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A hull of a story - apocalypse now & the unsung hobart beach

Just a few metres from a bus stop and storm water drain on a scrappy little beach outside of Hobart, Tasmania, sits the rusted remains of a ship with a remarkable tale to tell and a connection to what many consider one of the greatest films of all time - Apocalypse Now.


The wreck of the Otago outside of Hobart. Picture: The Passerby

BUILT in Scotland in 1869, the Otago came under the command of renowned novelist Joseph Conrad after the former captain died in Bangkok. As legend has it, Conrad's predecessor is said to have caught "cabin fever," locking himself in and playing the fiddle all day and night, refusing to do his duty until he threw himself overboard. A little fanciful perhaps, but a captivating nautical tale nonetheless.

Whatever the previous skipper's true fate, Conrad loved the ship, describing it as an "Arabian steed" during his time onboard in South East Asia and Australia. Conrad's time as a sailor heavily influenced his writing, including Heart of Darkness - his most famous work and the inspiration for director Francis Ford Coppola's Vietnam War epic Apocalypse Now.

As for the Otago, its life ended on the River Derwent, where it started as a coal storage vessel before being sold for a pound and dismantled for scrap. Today, the vessel's wheel sits in an historic maritime group's headquarters on the Thames in London, part of the stern is in Los Angeles and its wooden hatch calls a museum home.

But the hull of the Otago rests on unsung shores, beside the trickle of a storm water drain in the muddy tidal shallows of the Derwent. I visited the site to take the picture above, parking the hire car on the muddy verge and making my way along the water line on a cold afternoon. The birds picked at shells and discarded chip packets on the shoreline, their squawks accompanied by the occasional idling engine and hiss of the pneumatic doors as the No.530 bus made a brief stop on its suburban route - just a stone's throw from a piece of maritime, literary and cinematic history.

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