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Library book returned after 33-year voyage

Matt Taylor and Donna Coutts, December 8, 2020 7:00PM Townsville Bulletin

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Townsville librarian Julie Zacchei with the book that went missing in 1987. Picture: Matt Taylor media_cameraTownsville librarian Julie Zacchei with the book that went missing in 1987. Picture: Matt Taylor


Reading level: green

A note inside a Townsville library book reads: “To the librarian, we are sorry that this book is a little overdue.”

“A little overdue” is a big understatement*. The book, borrowed in 1987, has travelled the oceans of the Earth on an epic* adventure, passed around among sailors for 33 years.

The story starts in 1983 when John Bertrand, the skipper* of the yacht Australia II won the America’s Cup, breaking a 132-year run of Americans winning the race.

It is one of the most famous achievements in Australian sporting history.

Two years later in 1985, Mr Bertrand’s book titled Born To Win: A lifelong struggle to capture the America’s Cup, was published.

The Townsville library bought a copy of the book in 1986 to add to its collection.

The adventures of the Townsville copy begin in 1987 when it was loaned out but not returned. What had happened to the book remained a mystery for 33 years, until now.

The book arrived back at the Townsville Library in November, with its journey now inscribed* throughout the pages.

Book media_cameraSome of the notes inside the returned library book. Picture: Matt Taylor
Book media_camera“Your mission, should you choose to accept, is to get this book back to Townsville …” Picture: Matt Taylor
Book media_cameraA note written in 1990 from Gibraltar. Picture: Matt Taylor

The first messages in the book detail the journey the book was about to embark* on. “To the yachtie, please pass this book onto another westbound yachtie. The idea being that it will eventually find it’s way around the world and return to its rightful owner, the Townsville Library.

“To the librarian, we are sorry that this book is a little overdue, but we have all enjoyed reading it. Thanks.”

A note on the following page gives readers a second challenge.

“Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to get this book back to Townsville and Thuringowa Library Service. Another challenge is to pronounce this.”

Notes within the book are marked with locations including Kastellorizo, Greece; Palma, Spain; the Scandinavian leg of someone’s journey plus Gothenburg, Sweden; and Gibraltar (a UK island off Spain).

The final message is from the person who returned the book to the library, having found the book on their newly purchased yacht called Roama in Tasmania.

Librarian Julie Zacchei said it’s impossible to know if the original borrowers loaned it out with the intention* of not returning the book.

“I’m not sure whether they read it and thought it was just such a great thing because they themselves were on a yacht sailing around and wanted to share that with their community,” she said.

“There is no late fees with Townsville City Council, over the years we’ve scrapped our late fees and our theory on that is it’s better to get the books back than not.”

Book media_cameraThe book with a note from the person who finally returned it to Townsville, Queensland. Picture: Matt Taylor


  • understatement: making something out to be smaller or less important than it really is
  • epic: long and difficult task
  • skipper: captain of a boat or ship
  • inscribed: marked with writing
  • embark: set off on
  • intention: an aim or plan


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  1. What was returned and to where?
  2. What is the book about?
  3. Name three places it had been.
  4. Who is Julie?
  5. Why won’t there be a fine?


1. Born to Win
Work with a partner to write a short poem or song verse about this book and its travels around the world. You could use sarcasm and humour to make it funny or take it from a more serious angle about the places the book has been.

Share your verse with the class.

Time: allow 25 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Personal and social, Critical and creative thinking

2. Extension
If you were the school or local librarian, trying to ensure books get returned so others can enjoy, what measures would you put in place?

What would make you return your books on time?

Should they be fined or what else would help them return their books?

Time: allow 10 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Critical and creative thinking

A Page in Time
Choose a location (or a few) to create a journal entry that might be inscribed into one of the pages of the book. Think about where you are, what you are doing, why you are there and why you have the book. Try to include who you passed it on to as well.

Use your VCOP skills to engage with the audience.

Make sure you read your entry aloud to edit and up-level, before sharing it with a peer.

Extra Reading in geography