THE late, great Joe Nombri and I used to share a house at Kiunga on the Fly River in the late 1960s.
Joe was a founding member of the dangerously subversive PANGU Pati and the Poohbahs in Port Moresby thought it wise to keep him as far away from there as possible.
In those days Kiunga was a quiet little backwater. Kennecott had a laydown area and a small camp on the river just downstream from the station but it was early days and nobody knew that the mineral deposit they had sniffed out at Ok Tedi would one day be a huge mine.
Nothing much happened at Kiunga. Between patrols Joe and I used to hunt crocodiles to feed the kalabus and to make a few bucks on the side from the skins.
Joe used the money to buy Bird of Paradise plumes that he took back to Simbu when he went on leave. He had a patrol box full in his room ready to go.
Apart from the croc shooting we used to fill in time fishing. There was a really good spot near the Kennecott camp where barramundi and the occasional catfish used to hang out.
There had been a garden there but the grass had reclaimed it. We used to set ourselves up on the breezy knoll above the river in deck chairs and cast our handlines down into the water.
That year was one of those unusually dry ones and the river was very low and the water was sluggish but clearer than normal.
One day Joe pulled in a nice barramundi and flicked it into the grass where he could retrieve the hook and despatch it.
This particular fish was a bit of a fighter though and managed to rid itself of the hook and flip and flop into the longer grass.
Joe was trying to re-catch it when some new chums from the Kennecott camp strolled by. They stopped to watch Joe crawling around in the grass.
“What are you doing mate?” one of the bolder ones asked with a puzzled look on his face.
“Fishing!” Joe muttered and looked up at him.
Joe paused. This will be interesting I thought.
“Yeah, I’m fishing,” he said slowly.
“In the grass?”
“Yeah, in the grass.”
“Wouldn’t it be better to try the river?” one of the others smirked.
Joe looked him in the eye.
“No mate, didn’t you know, when the river is low like this and not flowing very fast the fish run out of tucker, they come up here looking for insects and stuff.”
The Kennecott guys all chuckled. This guy is nuts they were thinking.
Just then Joe felt the tail of his absconding barramundi in the grass. He grabbed it and held it triumphantly aloft.
“Here’s another one!” he grinned looking at me.
“Put it in the bucket,” I said. “I thought I saw a catfish over by that old banana plant, see if you can flush him out too.”
Joe gave me a wicked grin.
“Do you guys want to help?” he asked. “I reckon if we surround it, it won’t be able to get away.”
The Kennecott guys all looked at each other for about three seconds and then got down on their hands and knees and started rummaging around in the grass.