The best I could have done at the time
17 October 2019
| The Bucket Blog
TROPICAL NORTH QUEENSLAND - Reflecting upon one’s own life from the vantage point of older age is sometimes rather like reading a tattered autobiographical account of someone else’s life.
Mine contains many examples of gross stupidity and incompetence, but it also, in an early chapter documents one single decision which would continue to shape my life to this day.
At age 19, partly to avoid being conscripted to go and kill other humans in Vietnam, I found employment with the Department of Agriculture in New Guinea.
My "office" was mostly a mobile one. Transported along jungle trails, up and down mountains, across vine structures bridging rivers, into remote villages, and through subsistence gardens, on my own two skinny legs with large feet.
Vehicle roads were almost non-existent, but light aircraft landing strips were conveniently scattered like aeronautical confetti around the country.
A lot of them amateur engineering masterpieces excavated from incredibly steep mountainsides by pick and shovel.
One minute of light aircraft flying time roughly equates to one hour of walking distance on the ground. Trust me, I did all the research.
After eight years of walking apprenticeship, (and with lots of encouragement from my employer) in a moment of staggering naivete, I decided to learn to fly, and sell everything I owned to buy a very old Cessna 182A in order to more effectively and efficiently travel around to work on our village development projects.
These included introducing and marketing cash crops like coffee, cardamom and rice, improving drinking water supplies and human nutrition, and building micro-hydro power installations to provide light in village houses.
Naive firstly, because the six weeks of full time theoretical and practical pilots training remains to this day the most intense learning experience of my life.
Naive also because I had no idea that some other commercial light aircraft operators would view my addition to ‘their’ skies unfavourably.
Some pilots made that abundantly clear to me.
Many years later I discovered that a couple of these sensitive souls were, at the time, betting on just precisely which month and year the inexperienced young GOF would kill himself either flying into a cloud with a solid centre, or trying to land at one of the slippery and steeply sloping landing fields in his area.
My continuing survival, which eventually included almost 1,000 hours of PNG flying time, must have been a huge financial disappointment for them.
I was naive yet again, for failing to predict the undermining forces of jealousy which were to emanate from office-bound public servants in other government departments based in the administrative town of Lae.
Life, however, is not a popularity contest.
Had it been so then I would have been dismissed in a very early elimination round.
So, judged from a distance of thirty years, what lasting benefits were gained by my Papua New Guinean friends from all my young enthusiasm to improve their lot in the world?
Perhaps a small handful of people will remember the convenience of having an aircraft based in their village seven days a week, and the day when it was needed to medically evacuate them to hospital.
Most projects eventually fell into a state of dilapidation, as did the whole country of Papua New Guinea.
However, in a world where the inequality between peoples is a hot topic for discussion in the United Nations, and huge chunks of money allocated for its alleviation are squandered on conferences held in luxury resorts, or stolen by corrupt politicians, at least, for one brief moment of my life, I actually got off my arse and tried to do something about it.
I know that it was the best I could have done at the time, given the natural restraints of youthful ignorance and inexperience, and today, looking back, that provides me with just a modicum of satisfaction.
Footnote: Tragically the person to whom I eventually sold P2-WKD along with his young son, died when the aircraft crashed in the Markham valley.
I still think a lot about that.
* GOF by GOF
“GOF is a reclusive, cynical, irreverent, sexagenarian [in 2015] Australian who lives a life of great contentment and financial inadequacy with his long suffering partner of 36 years in a remote location surrounded by tropical rainforest. He is not connected to Australia’s electricity grid, political stupidity or rampant consumerism.
“The Bucket is my autobiography diluted with a whole lot of nonsense. There are some stories about growing up in rural Australia, many more about working, trekking, and flying a Cessna 182 around remote areas of New Guinea during the period 1968 to 1979 and many tales about the failures, personal foolishness and wonderful rewards of trying to live a life of self-sufficiency in tropical North Queensland.”
The Bucket blog ran for more than seven years from June 2008 to December 2015. Link here to its very readable and beautifully crafted stories
I think I know who GOF is although he traversed my area before I arrived in this world. But he shall remain anonymous.
God bless his naivety and perhaps youthful brashness. He served our people well with his innocent demeanor and never say die attitude.
Posted by: David Kitchnoge | 17 October 2019 at 01:09 PM