The tar blackened timbers of a fifteenth century Portuguese caravel ship berthed in Brisbane over the weekend, as a reminder of the theory that Captain Cook was beaten to these shores by other Europeans by three hundred years.
A Portuguese shipwreck on the Victorian south coast between Warrnambool and Port Fairy has long been rumoured, and that it was still visible in the mid-1800s, but since covered over by sand. When he was growing up in Port Fairy eighty years ago, my father and his sisters spent many joyful hours playing in the dunes, and searching for the fabled ‘Mahogany Ship’. Official hunts since then have also failed to unearth proof of the story, which has now transitioned into legend.
The ship that berthed in Brisbane is the ‘Notorious’, a 55 tonne, 21 metre replica caravel, the type of ship used by the Portuguese six hundred years ago in Australian waters, if the legend is true. She was built by a Port Fairy local Graeme Wylie, for whom the stories passed down to his youth were the inspiration.
Seeing the Notorious sit silently at dock on the Brisbane River, dwarfed by the modern cityscape and ignored by the Citycat ferries streaming by, makes me dream of that seafaring age of exploration. Part of me even hopes that the legend is true, so that this small ship could claim a win.
My father certainly liked to believe the folklore was fact, but maybe that was his nautical Viking heritage speaking, which perhaps also drew him to become a champion yachtsman. In any case, seeing the Notorious was a reminder of the fifteenth century visitors that we might have had.