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Diving into a dream job at sea

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Columnist for The Canberra Times

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Marine archeologist Martijn Manders diving at Naples.

Marine archeologist Martijn Manders diving at Naples. Photo: Supplied

Readers, what do you want to be when you grow up? Here's a suggestion.

''Yes, it is as wonderful as it sounds,'' Dr Martijn Manders said when we put it to him that his work as a maritime archaeologist (he dives to search ancient shipwrecks and long-submerged civilisations) sounded enviably wonderful. Can it possibly be, we marvelled, as great as it sounds?

Manders confirmed that, yes, it is an amazing job and that, ''sometimes I think to myself that to do all this kind of work and be paid for it [we'd just been discussing his work on a submerged ancient Roman villa in the Bay of Naples, where this lovely photograph of him was taken] I must be the luckiest person in the world. I am a lucky bastard.''

Manuka Pool in the 1930s.

Manuka Pool in the 1930s. Photo: Supplied

Dutchman Manders, head of the maritime program for the Netherlands' Ministry of Education, Culture and Science - and involved with the UNESCO Foundation and advanced courses for underwater cultural heritage management - is giving an ''all ages'' presentation at Questacon on Thursday.

''All ages'' means there will be children, but Manders thinks he'll be able to keep them engaged because it just so happens that some of his work has exciting Pirates of the Caribbean qualities. The film series partakes of the piratical goings-on in the 17th century at Port Royal in Jamaica (''it was the pirate city; it was the wickedest and richest city in the world'' the archaeologist enthuses) and Manders works there in waters where, he marvels, ''you see wine bottles on the sea floor''.

He'll also be able to keep attention at the talk with the experiences of his dives to a fabled ghost ship. It sank in the 17th century and now stands - eerily upright, intact and ghostly - on the seabed 130 metres beneath the surface off Swedish waters of the Baltic Sea.

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At Naples, he is involved in urgent conservation work at the underwater archaeology park of Baiae.

In our picture, he is at the statue-festooned Pisonian Villa, a fabulous mansion (thermal baths, spacious gardens, vast fish-breeding pools, still-surviving mosaic floors) built in the first century BC and at first belonging (until they fell foul of the Emperor Nero) to the aristocratic Piso family.

You'll be sorry (perhaps even raging ''shiver me timbers'' to yourself) if you miss Manders' presentation at Questacon at 2pm on Thursday, October 10.

 

Come on in, water's fine, and the kids are worth it

This Saturday's Manuka Celebrates jamboree (another of the fruits of our Centenary celebrations) will include displays of photographs of Manuka in the olden days. And Manuka's olden days are especially olden by Canberra's adolescent standards, with work commencing in 1925 on the building of Manuka's shops.

Here is a photograph from the display taken of frolickers at the Canberra Swimming Pool (Manuka Pool) in the pre-Speedos days when the smuggling of budgies was done more in a more censorial manner than today. Notice how chaste the men's costumes are, smuggling and concealing not only budgies but almost all of the rest of the blush-making fronts of men's bodies.

We haven't quite, yet, been able to find the date for when the photograph was taken, but it won't surprise if it was close to the Australia Day 1931 of the official opening of the city's long-awaited first swimming baths. It sounds as if the £12,000 cost of the pool must have knotted the knickers of Australians already likely to seethe about the federal capital at Canberra being a terrible waste of money. In his speech at the official opening the Minister for Home Affairs, Mr Blakeley, felt the need to tackle these critics and to justify the costs.

He gave a most imaginative cost-benefit analysis.

The Canberra Times reported him saying that ''He had been given many reasons why the swimming pool should not be constructed at the present time in Canberra … but there were economical considerations. According to the opinion of the Commonwealth Statistician, every child under the age of 21 years was worth £2100 to the country. In Canberra there were 3935 children under the age of 21 … and if they were to capitalise on that human wealth it would amount to [according to the reported figure] £6,170,000; so by establishing the baths if the government was instrumental in saving the life of only one child a year by having taught it to swim the Commonwealth would have been amply compensated.

''Mr Blakeley said that within the last few days there had been worked up a crusade of hate against Canberra … All kinds of statements had been made to the effect that Canberra should be scrapped. But if such a policy could possibly be carried out the £10,000,000 already expended upon Canberra would be wasted to the People of Australia, although the payment of interest would have to continue and the Commonwealth Parliament would have to be moved to Sydney or Melbourne. It would create a lot of discussion if the people of Sydney and Melbourne were asked to decide where the Federal Capital would be be. Interjector's voice: It would cause a civil war (laughter).''

What organisers are calling Manuka's ''massive centenary party'' of festivities on Saturday will last from 10am to 9pm. All of the events are free.

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