The year was 1204. In Constantinople, the Fourth Crusade had finally ended, leaving the two warring groups of Christians licking their wounds. Some members of the Varangian Guard – the Viking- and Rus-descended elite warriors who fought for the Byzantine Emperor, had had enough. They did not wish to fight with fellow Christians again. The Emperor, although sad to lose them – particularly after the losses of the Crusade – realised that the loyalty of the remainder would hang on his decision. He chose to be magnanimous, asking only that they swear to never take up arms against him or his heirs.

So it was that several dozen men and women of the Varangians struck out south east from Constantinople, travelling overland along the trade routes until they reached the headwaters of the Euphrates. Here, they travelled downstream until they judged the river deep enough – and then they built a small flotilla of drakkars (viking longboats), and sailed them down the river into the Persian Gulf.

They did not go a-reaving, due mostly to the entirely sensible realisation that most of their potential targets outnumbered them. Instead, they engaged in a little trade and a little fishing, and sailed eastward along the southern coast of Asia at a lazy rate. It took nearly a decade for them to reach Singapore. Here, they encountered trading seafarers from the Song Dynasty of China, and learned of the mysteries of gunpowder.

This caused something of a divide in their ranks. Although the two factions continued to travel together, there was much dispute about how honourable the use of gunpowder bombs was between the groups, with the majority believing it to not be in the true Varangian way. As the dispute worsened, the small fleet made its way south and east, island hopping through Indonesia until they reached the Torres Strait on Midsummer’s Day, 1229. From here, it was decided to follow the coastline south – and the further south they went, the more they found the climate to their liking. Finally, on a rainy winter’s day, the Varangians made the dangerous crossing of the Rip at the mouth of Port Phillip Bay, and liked what they saw.

It was decided that they would settle here, although the dispute between the pro-gunpowder and anti-gunpowder factions had by that time reached such a pitch that they decided to create one settlement for each faction. The gunpowder users followed a promising-looking lagoon inland from the east side of the bay, while the other, and larger, portion of their fellows continued north.

The gunpowder users found themselves stranded in swampy land a few miles inland when the tide went out, but eventually settled on the highest ground they could find. Here, they built a single longhall which they named “Bang Holme”. The winter was harsh, however, and although the local game was plentiful, it was too different to what they knew, and too difficult to hunt. Their gunpowder explosives, though primitive by modern standards, were loud and frightening to the native peoples of the region. By the time that a party from the other Varangian settlement (named “Skildar” and sited at modern St Kilda) arrived the following summer, they had all succumbed to starvation, leaving only the name of their home on the tongues of the Kulin people, to be adopted six hundred years later by other white settlers.

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