, asserted that this was meant to be a temporary administrative jurisdiction, and that sovereignty had been established in the 1899 treaty, which set the border at the 22nd parallel. This would place the Hala’ib Triangle under Egyptian control, giving Bir Tawil to Sudan.

From the perspective of both countries, it makes little economic sense to claim Bir Tawil, since doing so would concede the Hala’ib Triangle to the other. The Hala’ib Triangle is about 10 times larger than Bir Tawil, and is located on the Red Sea, which makes it more valuable to both parties.

The unique state of Bir Tawil has drawn outsiders to visit this ‘no mans land’ In 2011, Jack Shenker visited the region, planting a multicolored flag to stake his claim. In 2014, Jeremiah Heaton made a similar trek, also planting a flag to claim the region as the Kingdom of North Sudan.

Jack Shenker during his visit to Bir Tawil.

Jeremiah Heaton during his visit to Bir Tawil.

As of 2022, the dispute rages on, and since no third country has claimed this ‘no man’s land’, Bir Tawil remains one of the few areas in the world not recognized by any country.

Alistair Bonnett’s book “ Off the Map Lost Spaces, Invisible Cities, Forgotten Islands, Feral Places and What They Tell Us About the World” Aurum Publishing 2014 was used as the basis for this blog post.

The “Rack Man”

In the early hours of August 11 1994, the crew of the Lady Marion were trawling the peaceful waters of the Hawkesbury River north of Sydney looking for prawns, when captain Mark Peterson felt an almighty tug in his net – but his catch wasn’t the nice big haul he was hoping for. Instead, what was caught in his net was a metal cross covered in plastic bags — and under those bags were the decaying remains of a human body, tied to the cross with wires.

Photo of the Lady Marion, with the metal cross in the foreground.

Police were called immediately, but since the body had been submerged for some time (a least a year, by the coroner’s estimation) it was difficult to collect any forensic evidence. The coroner could tell it was the body of a man, a rather diminutive one at that (around 165cm), who had dark hair and may have been of Mediterranean heritage, and aged between 20 and 45 years old.

It was almost as if the man had gone out of his way to be unidentifiable — or somebody had taken pains to ensure this was the case. He had no personal belongings on him, save for a packet of cigarettes and a lighter. His clothing was unmarked and mass-produced: an “Everything Australia” polo shirt and “No Sweat” trackpants, both sized medium.

Forensic anthropologists worked with the man’s bone structure to create a facial reconstruction for police to circulate, and once that was made public, many members of the public came forward with possible identifications of the man, who became known as “Rack Man” thanks to the metal contraption he was found strapped to.

Facial reconstructions of the “Rack Man”

What was clear, though, was this was a deliberate and meticulous killing. The steel-framed crucifix was custom-built for the unidentified man. The welding was professional and concise, and the cross-frame matched the man’s outstretched arma perfectly. It was also far too heavy for a single person to have lifted and dumped into the river, suggesting more than one perpetrator.

Sydney Daily Telegraph report of the discovery of the “Rack Man”.

Leads provided by the public saw police investigate a number of shady missing persons: convicted drug dealer Joe Biviano from the Sydney suburb of Drummoyne; Kings Cross businessman Peter Mitris and Chris Dale Flannery, known to underworld figures as “Mr. Renta-Kill”. All these leads were dismissed due to discrepancies in height, dental records and other identifying factors. A reward for information on who was the “Rack Man” was increased over time until it hit $100,000. With no clues as to his real identity, the “Rack Man” lay refrigerated in an inner-Sydney morgue for 25 years.

Then a breakthrough occurred. DNA testing led to the “Rack Man” being identified as 37 year old Max Tancevski, who had disappeared from Sydney in January 1993, and who had been considered as a possible suspect.

Max Tancesvki, aka “Rack Man”

DNA technology in the mid-1990’s was not advanced enough to make a positive identification. Tancevski was known to be a heavy gambler – had he borrowed money to fund his gambling and was unable to pay back his debt? The unusual method of killing and/or disposing of the body was excessive, and is unlikely to be a random attack carried out by a stranger. This sort of crime scene is more concurrent with gang related violence, done with the intent of sending a message to warn others not to cross the killers again.

Police had no idea who committed the murder, but information was passed on to the NSW cold case homicide squad to investigate further. As of July 2022, the identity of the person(s) who murdered Tancevski are still unknown.

Justine Ford’s book “Unsolved Australia – Who Was the Rack Man?” Macmillan Publishing, Sydney 2015, pp.115-123 was used as the main source for this blog post.

The last thylacine

The thylacine, also common known as the Tasmanian won, was a voracious predatory marsupial wild dog. At one time the animal lived on the Australian mainland, but competition from dingoes probably led to its demise there. When Europeans started to explore Tasmania found many new animal species that had to be dealt with, including the thylacine, which fed on kangaroos, wallabies, and with the arrival of the Europeans, farmers flocks and dogs. The thylacine’s other nicknames – “Tasmanian tiger”, “Kangaroo Wolf” and “Zebra Wolf” are a good description of its appearance. It had the head and teeth of a wolf, the stripes of a tiger on its rear and the tail of a small kangaroo. Being a marsupial, it carried its young in a backward opening pouch similar to the opossum. 

An artists impression of the thylacine.

The menace of the thylacine to newly introduced farms was recognised by the Tasmanian government, and towards the end of the 19th century the authorities offered bounties for each thylacine destroyed. This marked the beginning of the end for the thylacine. The last known killing of a thylacine in the wild , a young male occurred in 1930. Another thylacine was captured in 1933 and taken to the Hobart Zoo, where it died in 1936. The only known footage of a thylacine was taken as this time, and shows the animal’s distinctive appearance.

The first of only two known examples of footage of a thylacine, taken at the Hobart Zoo in 1933. Colour added by the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia.

The thylacine was gone – or was it? According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the world authority on rare and threatened species, the thylacine was officially declared extinct in 1982. Many Tasmanians however, have refused to accept that the species has disappeared, with some spending years searching obsessively for the thylacine. While there have been many reported sightings of what were purported to be a thylacine, there has been no clear definite visual proof, such as clear photos or video footage, as well as any physical remains, such as a skeleton, fur or droppings. With a large majority of the 64,000km² island being uninhabited forest, as well as protected reserves, many people believe that the thylacine is surviving in these rugged areas.

As well as amateurs, scientists have also shown an interest in objectively determining if the thylacine still exists. The Thylacine Research Unit is a group of scientists, naturalists and specialists that investigate reliable sightings, and have built an extensive collection of witness sightings and alleged film footage.

The thylacine is like UFOs and the Loch Ness Monster – people’s hearts want to believe that they exist, but the head says that until physical proof or irrefutable visual evidence appears, they are a mystery that will continue to fascinate people for a long time to come.

“The Last Thylacine” in Christopher Slee’s book “The Guinness Book of Lasts”, Guinness Publishing London, 1994, pp.103-104 was used as the basis for this blog post.

The husband who murdered her wife

Eugenia Falleni was born in Florence, Tuscany in 1876 and went to New Zealand with her parents as a child. At 19 her father forced her into a marriage with an Italian man named Braseli. When it turned out that Braseli was already married, Eugenia ran away to sea, told people her name was Eugene and, dressed as a man, worked as a cabin boy on a Norwegian barque. It is believed that she dressed as a man so that she could go to sea, and for the next couple of years she carried off this deception on a variety of ships plying the South Pacific.

One man, however, knew her secret. Martello, a fellow Italian sailor, got Eugenia pregnant in 1898. Eugenia returned to the New South Wales port of Newcastle, where Martello disappeared from her life. Eugenia moved to Sydney and gave birth to a daughter named Josephine and resumed her life as a man. By now she was accustomed to passing herself as a man, and could earn more at a job than what she would receive if she was a woman. Eugenia may have been a lesbian, but there is no indication of this in what is known of her private life, and the fact that her first wife, Annie Birkett, was shocked to discover her deception suggests otherwise.

Calling herself Harry Crawford, she told a childless couple that Josephine’s mother had died and asked them to raise her as their granddaughter. Sporadically, ‘Harry’ visited Josephine in the couple’s home in Double Bay, Sydney.

Harry Crawford was unstable and quarrelsome and drinking exacerbated his dark nature. He was in and out of menial jobs until in 1912, a Dr Clarke of Wahroonga employed him as a general hand and coachman. Dr Clarke’s housekeeper was a pretty widow, Annie Birkett, 30 who had a young son, also named Harry. For two years Crawford courted Birkett, until in 1914 she Dr Clarke’s employment, opened a corner store in Darling Street, Balmain and married him.

Soon after, Josephine moved back into the Balmain home. By this time she knew Harry’s real identity, but told no-one. Discovering that your father is your mother must have been traumatising, and soon Harry and Josephine fell out – Josephine stayed out late at night and caused much anguish, which lead to Harry and Annie fighting constantly. Annie gave up on the marriage, and moved to Kogarah to live with her sister, taking young Harry with her. When Josephine found a job and moved out to her own lodgings , Harry persuaded his wife to return, and they moved to a house in Drummoyne.

In September 1917, Annie told a relative that she had found something amazing about her husband. What that was she didn’t say, and she never revealed what she had discovered.

On the 28th of September, Harry and Annie went for a picnic in the Lane Cove National Park. There, in a secluded spot, Harry battered Annie to death and threw her body onto a bonfire where, three days later, a boy stumbled upon her charred remains. The discovery of the unknown body was reported and quickly forgotten, due to the news of Australian troops suffering heavy casualties in the fighting on the Western Front.

Harry Crawford went home and told young Harry that Annie was visiting friends, and then took the boy to Watson’s Bay. The two climbed up to The Gap and Harry, slipping through the safety fence, went to the edge of the cliff and invited the boy to join him. Feeling nervous, young Harry declined.

Harry Crawford told his neighbours that his wife had run off with a plumber. He sold their furniture and moved out with young Harry to a boarding house in Cathedral Street, Wolloomooloo in October 1917. Later that month, he told young Harry they were going out. The two walked out of the boarding house into a thunderstorm and trudged through the rain – Harry carrying a spade and a bottle of brandy, young Harry following behind. When they got on a tram at Kings Cross, young Harry started feeling nervous again, as he was watched his stepfather sitting silently, brooding and clutching the spade. When they got off the tram at Double Bay and walked into the scrub young Harry was frightened, which turned to absolute terror when they came to a secluded clearing and Harry started to dig into the ground. Harry then ordered his stepson to keep digging. The two of them took turns, digging while the thunder rolled and the lightning lit up the scene. Young Harry realised that the whole was a grave, which was big enough – for him. Luckily for him, Harry threw the spade into the trees and told the boy there were going home.

By the time they returned to the boarding house, Harry was totally drunk and told the landlady, Mrs Schieblich that the room they were staying in was haunted. Mrs Schieblich replied ‘I think it is your wife haunting you. I think you killed her.’ Harry slumped to the kitchen table and began sobbing. He virtually admitted killing Annie, telling Mrs Schieblich he had argued with his wife and given her ‘a crack over the head’.

Mrs Schieblich was no fool, and didn’t go to the police. She was of German background, and it was wise for people with such a background to keep a low profile at a time when her countrymen were killing Australians by the thousands. But she wanted Harry out of her house. Young Harry was living safely with Annie Birkett’s sister, and Mrs Schieblich sent Harry packing when she told him the police had called the house looking for him. Harry left the house at once.

Amazingly, Harry married again in 1919, and was able to deceive his new wife, who praised her ‘dear loving husband’. But young Harry, now aged 16 and his aunt, never having heard from Annie or the plumber she was said to have run off with, finally decided to go to the police. Dates were checked, dental remains were shown to Annie’s dentist and on the 5th of October 1920, three years after the fatal picnic, Harry Crawford was charged with the murder of his wife and taken to Long Bay Goal. There he was told to undress, have a bath and put on prison clothes. Harry agreed, but said he would have to do it in the women’s section. At first the prison authorities refused to believe her. A doctor was called, and after an examination he immediately declared that Harry Crawford was a woman.

Harry Crawford aka Eugenia Falleni after being arrested in 1920

The trial of the ‘man-woman’ Eugenia Falleni was a sensation. She appeared in court in women’s clothing, the first time in 30 years she had worn them. Found guilty of murder and sentenced to death, the sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment. Falleni was released in 1931 and lived the remainder of her life, in women’s clothing, as Mrs Jean Ford.

Mrs Ford bought a house in Glenmore Road, Paddington where she lived quietly, always maintaining her innocence to those few who knew her real identity. On the 9th of June 1938, she stepped off the kerb in Oxford Street and was hit by a car, dying shortly afterwards. No-one could trace Mrs Jean Ford’s relatives, or discover her background. Fingerprints were taken, and it was discovered that the dead woman was Eugenia Falleni. She had outlived her daughter Josephine who died in 1924, aged just 26.

“Australian Ripping Yarns” by Paul Taylor (Five Mile Press, Rowville, Victoria, 2005) was used as the main source for this blog post.

Putt putt putt golf

After 3 rounds of the 1987 Australian Open golf championship at the Royal Melbourne Golf Club, Greg Norman was leading the tournament by seven strokes, after recording scores of 70, 66 and 66 (202) in the first three rounds. His third victory in the tournament seemed guaranteed. Only something extraordinary could stop him winning after the fourth round was completed. That something was the pin placement on the third green.

The third hole at the Royal Melbourne Golf Club was a par-4 of 304 metres (333 yards). The greens usually played fast and contained many subtle humps and hollows, which made judging speed very tricky. After playing in the 1974 Chrysler Classic, American golfer Lee Trevino called the greens a joke, and received a $500 fine from the Austraian Professional Golfers’ Association as a result.

This day, though, there was the added hazard of a northerly wind that blew between 55 kph (35 mph) and 80 kph (55 mph). More crucially, the pin had been placed in an up-slope position where it was vulnerable to the wind. Later investigation showed that an assistant greenkeeper had set the pin 1.8 metres (2 yards) from the intended position. The following page shows the exposed location of the green:

After starting his final round, it took Norman over an hour to play the first two holes. The problem was the queue forming on the third tee – at one point there were 20 players waiting to tee off.

Spectators standing near the third green saw three hours of comedy rather than skill. Players discovered that putts would not stop rolling within 3.6 metres (4 yards) of the hole. To get down in four putts was a good achievement – many took five or six putts, while Russell Swanson took eight putts to hole out. Players lingered on the green while trying to work out how to hole out, which led to the massive logjam on the tee.

Caddies attempted to mark balls only to find them still moving, perhaps rolling back down a slope after going up it. Larry Nelson’s caddie touched the ball, and Nelson received a two-stroke penalty. Brett Ogle was more fortunate than most – his putt went half a metre past the hole, but as his caddie went to mark the ball the wind blew it back into the hole. Mike Colandro putted next and could be forgiven for thinking luck was against him. He hit four successive putts – all from approximately 4.5 to 6 metres (15 to 20 feet) and saw them all follow the same course. The ball ran round the edge of the cup for almost a complete circle and set off back towards his feet. Colandro sank his fifth putt. He had been level par at the start of the round – by the fifth hole he was eight over par. Mike Harwood had his caddie place his golf bag on the green lengthways to act as a rudimentary form of windbreak. This led to him being given the nickname “Exacto”- Exacto is a well-known Australian brand of windcheater jacket.

Here is the Australian Broadcasting Corporation highlights package of the tournament, which has brief highlights of the debacle at the third hole and the subsequent walk-off of the players.

Ronan Rafferty and Sandy Lyle both refused to complete the third hole. The golfers on the third tee – the five waiting groups included leader Norman – walked off in support rather than risk being humiliated. The players were angry, the spectators were furious, and the sponsors were confused. Five times British Open champion Peter Thomson said it was “a day of shame for Australian golf”.

The tournament organisers considered the options they had available to complete the tournament. The 1985 Australian Open, coincidentally also held at Royal Melbourne, was changed to a 54-hole tournament after a day was lost to rain, but this decision had been severely criticised. Another option was to have a 71-hole tournament, eliminating the third hole, but this idea was soon rejected. That left only one option – switch the final round to the next day (Monday) and make sure that the pin was correctly positioned on the third hole. Even that solution had problems, as many players had already booked flights to New Zealand or Europe for their next tournament. A move to boycott the rescheduled final round provoked a heated debate amongst the players. In the end they agreed to play, although several players had to pull out due to other commitments, including Lyle. On the Monday Norman clinched the title with a record 10 stroke victory (15 under par)

This wasn’t the only occasion in Australian tournament history where fast greens and winds caused havoc – the 2002 Australian Open was reduced to 54 holes due to the granite-like nature of the greens, with all of the greens watered overnight and not trimmed in order to slow them down. In the 1993 South Australian Open, the first round was abandoned after the greens, which had been triple-cut the evening before, became unplayable. In the 1998 Australian PGA, play in the third round was suspended when the 17th green became unplayable because of high winds but was re-started the next day.

“Golf’s Strangest Rounds” by Andrew Ward, Robson Books, London, 1999 p.251-253 was the main source of information for this blog post.

Swan Island radio station

Swan Island is located just off Honduras and until 1972 was disputed between Honduras and the United States. The island got its name–reportedly–because it was used as a base for a pirate named Swan in the 17th century. Swan Island also had a long history of use by the United States government.

Big Swan Island – Little Swan Island can be seen at the bottom of the picture.

One of the most important uses was the collection of guano. The Guano Islands Act of 1856 allowed the United States to designate otherwise unclaimed territory as part of the United States for the purpose of collecting guano which, in addition to being bird excrement, is also important because it contains phosphates used in fertilizer and gunpowder.

However, the most famous occupant of Swan Island was Radio Swan which broadcast on the AM radio band and shortwave. The station was owned by the Gibraltar Steamship Company with an office in Miami, Florida. Oddly, though, the company didn’t actually have any steamships. What it did have was some radio transmitters that had been used by Radio Free Europe and brought to the island by the United States Navy. The Gibraltar Steamship Company was actually a front for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), who in May 1960 started Radio Swan to broadcast Spanish-language propaganda into Cuba, which had recently been taken over by Fidel Castro’s revolution. These were created and broadcast by various Cuban dissident groups in Miami.

A QSL card from Radio Swan/Radio Americas showing the station’s location near Cuba.

However, infighting between these groups as well as misleading information lead to Radio Swan announcing in May 1961 that it would no longer carry political broadcasts and switched to reporting news, which was under the direct control of the CIA. This news carried coded messages, presumably aimed for Cuban dissidents who had fled Cuba after Castro took power. In April 1961 the station gave a coded message stating that the Bay of Pigs operation had commenced – an attempt by Cuban dissidents and US special forces to overthrow Castro, and that all Cubans should join in and make the invasion a success.. The message was:

Alert! Alert! Look well at the rainbow. The fish will rise soon. Chico is in the house. Visit him. The sky is blue. The fish will not take much time to rise. The fish is red.

As history showed, the Bay of Pigs operation was a fiasco, with the United States involvement being exposed. Radio Swan changed its name to Radio Americas, and continued broadcasting until mid-1968.

The following webpages were used for the creation of this blog post:

World Champion kidnapping

Juan Manuel Fangio (1911-1995) is considered one of the greatest Formula 1 drivers of all-time, winning five World Championship titles (1951, 1954, 1955, 1956 and 1957).  As well as driving in Formula 1, Moss also competed in sports car racing, which was not unusual amongst drivers of that era, compared to modern Formula 1 drivers. This interest in sports car racing lead to the most unusual incident of Fangio’s career – his kidnapping prior to the 1958 Cuban Grand Prix.

The Cuban Grand Prix was created by Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1957 – the aim of the event was to increase tourism to the island, especially for visitors from the United States. Cuba had no purpose built racing circuits, so a street circuit was constructed in the Malecón district of the capital, Havana. The main straight was the esplanade near the sea, with the return section a block further inland.

Map of the circuit used for the Cuban Grand Prix in 1957 and 1958.

The race was held on the 25th of February 1957. Fangio was contracted to drive a Maserati 250F in the upcoming Formula 1 season, so he naturally drove a Maserati in the Grand Prix. His 300S finished first, ahead of Carroll Shelby driving a Ferrari 410S and Alfonso de Portago in a Ferrari 860 Monza.

Fangio prior to the start of the 1957 Cuban Grand Prix.

Having won the inaugural Grand Prix, Fangio accepted an invitation to return for the 1958 race, to be held on the 28th of February. Sparing no expense, Batista arranged for all of the international drivers to stay in the prestigious Hotel Lincoln in central Havana. On the eve of the grand prix, Fangio walked into the lobby of the hotel on his way to dinner, only to be confronted by a young man in a leather jacket brandishing a pistol. According to reports from the time, the slightly nervous assailant barked: “Fangio, you must come with me. I am a member of the 26th of July revolutionary movement.”

The 26th of July Movement was a revolutionary movement led by Fidel Castro. The name commemorates an attack on the  Santiago de Cuba army barracks on July 26, 1953. The movement began formally in 1955, and its aim was the overthrow of the Batista regime.

One of Fangio’s companions picked up a paperweight and moved to throw it at the intruder, but the pistol jerked round. “Stay still,” the kidnapper said. “If you move, I shoot.” And with that Fangio accompanied the young man to a waiting car. The 26th of July Movement’s aim was simple – by capturing the biggest name in motorsport the revolutionaries would show up the government and attract worldwide publicity to their cause. Yet despite the news of the kidnapping spreading across the globe, Batista refused to be outdone and ordered the race to continue as usual while a team of police hunted down the kidnappers. Now under arrest and in an unknown location Fangio was taking it all in his stride and was being treated to a meal of steak and potatoes before getting a good nights’ sleep.

The front page of the French newspaper “France-soir”, with the kidnapping of Fangio being the top story.

As per Batista’s orders, the race started as planned, with Maurice Trintignant taking the place of the absent Fangio. A huge crowd attended due to a public holiday, and with no designated spectator stands, they stood on the side of the road, or watched from the balconies of adjacent units and apartments. From the start, Ferrari drivers Stirling Moss and Masten Gregory battled for the lead. After only a few laps, spectators started to notice that all drivers were having trouble controlling their cars on a track that had become very slippery. The cause was soon discovered – Robert Mieres had retired from the race on lap 5 due to a broken oil line in his Porsche, but not before he had laid down a greasy strip of oil all around the circuit.

Disaster then struck – local driver Armando Garcia Cifuentes lost control of his yellow and black Ferrari and went head on into a bunch of spectators lining the circuit. Over 30 people were injured and seven killed as the car took out a makeshift bridge and flew over the crash barriers.  The race was then immediately red-flagged after just 6 laps, with Moss declared the winner, ahead of Gregory and Caroll Shelby in 3rd place. Cifuentes, seriously injured in the crash, was taken to hospital lying on the bonnet of one of the competing cars. He was charged with manslaughter, but was cleared after a government enquiry.

British Pathe newsreel footage of the 1958 Cuban Grand Prix – including Fangio before his kidnapping and the Cifuentes accident.

Fangio was delivered to the Argentinian embassy after the race, which had turned into a disaster for the Batista regime. The 26th of July movement had received worldwide publicity, while the recriminations started regarding the lack of safety protection for spectators.

Fangio would go to compete in the 1958 Formula One World Championship – his final race French Grand Prix, where he finished 4th. Batista would be overthrown by Castro in December 1958. No Cuban Grand Prix was held in 1959, with the final race being held in February 1960, with Stirling Moss winning again.

The following sources were used in the creation of this blog post.

Mutiny on the high seas

On the 4th of January 2003, a Taiwanese ship named the High Aim 6 was found adrift off the Western Australian coast near Broome, with the engine running and the propellors turning. Authorities were alerted, and Royal Australian Navy officers from HMAS Stuart boarded the vessel to investigate. They were puzzled – clearly the ship had been abandoned for some reason, as there were no lifeboats or rafts, and no signs of a struggle onboard.

The only indicators that there once had been life aboard were seven toothbrushes and large stores of canned food. A nauseating stench emerged from the hold. It was created by three tonnes of tuna and mackerel, which (as subsequent tests indicated) had been rotting for up to two weeks. Although the boat’s fuel tanks were half-full, the freezer holding the fish had failed when the ship’s engines had stopped.

The High Aim 6 beached at Broome – what happened to the crew?

The vessel was towed to Broome, where Australian Federal Police joined the investigation. Officers, directed by operations coordinator Bill Graham, spent two days conducting tests on the 20 metre long, 150 tonne vessel. They found ‘no plausible reason’ for the absence of the captain, Chen Tai-chen, chief engineer Lee Ah-Duey and the ten Indonesian crew members.  A search of the Indian Ocean near where the ship was found by a PC-3 Orion aircraft failed to find any trace of the missing men.

High Aim 6 had sailed from Taiwan, flying an Indonesian flag, on the 30th of October 2002. She was last heard from on the 13th of December, when Captain Tai-chen called the owners of the vessel from the Marshall Islands, which is located halfway between Papua New Guinea and Hawaii. Several weeks of silence followed, and the owners reported the High Aim 6 missing.

The final journey of the High Aim 6.

Bill Graham said “We can’t say if the boat was hijacked….whether it was steered towards Australia by a second crew, or whether it was on autopilot.” Stefan Frodsham, chief executive of the Port of Broome, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that the ship had probably been attacked by pirates, who killed the crew and set the boat’s engines running to cover their tracks. Others believe a mutiny aboard High Aim 6 led to the untimely death of the captain and the chief engineer, with the crew escaping in liferafts. People smuggling was dismissed as a theory, due to the three tonnes of fish in the hold.

One interesting clue was a series of 87 local phone calls made in Bali, Indonesia with a mobile phone belong to Ah-Duey, the chief engineer. Ah-Duey’s daughter told a newspaper in Taipei that she had rung her father’s mobile phone multiple times between the 27th of December and the 15th of January. She was able to distinguish the strains of karaoke singing several times.

Authorities eventually tracked down one of the Indonesian crew members, who claimed that the captain and engineer had been killed in December, with the crew then returning to Indonesia. The crew member gave no details as to how the bodies of Tai-chen and Ah-Duey were disposed of, where the murders took place, and how the crew managed to make it back safely to Indonesia.

The High Aim 6 sat abandoned on the beach at Broome for 18 months. Hopes that the ghost ship would live on as an underwater tourist attraction for divers, or a fish habitat, were scuppered when authorities concluded that they could not guarantee that once sunk, High Aim 6 would stay underwater because of its buoyant hull. The ship was broken up and buried in landfill.

John Pinkney’s books “Great Australian Mysteries” (Five Mile Press, Rowville, Victoria, 2003) and The Mary Celeste Syndrome (Kindle e-book, 2011) were used as the sources for this blog post.

Bordering on the ridiculous

In mid-December of 1959, the Border team hosted Natal in the Currie Cup, South Africa’s premier domestic first-class cricket competition. The previous year Border had the better of a drawn game, so playing Natal at their home ground, the Jan Smuts Ground in East London gave them cause for confidence.

The match commenced on Saturday, the 19th of December, and the pitch had been affected by rain, so it was important to win the toss. Border did so, and had no hesitation in putting Natal into bat on the treacherous pitch. The Natal batsman struggled immediately – the first four in the batting order had represented South Africa in international Test cricket, but could only manage 15 runs between them. Natal were at one stage 50 for eight wickets, but wicketkeeper Malcolm Smith flung his bat for 33, which took the innings total to 90. It could have been worse, as the Border fielders dropped five catches.

However, Natal’s 90 looked like Mt Everest when it was Border’s turn to bat. Only four batsmen scored in the innings. The main destroyer of the innings was all-rounder Trevor Goddard, who returned the incredible bowling analysis of 11 overs, 9 maidens, 3 runs and 6 wickets. Goddard had only two scoring shots of his bowling – a two in the sixth over and a single in the seventh over, and he finished the innings off with a hat-trick – Griffith, Knott and During. During top scored with 9, more than half of the Border total of 16.

Trevor Goddard – Natal all-rounder who recorded incredible bowling figures in the Border 1st innings

Natal went into bat again, and by the close of play had scored 39 for the loss of three wickets. 23 wickets had fallen for 145 runs in four play – Natal had scored 90 in 110 minutes, Border 16 in 80 minutes and Natal 39 for 3 in 55 minutes.

There was no play on Sunday, and when the match resumed on Monday, the pitch had become perfect for batting. Kim Elgie made 162*, and when Goddard declared the innings closed at 294 for 8 wickets, Border were left the daunting task of scoring 369 runs to win, or to bat out the rest of the game to earn a draw.

While the poor wicket played a major part in their abysmal first innings score, there was no excuse for their second innings effort on a pitch that was playing normally. They improved on their first effort, but only just – scoring just 20 runs, losing the match by 350 runs. This time is was fast bowler Geoff Griffin doing the damage, recording an analysis of 13 overs, 6 maidens, 11 runs and 7 wickets.

Natal fast bowler Geogg Griffin ran through the 2nd Border innings.

At one point Border were 11 runs scored for the loss of 7 wickets, and there was a real chance that the lowest ever innings score in a first-class match (12) would be beaten. However Peter Tainton batted sensibly for 57 minutes, and was 7* when the final wicket fell, showing that there was nothing wrong with the pitch. Three Border batsman (Commins, Muzzell and Knott) failed to score a run in either innings, and During’s first innings boundary was the only four that they hit in the entire game. Border’s aggregate score of 34, made in less than three hours, is still the record lowest aggregate by one team in a first-class match. In their next match, against Western Province, Border showed what an aberration this match was by scoring 163 and 116.

The full scorecard of the match can be seen here.

Since 1959-60, there has been only one lower first-class total – 14 by Surrey against Essex at Chelmsford in 1983.

Lowest first-class match aggregates by one team:

34        (16 & 18)         Border v Natal                                     East London    1959-60

42        (27 & 15)         Northamptonshire v Yorkshire           Northampton  1908

47        (12 & 35)         Oxford University v MCC                    Oxford             1877

The following books were used for the creation of this blog post:

Andrew Ward, “Cricket’s Strangest Matches”, Robson Books, London 2000, p. 186-187.

Patrick Murphy, Fifty Incredible Cricket Matches”, Stanley Paul Books, London 1987, p. 212-215.

Bill Frindall, “The Wisden Book of Cricket Records”, Headline Publishing, London, 1998, p. 19.

The last bare-knuckle prizefights

Prizefighting was a sport with its origins in the mists of time. In Britain it developed into a popular spectator sport, with heavy betting on the bouts, by the 18th century. By the Regency period it had achieved a certain level of respectability with patronage from the highest echelons of royalty downwards.

Bare-knuckle fights were beginning to be considered dangerous by the 1870s and were gradually replaced by more formal fights, with padded gloves, under the Marquis of Queensberry rules. By 1889, the year of the last recognized international bare-knuckle contest, the days of rough prizefighting were over.

The Marquis of Queensbury rules, which became the established rules for all boxing matches.

Regulations for conducting bare-knuckle fights, which went on for as long as the contestants could stand up unaided, were stipulated by the so-called London Prize Ring Rules, which had been adopted throughout the United States, Europe and the United Kingdom. A round ended if there was a knockdown, and the decked boxer would have 30 seconds to make it back onto his feet and back to the middle of the line in the centre of the ring known as the “scratch”. If he did this, then the next round would commence. The longest bout lasted for 276 rounds, when Jack Jones beat Patsy Tunney in in 4 hrs 30 minutes in Cheshire in 1825.  When Tom Sayers and John C Heenan took part in the first recognized “World Title” fight in England 1860, the result was a draw after 37 rounds, when the local police stormed the ring to stop the bout. A similar situation occurred in the United States, and sometimes boxers were prosecuted for assault.

An illustrated drawing of the Heenan versus Smith bout.

And so on to 1889. When Jem Smith defeated Frank Slavin at Bruges, Belgium in 1889, the bout was the very last internationally recognized bare-knuckle fight ever staged. The final bare-knuckle fight occurred at Richburg, Mississippi on the 8th of July 1889, and was between local contender John L “Strong Boy” Sullivan and Jake Kilrain, who had fought Smith to a draw in a 106 round fight in 1887.

Smith and Kilrain prior to their 1887 championship bout.

Sullivan had been enticed to fight Kilrain by a $10,000 purse offered by Richard Fox, proprietor of the National Police Gazette magazine. Due to prizefighting being illegal, Richburg was chosen as the location due to its inaccessible nature, and the ring was constructed in an open field. Between 2,000 and 3,000 spectators attended, all arriving by specially chartered trains.

The fight was an exhausting affair, conducted in the middle of summer, with the temperature being over 37 degrees Celsius (100 degrees Fahrenheit). After 10 rounds, it became clear that Sullivan was the stronger boxer, and Kilrain resorted to evasive tactics, in an attempt to tire out Sullvan. However, Sullivan was persistent, and Kilrain’s seconds threw in the towel after 75 rounds, when Kilrain was barely conscious.

Photo of the Sullivan-Kilrain fight, showing the isolated location of the bout and the large crowd in attendance.

The sources for this blog post were “The Guiness Book of Lasts” by Christopher Slee, Guinness Publishing, London, 1994 p. 183-184, and

Paul Beston’s blog post “Boxing’s Longest Day”