SHIP COMES IN
Sweet dusty Alotau

IN PAPUAN WATERS

Coral Sea, Sunday – There is something very calming about the irregular motion of a ship ploughing across a long rolling swell. Awakening as usual at 3.30 am for some night-time pondering (like ‘why do I keep waking at 3.30 am?’) I can feel Orion moving around me. It’s like being gently rocked in a giant cradle.

Yesterday evening, after Australian Security, Customs and Migration conspired to render meaningless the word ‘efficiency’, Orion slipped casually out of Cairns with the city and its embracing hills slowly drifting from view. With Beethoven’s seventh on the stateroom CD revving me up, I was overflowing with anticipation.

At Trinity Wharf, waiting for Australian Security etc to do their thing, I spoke with a young East Sepik immigration officer who’d flown from Moresby to process passports for tomorrow morning’s landfall at Alotau. She agreed she had one a great job. And she was very proud that her boss was Prime Minister Michael Somare.

Orion is not full: there are 59 passengers on board of a potential 100. But there’s not a bed available for the second leg out of Rabaul. The old New Guinea hands obviously set to come to the party. Few travellers on this Cairns to Rabaul sector are old TPNG hands. Most being Aussies of my age group wanting to experience the delights of expedition travel.

As we near the Papuan coast the afternoon has brought rain and I write this log to the theme from ‘Titanic’ (My Heart Will Go On). It should’ve been played through the ship’s Tannoy (I’m acclimatising to maritime life) during this morning’s lifeboat drill.

We enter Alotau at dawn tomorrow. Here, in the words of Field-Marshal Sir William Slim, "Australian troops … inflicted on the Japanese their first undoubted defeat on land. Of all the allies, it was the Australians who first broke the invincibility of the Japanese army”.

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Ben Jackson

59 Passengers out of 100? Do they still have the 75 crew? Does that mean you get your own personal crew member?

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