WHEN I was transferred to the Western District in 1969 I assumed that my previous misdemeanors had simply caught up with me and I accepted my fate with no real misgivings.
Apart from the opportunity to get to some very out of the way places, there was another potential benefit to my banishment not readily available in my previous posting in the Western Highlands. That was the opportunity to patrol in boats.
I had spent many enjoyable days on the River Murray in South Australia as a boy pottering around in old clinker built boats around Swan Reach and Blanchetown.
These were the days before the carp invaded and muddied the water. In those days there were many native fish to catch, including giant cod.
As I flew up from dear decrepit Daru to Kiunga and watched the great serpentine Fly River unwind below, I thought of Kenneth Grahame and his wonderful book The Wind in the Willows. In particular I remembered the words of the River Rat:
Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing — absolutely nothing — half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats. Simply messing... about in boats — or with boats. In or out of 'em, it doesn't matter. Nothing seems really to matter, that's the charm of it.
Whether you get away, or whether you don't; whether you arrive at your destination or whether you reach somewhere else, or whether you never get anywhere at all, you're always busy, and you never do anything in particular; and when you've done it there's always something else to do, and you can do it if you like, but you'd much better not.
At Kiunga, then a tiny sub-district headquarters, I was delighted to conduct my first few patrols in the station workboat, MV Jade.
The Jade had a sister vessel MV Emerald down south at Morehead. They were both wooden and powered by ancient and cantankerous diesel engines.
I have no idea how old they were or where they were built. The Jade was kitted out in white livery with dark green trim. The interior was painted a beige-come-brown colour. She had a cabin of sorts for the Kiwai skipper and his crew of one and a solid overhead canopy that ran back from the wheelhouse to the stern with canvas awnings on the side that could be lowered in inclement weather.
The top of the canopy was a great place to perch with a deck chair and a thick novel as the boat chugged along at just over walking speed. You could also keep an eye on the fishing lines trailing in the wake from up there.
Later I patrolled in single dugout canoes with outboards and, on one remarkable occasion, in a double-hulled canoe that we manhandled up the Elevala River. Otherwise we got around in De Havilland River Trucks, a sort of oversized punt.
All of these were powered by the standard issue black Mercury 35hp outboards, some of which had the lethal habit of popping into gear when being started.
The pleasant river sojourns were curtailed about 18 months later when I was sent into the Star Mountains and later to Nomad River. No boats in those places, just hard walking.
I can’t remember the name of the old wooden Balimo workboat but it was pleasant to potter up and down the Aramia River. I think she may have been called simply A6.
Later I took her up the Soari River to build a chopper pad from which to conduct a search for a missing Beechcraft Baron.
I often wonder what happened to those trusty old workboats. I wish I’d taken a picture of the Jade, she only lives in my memory now. I guess she’s slowly rotting away in a backwater somewhere.
Or maybe, just maybe, someone’s got her and she’s still chugging on.