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My ‘beyond Kudjeru' patrol’: The final stretch

Kudjeru patrol mapPAUL OATES

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.


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Philip Kai Morre

Kiap patrols in the early days, would you call them adventure or hardship? Your dedication and commitment to develop PNG is commended. You ate anything that was given, slept in any house, even caves, despite travelling valleys and mountains without proper rest.

Paul Oates

I agree Doug. I remember sheltering from a severe storm at a village called Kunzarua on the Huon coast. A tree about 20 feet away was hit and split by lightning. For a while all I could see was a blue flash. The road where we left the tractor and trailer to seek shelter was then totally washed away and we were not able to get home. Panic 'reined' back on the Patrol Post with no way of contacting our families.

Ah... it seems like only yesterday.

Doug Robbins

How crystal clear one’s memory can be! All that’s recorded in my FOJ (Field Officers Journal) is “30.9.70 (day 19 of a 32 day Census Patrol): 8.55am departed Dove by rafts on Musa River. 1.05pm sought shelter and warmth at new Sanada from a severe electrical storm accompanied by torrential rain”. I remember that without having to go to my FOJ. What isn’t recorded in my FOJ is that villagers in a nearby garden in the middle of nowhere of the vast Agaiambo Swamp brought to us cucumbers. I’ve eaten them with salads since a child but this time it was easily the best thing I’ve ever eaten. Never forgotten – going on 50 years since!

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