GOLD COAST - I had sent two men on ahead to notify the people at the airstrip construction site that we were coming and to bring some food back for us.
By mid-afternoon I was starting to get a bit worried that my patrol might have been misdirected. We had only enough food for another night or so and I had used most of my own tinned food to help the carriers.
Then, at about 3pm, I heard voices ahead and we met three men with bilums of cucumbers and fresh food. I took a cucumber and sent the rest back to carriers.
I ate the cucumber whole, like I would an apple, and have never tasted anything more delicious. Fresh food, after three days of preserved and boiled food, was is marvellous.
We finally arrived at airstrip site just as it was getting dark. You could see why these people wanted an airstrip, they were so far away from anyone. Remote took on a new meaning.
There had been good preparation. The people had planted food gardens where they were going to clear and level the land. The villagers ate the food as gardens were cleared and levelled for the strip and its surrounds.
I supervised work for two days but it was clear the people knew what they were doing. The plans made by previous patrols were being followed to the letter.
But I did erect two flag poles and raise two flags at the patrol camp site rather than the usual one.
The Australian flag was raised alongside the new Papua New Guinea national flag - the new PNG flag slightly lower than the Australian flag as self-government had not actually been granted at that stage. It was due very soon in 1972.
Having drawn up a report of how the airstrip construction was progressing, the patrol departed for Wau, taking a different route to the one we had previously taken.
There were more villages on this track but there was a notoriously steep climb, almost straight up a mountainside.
The villagers who lived near the top had built an extensive water reticulation system using bamboo pipes. I was parched and checked out the water, however it wasn’t the cleanest and I went thirsty until the next stream.
A mate on the next patrol drank some of the reticulated water. Poor bloke ended up with hepatitis.
One more bush camp and we arrived back in the Wau area at the roadhead. As usual, the thought of a cold South Pacific Lager kept me going for the last stretch.
You might have seen the ad. The one where the green bottle has droplets of condensation slowly sliding down. You can almost taste the contents on your tongue and gliding down your throat.
While I was stationed in Wau, there was a stream of volunteers who wanted to know when the next patrol was leaving.
Apparently, at the end of the patrol and having been well fed and doled out the accumulated pay, the carriers reckoned the work wasn't all that bad.