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.
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.