Wreck of Australia’s first sub, lost in 1914, discovered

Australia’s most-enduring naval mystery was solved this week with the discovery of its first submarine, which went missing off the coast of Papua New Guinea in the opening weeks of World War I.

HMAS AE1 disappeared on Sept. 14, 1914, after a successful mission to help capture the territory then known as German New Guinea. It had been in service just seven months.

The submarine went down with 35 men onboard. AE1 was the first Allied submarine lost in the First World War and the first ship lost by the Royal Australian Navy.

AE1, which had a crew made up of men from Australians, New Zealand and Great Britain on board, was found in nearly 1,000 feet of water, off the coast of the Duke of York Islands, in east Papua New Guinea.

“After 103 years, Australia’s oldest naval mystery has been solved,” Defense Minister Marise Payne told reporters in Sydney. “This is one of the most significant discoveries in Australia’s naval maritime history… The loss of AE1 in 1914 was a tragedy for our then fledgling nation.”

The expedition that discovered the sub was the 13th search for the craft since 1976. AE1 was found by the search vessel Fugro Equator, which was also used by Australia to hunt for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370.

The official cause behind the loss of AE1 has yet to be determined. However, retired Rear Admiral Peter Briggs, who worked on the search, told The Australian that he believed the cause was most likely “a diving accident,” according to a story in The Guardian.

“The submarine appears to have struck the bottom with sufficient force to dislodge the fin from its footing, forcing it to hinge forward on its leading edge, impacting the casing,” he said.

A small commemorative service was held upon the discovery of AE1 by those aboard the search vessel, and descendants of the crew will be notified of the finding.

“For Navy, it demonstrates the persistence of a view that fellow mariners always have – that is, we always seek to find those who have sacrificed so much for our country [so they can] actually lay to rest,” said Royal Australian Navy Vice Admiral Tim Barrett.

(Top: AE1, foreground, with other Australian ships off Rabaul on Sept. 9, 1914, less than a week before it sank.)

Spectacular violet diamond to go on tour this week

argyle violet diamond

An “impossibly rare” violet diamond, plucked deep from a remote mine in the north of Western Australia, will go on tour later this week, with an estimated value of nearly $4 million.

The gemstone, originally 9.17 carats, was the largest jewel of its kind ever discovered when found last summer at Rio Tinto’s Argyle mine. It has since been polished down to a 2.83 carat oval-shaped beauty.

“Rio Tinto said that the jewel had been assessed by the Gemological Institute of America, and while they said it would be the centerpiece of their upcoming show, they would not disclose its estimated value,” according to the website Red Orbit. “However, the firm noted that they expected to receive a significant amount of interest from potential buyers, and some figures suggest it could bring in $3.96 million.”

The diamond has been assessed by the Gemological Institute of America as a “notable diamond with the color grade of Fancy Deep Greyish Bluish Violet.”

Site of Argyle Diamond Mine, in the East Kimberley region in north of Western Australia.

Site of Argyle Diamond Mine, in the East Kimberley region in north of Western Australia.

“It is not known how diamonds acquire their colored tinge but it is thought to come from a molecular structure distortion as the jewel forms in the earth’s crust or makes its way to the surface,” according to Agence France-Presse.

The Argyle Violet is the largest such diamond Rio Tinto had ever recovered from the mine.

London-based Rio Tinto said that violet diamonds are extremely rare, and that only 12 carats of such polished stone have been produced during the 32 years the Argyle mine has been in operation.

Other unusually colored diamonds, including those that are pink or red, are typically worth 50 times more than regular white diamonds, the firm told the Daily Mail. Some of them have even sold for as much as $1.95 million per carat, it said.

The Argyle Violet gem was polished in Western Australia by one of Argyle’s master polishers, according to a Rio Tinto press release. The diamond’s tour will take it to Copenhagen, Hong Kong and New York, the company added.

(Top: The Argyle Violet diamond – the big, purty one – next to smaller diamonds.)

Australian searchers may have located long-lost submarine

ae1-submarine

The latest effort to locate the Australian submarine HMAS AE1, lost 100 years ago this month, have proved tantalizing but inconclusive so far.

Earlier this month an Australian navy vessel searching for the submarine, which went missing Sept. 14, 1914, with 35 men on board, reported “a contact of interest” in the Papua New Guinea search area.

The loss of the AE1 in the opening weeks of World War I took place after the Australian fleet sailed to New Guinea to capture the Germany colony on Britain’s behalf. The objective was to take out telegraph stations providing key communications for the German Pacific Fleet, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

“We need to get more detailed analysis. That is what we are doing at the moment,” according to a source with the Australian defense department. “Different sources, not only military, need to see if it fits the submarine’s profile. We have found items here before.

“If you look on the chart it is one of the most wreck-strewn areas in the region.”

The AE1 was the first submarine to serve in the Royal Australian Navy and was lost after less than seven months in service.

The disappearance was Australia’s first major loss of World War I.

Military historian and author Dr. Kathryn Spurling told Fairfax Media she believed the submarine stumbled across a hidden German boat.

“It didn’t even have to be an armed German boat,” she said. “The submarine was so small it would only have to be rammed by the German boat to go over topsy-turvy and it would go straight down.

“The only way the submarine could protect itself or attack the German boat was to submerge and as a submarine just goes beneath the water it is incredibly vulnerable and unstable, especially if you have a bad engine, which they did,” Spurling added. “I think that is the most logical way it was lost.”

(Top: Image showing HMAS AE1 in 1914, shortly before it set out on its final voyage.)

Italian author, survivor of Russian Front, dies

italian prisoners of war on the eastern front

From the standpoint of the average soldier, there have been some pretty miserable military alliances over the past century.

The Australians and New Zealanders who ended up at Gallipoli in World War I at the behest of the British; Newfoundlanders cut down at the Somme, also fighting for the British; and most Arab soldiers who found themselves going up against Israelis between 1948 and 1973, would all have likely wondered what their nations had got them into.

But probably no group of Allies was more poorly served in the 20th century than those of Nazi Germany.

Hitler, who was only too happy to feed his own divisions into the seemingly endless maw of death that was World War II in his attempt to take over Europe, had absolutely no compunctions about frittering away the troops of collaborating nations.

Hundreds of thousands of Italian, Hungarian and Romanian soldiers, for example, perished in miserable conditions on the Eastern Front alongside their German partners.

One of the more striking accounts of this lesser-known aspect of the war was written by Eugenio Corti, an Italian officer who died earlier this month at 93.

Corti is best known for The Red Horse, a 1,000-page novel based on his experience during and after World War II. First published in 1983, it has gone through 25 editions.

But in his 1947 work Few Returned: Twenty-Eight Days on the Russian Front, Winter 1943-1943, Corti vividly described the utter hopeless of a soldier’s life on the Russian Front during the war.

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Where ‘the ground becomes a moving carpet’

Christmas Island crabs

Whenever I want to get a surefire “Ew!” from my daughters I need only suggest we visit a certain locale – any locale, as long as it’s at least 25 miles away and seems remote to them – where, I tell them, there is a reported hatch of snakes/skinks/giant leopard frogs/etc., a hatch so vast and all-encompassing that when one views the surrounding countryside, it appears that the ground is moving.

Unfortunately, I have actually yet to come across such a scene, and, as difficult as it may be to believe, my girls are beginning to doubt the veracity of my claims.

However, were I able to get them to Christmas Island, an Australian territory in the middle of the Indian Ocean, all would be good again.

Christmas Island, more than 1,400 miles northwest of Perth, Australia, is populated by 100 million crabs, many of which are Christmas Island red crabs.

Late each year, “the ground becomes a moving red carpet as tens of millions of endemic red crabs leave their forest burrows and scuttle to the shore in order to spawn,” according to Slate magazine.

This migration often causes havoc for the residents by blocking traffic on the island’s roads, according to Geoscience Australia, a website produced by the Australian government.

“This abundance of land crabs is not matched by any other island and has been described as one of the wonders of the natural world,” according to Geoscience Australia.

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Sad day for fans of the pig-footed bandicoot

pig-footed bandicoot

Good news came down this week for individuals who buy and sell pig-footed bandicoots: the ban on international trade of the small marsupial was lifted by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.

The bad news is that the embargo was removed because the pig-footed bandicoot, native to Australia, is believed to have been extinct for approximately 60 years.

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species also lifted bans on trade of the Tasmanian tiger and the buff-nosed kangaroo rat for the same reason, according to Agence France-Presse.

The pig-footed bandicoot was native to western New South Wales and Victoria, the southern part of the Northern Territory as well as South Australia and Western Australia, according to a 19th century guide to marsupials.

It had a wide range of habitat, from grassy woodland to grassland plains into even desert-like plains, according to the website Red Orbit.

The pig-footed bandicoot had a body size of 8 to 10 inches long, with a 6-inch tail. It possessed long, slender limbs, large, pointed ears, and a long tail. Its body looked not unlike a cross between a large shrew and a reasonably well-fed Chihuahua.

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Aussie prospector hits it big with $300K find

australian gold nugget

An Australian prospector using a handheld metal detector hit the mother lode Wednesday, unearthing a gold nugget weighing 177 ounces, or more than 11 pounds.

The individual, who did not want to be identified, was searching for gold in the Australian state of Victoria when he found the nugget, valued at more than $300,000.

Using a state-of-the-art metal detector, the prospector located the nugget about two feet below the surface in an area which had been searched many times in the past, according to the BBC.

The Y-shaped nugget, 8.7 inches long and 5.5 inches wide, was found near the country town of Ballarat and in an area known as the “Golden Triangle” due to its rich veins which sparked a gold rush in the 1850s, according to Reuters.

Ballarat Mining Exchange Gold Shop owner and dealer Cordell Kent said the prospector heard a faint noise on his detector and removed a dense pile of leaf mulch before he started digging, according to The Advertiser of Adelaide.

“He thought he had detected the (hood) of a car when he saw a glint of gold,” Kent said. “He cleaned the top of it and the gold kept expanding and expanding … he saw more and more gold … he couldn’t believe what he was seeing.”

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Australia sets up preserve for Tasmanian devils

In the old Looney Tunes shorts, there was little besides a street-smart rabbit that could stop the Tasmanian devil.

Real-life, however, hasn’t been so kind to the once-prevalent marsupial.

An extremely contagious facial tumor has ravaged the species, leaving it endangered and forcing authorities to begin breeding a population in captivity to ensure it doesn’t go extinct.

Now, in an effort to start a self-sustaining population free of the devastating facial tumors, a group of 14 Tasmanian devils has been transferred and released on Australia’s Maria Island, a nature sanctuary off the country’s east coast.

The animals were carefully selected from captive breeding programs across Australia, according to Agence France-Presse.

“The Maria Island translocation … will strengthen the insurance population of disease-free Tasmanian devils, help preserve wild traits in the insurance population and provide genetic stock for future reintroductions,” Tasmania’s Environment Minister Brian Wightman said.

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Life lesson: blast fishing & no teeth a bad idea

Reason No. 375 why newspapers are struggling: The stories just aren’t as captivating as they once were.

Take the following account from the June 18, 1943, Morning Bulletin of Rockhampton, Australia, recounted by the blog buried words and bushwa:

CAIRNS (Australia) – Defying all attempts at removal, a small fish which entered Samuel Attard’s throat, head first, while he was swimming in the Russell River this afternoon, was the cause of a most unusual tragedy.

Attard, who was a maltose cane cutter, aged 34, had been swimming in the river with a mate, who on missing him, searched and found him at the foot of a 30 ft. bank in distress. At first they were unable to find the cause of the trouble, but when the tail of a fish was seen in the back of his throat the ambulance at Babinda, 13 miles away, was sent for. Their efforts to remove the fish failed and artificial respiration was unavailing. So completely had the fish blocked his throat that it was impossible to pass a tube. Later an attempt to provide air by way of an opening in the throat was also tried, but it was unsuccessful.. When a doctor arrived he pronounced life extinct.

Buried words and bushwa didn’t leave it at that, however. The blog followed up the newspaper story by reading about the coroner’s inquest.

It turns out that Attard’s demise came because he employed a method of fishing known as dynamiting, or blast fishing, which consists of tossing explosives into a body of water, then scooping up stunned and dead fish when they float to the surface.

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