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Lost Things

Tuesday, 29 April, 2014

Illustrations by Mahalia Lodge

You’ve frantically taken everything out of your bag. Your heart starts to flutter, and that little pool of sweat begins to form under your arms. You’ve lost it yet again and all you can say is, “How the fuck did I lose that?”

Confusion and frustration start to consume you. It’s a form of torture. Your memory isn’t clear, and before you know it you’re methodically retracing your steps, mumbling madly along the way.

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Now imagine what you lost cost several million dollars, is at least 1000 times bigger than you, and the consequences of losing it are far more severe than personal vexation. Now maybe you can begin to understand the frustration of Malaysia Airlines. With radars, satellites and numerous countries available to help monitor and find such a large aircraft, just how did we lose an entire plane? With all the apps available, it’s almost harder to lose a phone.

But as history demonstrates, we’re actually pretty good at losing things. So much so that we’ve isolated and named a region notorious for lost things. Within the three corners of the Bermuda Triangle more than six aircrafts and their passengers, six ships and their crews, and two lighthouse keepers have disappeared. Whether it’s the the fault of the great Kraken or the lost city of Atlantis, we can’t begin to find a decent explanation for these coincidences, let alone the remains of the things we’ve lost there.

Sometimes we can lose things so spectacularly, it mirrors the plot of a pre-Oscar Matthew McConaughey movie. In an ocean off the coast of Colombia, lies two billion dollars worth of genuine Pirates of the Caribbean booty. The San Jose sunk in 1708, and with it lays submerged 344 tons of silver and gold, more than 100 chests of emeralds and the life savings of the Viceroy of Peru. Despite every man with a boat and a metal detector having given it a crack, we just can’t find this sunken treasure, and so with the jackpot still at large, the frustration boils on.

Maybe it’s just that we’re careless with money. Surely we would work harder to protect something more culturally and scientifically significant, right?

Unlike your favourite seasons of Scrubs, if you wished to relive one of the greatest scientific achievements of the 20th century, you’d be out of luck. The original footage of Neil Armstrong’s footprint on our moon is as lost as the San Jose. While there are plenty of copies, the original Apollo 11 tapes are missing. When you consider how useful those tapes could be today, the frustration intensifies. Modern technology could be used to yield a better quality image than those originally seen. But alas, we’ll never be able to see the curvature of that footprint in perfect 3D definition. The only decent footage of space we currently have features Clooney and Bullock—if only that went missing instead.

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Australia is also notorious for losing things. We once lost a plane en route from Melbourne to Sydney. Officials knew the approximate location of the plane, but the aircraft itself was lost for three decades. The Southern Cloud wasn’t even lost in a deep sea with raging currents—it was in a tract of bush land, and we still couldn’t find it.  And if it wasn’t for a hiker with a full bladder 30 years later, we may never have found it.

In comparison to losing a flight full of people, losing one man on a notorious beach isn’t that big a deal. Make that man the leader of the country however, and you have the recipe for the largest search operation in Australian history.

Taking a day off from a life of Cold War drama and Vietnamese War planning, our 17th Prime Minister, Harold Holt, went for a leisurely dip at his favourite beach. He was never seen again. With theories ranging from Chinese submarine interference to a decadent retirement announcement, the body of the nation’s most important man was never recovered. Portsea Beach was overturned frantically, but all that was there were a few very embarrassed bodyguards and an ocean devoid of Chinese submarines. Thankfully, Holt’s memory is forever immortalised in the construction of the Harold Holt Aquatic Centre. Rest assured, this time we learnt from our mistakes, bright red swimwear the mandatory uniform for the current Prime Minister. Now, if only we could stop sending things through the Bermuda Triangle.