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An Australian Town’s Identity Rests on a Ship That May Not Exist



Between 1836 and 1880, the remains of a shipwreck were visible in the sand dunes near Warrnambool on the Shipwreck Coast of Victoria, Australia. It was one of many, which is how the Shipwreck Coast got its name. This particular wreck was unusually flat-bottomed and was said to have been there so long that it was part of Gunditjmara Aboriginal folklore. Influential writers speculated that it was Portuguese, but it was only after the sands of time had reclaimed the wreckage that the legend of the Mahogany Ship took hold.

In 1977, the Portuguese theory was resurrected—and seemingly confirmed—by a book called The Secret Discovery of Australia, written by lawyer and historian, the late Kenneth McIntyre. McIntyre asserted that the Mahogany Ship was one of a trio of caravels captained by Cristóvão de Mendonça in 1522 on a covert exploration through Spanish-controlled waters. Ironically, the ships were searching for another bit of maritime lore: Marco Polo’s fabled island of gold, Jave la Grande. According to McIntyre, Mendonça successfully charted the east coast of Jave la Grande before changing course for home after the Mahogany Ship sank in a perilous storm.

McIntyre's theory rested more on speculation than evidence, but the book went to the reading list at Australian schools, and the town of Warrnambool hosts a Portuguese cultural festival in honor of the early explorers who supposedly left the Mahogany Ship behind. The buried wreck has not been found, but continues to draw scientists and treasure hunters to Warrnambool. Read the legend of the Mahogany Ship as we know it at Atlas Obscura.


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There are multiple reading lists. Required reading, recommended reading, etc. And they vary by class also. For example the reading lists for English Literature (a year 11 and 12 higher level English class that was available when I was in highschool) would be very different than those for other classes. We (Australia) also tend to refer to university in the meaning of "at school" a lot more than I see in reference to the USA. My guess is it was in the reading for a particular university class. It was certainly never widespread or ubiquitous.
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"McIntyre’s book was on Australian school reading lists for years" (from the article) and "became required reading in Australian schools" (as you claim) do not mean the same thing. Signed - An Australian.
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