Message found in the nick of time

Finding messages in bottles is becoming second nature to Houhora man Geoff Flood, but his third recent find on 90 Mile beach was a special one.

Geoff had a feeling it was special as soon as he spotted the P&O; ship symbol, and he was right. It had been 'posted' 76 years before.

"My partner, Leanne [McAlees], was struggling to get the note out and was just about to smash the bottle but I made her stop. We took it home and carefully removed what was inside with bits of wire," Geoff said.

The bottle was found at the high tide mark near Hukatere, and Geoff was convinced that it would not have survived another tide.

"It had obviously sat up on the beach for a few days and dried out, and the cork had sucked into the bottle. A few days later and the tide would've got it and the note would've been mush," he said.

Inside was a handwritten note on P&O; stationery, complete with a picture of the ship the note is thought to have come from, the SS Strathnaver.

Handwritten on March 17, 1936, it read: "At sea. Would the finder of this bottle kindly forward this note, where found, date, to undermentioned address."

It was signed HE Hillbrick, 72 Richmond Street, Leederville, Western Australia.

The Strathnaver, an ocean liner launched in 1931 and operated by the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company, was the sister ship of the RMS Strathaird. Known as the White Sisters, both sailed the Australian mail route, travelled on the Sydney run in the mid-1930s.

The bottle was the third find of its kind for Geoff, who in the last year has found a message from a man in Australia, and another, also from across the Tasman, from two 14-year-old girls. Both turned up on 90 Mile Beach, after a year in the water.

He hasn't replied to the second message; he's leaving that task up to his 15-year-old son.

"I just thought 'wow,' particularly after having the other two notes that were only a year old and so degraded. This one is in very good condition," he said last week.

Meanwhile, Leanne has been doing some investigative work on-line, and has discovered a Herbert Ernest Hillbrick, which led to his grandson Peter in Western Australia. Geoff spoke to him last week, and received the expected reaction.

"He was dumbfounded. Blown away were his words," he said.

"I'm going to email him the articles and copies of the note and stuff. He couldn't actually speak he was so shocked.'

Leanne also discovered that the most enduring message in a bottle was one found in Scotland 98 years after it was dispatched, making this one "quite significant". The couple are unsure about what they will do with it, but have been advised by Te Papa to keep the note in acid-free paper.

"It's just amazing to think of the journey this bottle has been through over the years. You can guarantee it's been on other beaches," Geoff added.

"We are hoping to find out where in the ocean the boat was when the bottle was thrown over."

Five-year-old son Shayde thinks it's "pretty cool", saying he was looking forward to showing his friends at school.

- Northland Age

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