"Everything which would ordinarily go into the waste paper basket after use"

The washed-up map

The map

How strong is paper? Some people will go to ridiculous lengths to demonstrate the hardy qualities of paper, such as this small boat made out of paper which was used to sail across the North Sea. Experience tell us that paper will start to disintegrate on contact with water, reverting to its primal state of pulp, but there’s no reason why, properly reinforced and water-proofed, it can’t be used to build all sorts of things. After all, it is basically just wood, albeit in a refined form.

What about a single sheet of 90gsm though? Not just immersed in water but washed about in a salty maelstrom and subjected to the pounding forces of an angry sea. It wouldn’t stand a chance, would it?

Not so long ago, walking along a storm-tossed beach I came across this fragment of a map lying caught in the driftwood and assorted debris. This was in the wake, so to speak, of one of the biggest storms in recent years with huge tides surging up the beach. The amount of detritus flung above the high water mark was astonishing; mountains of wood, most of which had been swept out to sea from the nearby river which was in flood, as well as the usual collection of plastic rubbish – drink bottles, flip flops, polystyrene sculpted into rock-like formations, and endless discarded cigarette lighters, one Bic per metre.

And there, in amongst all the rusted and rotting debris, was this scrap of paper, a torn and ragged sliver of print, crushed and creased.

There is a frisson of excitement in discovering a fragment of paper on a beach. Perhaps it is a message from a far-off place, a plea for help from a lost castaway? And how much more exciting if it turns out to be a map. Treasure, of course! A map suggests a location, a point of origin from which a journey can be extrapolated. Possibly it is a destination too.

In this case, the map is of the Crowdy Bay National Park in NSW just down the coast from the beach where the fragment was found. It shows some of the camping areas in the park, in fact places where I’ve actually camped. It’s possible that the paper floated up the coast from Crowdy Bay before being swept onto the beach, which is nevertheless quite a journey for a piece of paper. Or maybe it came from somebody living locally and only had to travel a short distance.

Either way it’s remarkable it survived at all, considering how smashed up and broken some of the wood, metal and plastic items had become. It shouldn’t even exist at all.

And yet it does. Tough stuff, this paper.

shredded paper

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