On burning witches and sleeping with sick women
Our Prideland

The young man who just wanted to fly faces another challenge

Richard (Dick) BroomheadKEITH JACKSON

Living on the Edge of the Universe: Paradise can be Hell! by Richard Broomhead, Joshua Books, 256 pp, $29.95, ISBN: 978-0992300142. Also available from Amazon here as an e-book

THE last time I sat down and had a beer with Richard Broomhead was 50 years ago and he was flying nothing bigger than a LandRover.

But he told me then, as he had before whenever we met, that his heart was set on buying a DH84, a twin-engined biplane, at which time he would establish a charter airline business based in Kundiawa.

Not long after, in May 1965, the Kundiawa News reported that “a de Havilland 84 Dragon that was to have become the Chimbu area’s first resident aircraft will not arrive after all.

“Potential owner-pilot Richard Broomhead said that the Port Moresby Aero Club chief lying instructor told him he would not fly the Jackson’s Field practice circuit in the aircraft, let alone the highlands air routes.

“This made up Broomhead’s mind not to buy the doped fabric and plywood ex-crop duster.”

DH84s had been a common sight in the Territory before the advent of more modern aircraft, many ending their New Guinea careers as matchwood.

Well, many years later I learned from a Boeing 747 captain as we were flying over Europe, in those days when passengers were still allowed on the flight deck, that Richard had gone on to a stellar career in aviation.

At the time, I was told as we watched a myriad of intersecting contrails over France, Richard had risen to the senior rank of Qantas check captain, casting a practised and observant eye over other senior pilots to make sure they were up to scratch.

Just the other day in the Brisbane Courier-Mail, under the heading Ripper Read, columnist Des Houghton had this to say about Richard:

Former Qantas pilot Richard Broomhead looked sagely at the medical specialist. “How long have I got,” he asked.

“One year, maybe three,” was the reply. It was a rare form of skin cancer. The specialist wanted to know if he’d been exposed to much sun in his 65 years.

“The islands,” he thought.

And so begins Broomhead’s autobiography, a rollicking tale of how he managed a copra plantation in the remote South Pacific for two years when he was just 19.

He wouldn’t see a supply ship for four months at a time. When he got sick, he had to do with tribal medicine courtesy of the local natives.

Living on the Edge of the Universe is a beautifully written journal of a young man’s personal odyssey in difficult circumstances. It is set in the early 1960s and is a ripper read.

The promotional description of the book goes like this:

As the ship sails north to a remote group of islands, everything lies ahead for young Richard Broomhead. He is to become the manager of a copra plantation and begin his adventure.

As Richard adjusts to life on an exposed archipelago in the South Pacific, paradise quickly transforms into a living hell. Marooned for months on end with no supplies or contact with the outside world, Richard's sanity is threatened.

Living on the Edge of the UniverseAmong the many hardships, he is attacked by native workers wielding matches, as he struggles helplessly with loneliness and isolation.

A German baron and his castle, a bureaucratic Englishman and the beautiful island women are just some of the characters that round out this fast-paced memoir.

Exquisitely written, the author evokes powerful images of the islands' landscape.

Well, I don’t know about those match-wielding warriors (“give me a greenie or I’ll light a cigarette”) but the rest of it sounds good.

We’ll get a proper review for you down the track but, meanwhile, we convey our very best wishes for the fight ahead to the tall, red-haired man who just wanted to fly.


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Ron Price

Dick Broomhead, remember him well from the Wellington Aero Club. he even tried to pinch my girlfriend, showing off in his red soft top Triumph.

Seem to remember Bruce James saying you were his best ever CPL applicant. Bruce was livid when Bennett failed you on your first attempt.

Hope he is still with us.

Ian Quinn

Another ‘long shot’ - remember you well at the Wellington Aero Club and the farm photography business.

A few years later when I was with Crowley’s in PNG used have the occasional beer with Ken in Buin when he overnighted in the DC-3 and saw him at Oshkosh a few years back.

Gidday Frank also :-)

Frank Johnson

Hi Richard, just taking a 'long-shot'. still alive and kicking.

Frank Johnson

Richard Broomhead

I have just stumbled onto this feed and I thank you all for your kind comments. In reply:

Rob Parer: Mob 0418182600

John Rutter: the only Mendi based pilot who thought cash fares had to be repatriated to the company! I hope your aviation career was a happy one John.

Frank Johnson: 15yrs ago I was on hols in Queenstown and drove down to Invercargill to do 2 things. 1 Have a feed of Bluff Oysters and lobster. 2 find Frank who last heard of was a LAME with NAC there. Result some sort of disease in oysters and all lobsters exported to USA. No one knew Frank. Good to hear you are still in land of the living.Love to Maureen.

"Fums" Bladwell: I live 6mths on the Sunshine Coast and 6mth in Townsville glad to catch up.

Keith and Graham: Geoff was my brother, passed away from cancer aged 28. My contact rbroom@bigpond.net.au for any more signed books.

Rob Parer

Halfway through " Living on the Edge " & what an amazing writer as his descriptions of all he observed as an 18 year old kid are phenomenal.

Even every day stuff he brings to life.So once he gets to leaving his parents coffee plantation at Hagen & going to Madang to catch a coastal boat everything is new to him & can be seen through his eyes. Published in 2014 & wonder it hasn't won any awards!

I too went at the age of 17 to run Tadji Plantation at Aitape in 1954 & was there for over 50 years & heard so much of the fabled Western Islands of which Wuvulu Is. was only 80 miles from Aitape but never got to see any of them.

Over the years coastal boats " Meklon" "Sorengana" "Fatima Star" "Rudolf Whalen: and "Kathleen" came to pick up our copra & also went to various islands there & so heard so much about them.

The government boats were captained by legends. One legged Aarman Goya Henry, Commander Dick Tedd, Joe Patanach.

Laurie Thomas (aka The Screaming Skull) captained many small ships along the North-West Coast & was a bundle of tricks to say the least!

John Rutter

Just read your book, amazing stuff. Always new there was something more to you than a C185 Captain - remember the night, out of Mendi, ran out of light, slept in a smoke filled hut!!

Best regards Dick & well done with the book. John Rutter

Frank Johnson | Talair, 1966-72

Geoff was Richards father. My partner at that time used to work for the Broomhead's on clerical duties about 1969.

William Dunlop

Richard - What a great read, Brought back a lot of memories. Missed you in Chimbu by a couple of years.

Alan 'Waddles' Wardell was our resident TAL Qantas
cadet in 1969-70. His farewell to Chimbu was to do barrel roles in the push-pull Skymaster over Kundiawa.

I last saw Alan on the TAL plant and transport spare parts
charter I got a lift on from Rabaul to Kimbe in 1979.
He was on leave from Qantas and earning a few bob extra
from Junior Buchanan to enlarge his garage in Sydney.

I last ran into the late Bill 'Cunning Bill' Cunningham in a magnificent yacht in Kieta in 1978. He was en route from Hawaii to Lae.

He said to me: "Bill, I have an American lady with me. You can have her."

I replied: "Bill, I have my 24 year old bride at home. I'm
unable to help."

Richard I wish you and yours all the very best.

Keith Jackson

Slim Kaikai informs me that "Jeff Broomhead fell in love with the coffee rich country of Papua New Guinea while serving with the Royal Australian Air Force during WWII. In 1956, after the war was over, Geoff’s grandfather returned to Papua New Guinea with his wife and four sons", one of whom was Richard.

Murray 'Fums' Bladwell

Ah, warm memories of early Chimbu days. By any measure "Big Red" Dick Broomhead was always an imposing sight whenever he approached the bar of the Chimbu Club. From his carrot top to his tall and imposing frame and his friendly greeting of g'day.

This he did on a regular basis as he plied cargo along the mud-hole,which in those days was the Highlands Highway. If my fading memory serves me correctly, he drove for Buckland Transport and became a regular on the Kundiawa scene.

I know Dick worked long and hard to put himself through commercial pilot training. Clearly he made flying a highly successful career.

Wonderful to hear that Dick has put pen to paper to record his life and times in PNG during the 60's. Sad that it has been written under the pressure of fading health.

Dick, if you happen to read this post, I wish you all the best and hope to catch up for a coldie and a good yarn about our wonderful Chimbu days.

Of course on such an occasion,'Taddie" Jackson will also be good for a shout or two!

Graham Jones

Is Richard any relation to Geoff who managed a coffee plantation near the Banz-Kudjip road and whom we got to know quite well whilst we were at Banz (1963/64)?

I recall that he had relatives in that area. perhaps a reader could confirm this for us - KJ

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)