Colonial conditioning

October 22, 2007 at 12:03 am (Short Story) ()

Adrian McKinnon, looking back in time said to himself: “I do regret meeting Jansen.”                 

      The meeting took place over half a century ago, in the District of New Ireland in the Territory of Papua New Guinea, on a copra plantation south of the small town, Namatanai, on the East Coast.

     The plantation was planted before the First World War by a Belgian national and unlike the surrounding plantations was not expropriated by the Australian authorities after the war, because it was not German owned. Subsequently, the Belgian sold the plantation to New Guinea Company, a subsidiary company in the WR Carpenter corporate body.

      Charles Jansen was New Guinea Company’s plantation manager, a man of Burgher descent from Ceylon, who had been living in the Territory for the past four years. The plantation was not on particularly productive land and the palms were coming to the end of their economic worth but it still was able to sustain a force of about 150 workers and produce sufficient copra, to make it a worthwhile concern for New Guinea Company.

      Jansen was suffering at the time with gallbladder disease and he informed the Company that he would have to go to Australia for an operation and he wanted a relieving manager while he was away.

       McKinnon duly arrived to act as relieving manager. A man in his early twenties and still to all intensive purposes a rather callow youth, while Jansen in his early forties was a manipulative and brutal man who went to great lengths to create a persona of himself as a full-blooded British colonial.

        Jansen’s proclivity for physical violence towards the labourers was borne out in the frequently dished out backhanders, he gave to workers, who in some way did not measure up to what he wanted. McKinnon observed this and in his naivety thought that this is the way things should be done. The brutal aspects of plantation life were not entirely foreign to McKinnon as he had seen a bit of this in plantations in Papua and he had been lead to believe that this was the way native labour should be controlled.

       McKinnon arrived on the plantation, on a small ship from Rabaul which was to be loaded with copra, after leaving him. When loading operations were finished, Jansen and McKinnon walked through the coconut palms to the plantation bungalow.

        On meeting McKinnon, Jansen seemed pleased enough with him and on reaching the bungalow he instructed his domestic staff to serve lunch, which consisted of massive amounts of rice with a fish curry and vegetables cooked in coconut milk. He informed McKinnon: “I’ve at last succeeded in teaching that lot in the kitchen to cook a decent curry. In Ceylon, we always had trained staff, a butler and a chef but alas the Australians have no idea how to train staff.” McKinnon was most impressed with Jansen’s apparent air of sophistication and almost immediately came under his influence.

         Jansen prided himself on running the plantation with what he thought was military precision. He stood at about 5’10” and during the day dressed in khaki shorts, shirt, wearing a slough hat, longs socks and boots. He always carried a stout cane or kanda, which he not infrequently used on workers he was displeased with. On one occasion, McKinnon saw him severely beat a bosboi, a foreman of a gang of grass cutters merely because he was unhappy with the work they were doing. In explanation after, he said, his gallbladder was playing up and this was known to cause a loss of temper. He considered himself medically knowledgeable claiming to have done three years medicine in the UK. Young Adrian was further impressed with this and with his supposed diploma of tropical agriculture from Jamaica.

      Charles Jansen seemed to live life under a sense of threat. The analogy of an army under siege was the perception of his life situation he liked to portray: “Like Field Marshal Slim I’ll turn defeat into victory.”

        Parcels came from Ceylon addressed to Captain Jansen. On his right leg the shin bone had been broken and had obviously been poorly set, an injury, Jansen claimed, he received during the War in Europe, when he stepped on a German land mine. After being wounded he was taken prisoner by the Germans and his life was saved by the skill of a German Surgeon. A dramatic story, true or not, who would know, but Adrian was awed.

        In the course of handing the plantation, or estate, the preferred word for Jansen, over, he impressed on Adrian that all the machines were to be kept in perfect order. The Ferguson tractor was to be regularly painted and the motorbike kept clean. He claimed an expertise with motorbikes having taken part in the Great Motorbike Road Race on the Isle of Man. The way things appeared was very important to Jansen and obvious spots around the plantation were always kept clean and tidy. For instance the grass along the main road going through the plantation was always kept cut.

         Jansen’s descriptions of the sexual antics of some of the other Australian planters were somewhat amusing. According to him, one village women of loose virtue made the claim that: Mi save kok bilong olgeta man, masta,na Saina, na olkain kanaka. I know the genitals of lots of men, whites, Chinese and village men. The native women of New Ireland had a reputation of being rather obliging. Jansen maintained that mainland contract labour loved to work on New Ireland. White men carrying on with natives he found distasteful, or this is what he said. He had some story about falling in love with a beautiful Indian doctor in Ceylon, but if the truth be known, he did not seem too interested in women. A British colonial according to him: “must always be dignified. One could not maintain one’s dignity and drink.” He did not drink alcohol, at least not in public. A psychologist might think that he feared alcohol because by imbibing he could let his guard down and reveal his real self. McKinnon found a bottle of brandy and he asked Jansen about it. “I use it only for medicinal purposes.” He said.

           Jansen’s reputation with the Sub-District Office was to say the least rather poor. He had already been charged with two counts of assault and found guilty on both. If he were to be found guilty again he faced the danger of being deported from the Territory. Of this, he said: “The law has little to do with justice.”

           In conservation Jansen affected a unique brand of English pronunciation by stressing syllables in unusual places. Thus in ‘mechanic’ the last syllable was stressed and in ‘diploma’ the first syllable. This gave a disharmony and jerky flow, on occasions, to his speech. He was not impressed with what he perceived to be the indiscipline of the Australian troops during the War.  Telling a story of being an officer commanding a group of Australians on a troop ship, he challenged a digger for not coming on deck when the bugle sounded. The soldier apparently replied: “My bowels don’t answer to the sound of a bugle.”

           The process of handing the plantation over took about a week and Jansen left, after giving detailed instructions on the care of the horse. The horse was ridden to inspect work around the property. A vessel, after loading copra, took Jansen to Rabaul, on his way to Brisbane for his operation.

           McKinnon was now left on his own, to manage the plantation, but Jansen had left him still largely under his influence. The management may have improved slightly in relation to the treatment of the workers. The tractor was always kept clean and the grass cut in open areas. The motorbike was not ridden and was only started and polished. Adrian kept his distance from the village people and like Charles before they were kept away from the reef in front of the plantation, even if they wanted to fish. He very rarely left to visit nearby Namatanai. He did have some social contact with the manager of a Burns Philip plantation to the South. As for arranging some sort of relationship with a local village girl, this was never seriously contemplated. The Australian Administration had a rather ambivalent attitude to liaisons of whites with natives. Officially they were frowned on and whites could be deported if the Native Women’s Protection Ordinance was in any way contravened, but relationships, if discretely carried out, were more or less ignored. In the old days of German New Guinea most of the single planters quite openly had their natives mistresses, subsequently the Australians followed the same practice but not so openly. The Germans had a reputation of being harsh but in matters of sexual conduct they were much more realistic than the Australians. The official attitude of the Australian Administration to sexual contacts with the locals was grounded on racism and puritanical nonconformist Methodist views, which did not really protect the local women from exploitation but only tended to hide what went on.

            In five months, Jansen returned after his successful gallstone operation and proceeded to find fault with everything that McKinnon had done while he was away. The fact that his domestic staff had cleared out just before he returned did not put him in a good humour. The copra drier had been rebuilt and he reluctantly conceded that this was a good job. But most of what took place after he left he disapproved of. Anyhow, one thing lead to another, and he refused to accept the return of the plantation to his management, by signing the cash book, but he did give McKinnon a cheque for some personal goods that he had been paid for when he left, a wireless, kerosene refrigerator and kitchen utensils. McKinnon left and arranged to have his gear moved to Namatanai and caught a vessel to Rabaul.

              On arriving in Rabaul, he reported to New Guinea Company and explained what had happened. The Company Director told him to wait in Rabaul until they had heard from Jansen. In the meantime, he went to the Bank of New South Wales to cash Jansen’s cheque. The bank informed him that Jansen had stopped the cheque, whereupon, McKinnon went straight to a well known solicitor, Warner Walls, who was practising in Rabaul, at this time. Walls sent Jansen a radiogram along these lines: Unless you allow your cheque in favour of my client, Adrian McKinnon, he intends to take legal action against you. Warner Walls               On the same day a radiogram was sent to the solicitor from Jansen: Cheque allowed, I also intend to take legal action against your client. Charles Jansen

               To make a long story short there was no legal action from Jansen and he informed the Company that the plantation books were in order.

                Adrian decided that he needed a holiday and he went South on a Burns Philip ship, but unfortunately, this is not the end of the Jansen/McKinnon encounter. They were to meet again some years after to the disadvantage of McKinnon.

         The expatriates in the inlands were a mixed bag of saints and sinners and many things in between. Because of the nature of the Territory, before independence,  most tended to be big fish in a small pond and whatever they did tended to create waves.

The Territory was the making of many but equally the destruction of many.

This is just another stori long taim bilong masta, a tale from colonial times.

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The blindness of belief

October 20, 2007 at 7:38 am (Short Story) ()

George Skinner liked things to be in order and be predictable, and heaven knows this was hardly the situation he now found himself in. He had been in Patlangat Plantation on the west coast of New Ireland for four hours, having arrived by boat early in the morning from Rabaul. As soon as the small inter-island copra boat dropped anchor, he sensed that something was wrong. There was no crowd to greet the arrival of the vessel and he saw no copra bags stacked up on the foreshore ready for loading. He was rowed ashore in a small dingy and he asked the one native he saw where the manager of the plantation was. This individual pointed towards the plantation house a few hundred yards away. Skinner’s ability to communicate with the New Guineans was limited to those who could understand English as he had only been in the Territory for a month. He lingered before walking to the house and for some reason he had a feeling of apprehension. A dread of something, he knew not what, and out of character with his usual habit, he lit a cigarette and smoked before he had eaten anything.

            Skinner was a man in his fifties and was of middle height. He generally took the conventional approach to things. His job working for WR Carpenter & Co Ltd as an inspector of plantations seemed anything but conventional, though his employment history was fairly ordinary. He was born in the English county of Derbyshire and as a young lad, joined the London office of Morris Hedstrom & Co as a clerk. The company was a plantation and trading firm operating in the islands of Fiji. This was shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War. During the war he was in the army service corps in the ranks. After the war he approached Morris Hedstrom & Co to get his old job back. He was told that there was nothing in London but there was a plantation position in Fiji as an assistant if he wanted it.

            In Fiji he did quite well. He was a man of sober habits and he managed to rise steadily in the company from plantation assistant to plantation inspector. When Morris Hedstrom & Co was taken over by WR Carpenter & Co in the late 1950s, he was transferred from Suva to Rabaul, retaining his position as a plantation inspector. His transfer was made with little fuss as he had never married and had no immediate family.

               After finishing his cigarette, Skinner walked the short distance to the house, passing the labour quarters on the way. There he was joined by a New Guinean from the Sepik who was a contract worker on the plantation. The contract worker told Skinner that the Masta had not been seen for a few days. The plantation dwelling was a substantial building in the Queensland style constructed on piles and elevated off the ground. Steps gave entrance to the house. On entering the house, Skinner noticed an unpleasant smell and the general untidiness of the place. The house was full of blow flies and empty bottles. In the living room, overlooking the Bismarck Sea, clothes were strewn around the room and a terrible smell seemed to be coming from the next room. Skinner went across and opened the door. The room was darkened because curtains had been drawn across the large open shutters but there was sufficient light to make out a body hanging by a rope from the ceiling beams.

            Skinner called out to Pita, the Sepik labourer, to help him and they cut the body down. The corpse had gone beyond rigor mortis and had started to decay. Skinner estimated that death had occurred at least four days previously. Pita told him that this was the body of Jack Jones, the plantation manager. Skinner hurriedly scribbled a note to the captain of the boat he arrived on, to come to the house as a tragedy had occurred.

            The captain soon arrived and greeted Skinner with these words: “George, bloody hell, this place smells like rotten fish in a rundown Chinese brothel.” “I wouldn’t know about that,” replied Skinner, “but things are much more serious.” Skinner then showed him the body and for a moment the captain was lost for words.

            Captain Albert Forrester was the skipper of the Theresia, a motor vessel of seventy or eighty tons. He was a plump man who looked the worse for wear. During the war he had run small ships around New Guinea and afterwards he had just stayed on in a variety of positions on vessels around Papua New Guinea. On this occasion he acted decisively. He went straight back to the ship and reported to Rabaul by radio.  In the meantime Skinner sent word to all the workers to assemble. The bosboi or foreman, Simogun, told him that the plantation had been pretty much in chaos for the last week. No rations had been given out and work had come to a standstill.

            Forrester had got through to Rabaul and told Skinner that a government vessel would be leaving Rabaul almost at once and should arrive sometime in the evening or early next morning. Skinner then concentrated on getting the plantation back to some semblance of order. Rations were issued and work allocated. The plantation house was cleaned up and Jones’s body covered and put in a makeshift coffin. What copra there was, was loaded on the Theresia. Skinner could not see any reason why Captain Forrester and his vessel should remain, so after the vessel was loaded, the order was given to up anchor and away it went on its scheduled voyage.

            Jones’s domestic staff had returned to the house and Skinner made arrangements to camp in the living room. Jones’s body had been moved to a back shed. By this time it was late afternoon and Skinner treated himself to a stiff whisky, after which he had a meal of bully beef and bread that he had brought from Rabaul. Skinner felt that he had done all that was necessary and now he could only await the arrival of the government vessel and the investigation into Jones’s death.

            Skinner was conventional in his life style and work practices but intellectually he was anything but ordinary. He read widely in literature and philosophy. Shortly after arriving in Fiji, he had embarked on an extensive self-education reading programme. He read the great Elizabethans – Shakespeare, Spenser, Marlowe and subsequent literary periods. He was something of an expert on Tennyson. The Greek and Roman philosophers had stimulated his interest in modern philosophy and he was now reading Sartre’s Being and Nothingness. Existentialist philosophy, he felt, explained much of present day life. Skinner suspected that Sartre would consider suicide dispassionately and not condemn it out of hand. From an existentialist view, life is ‘absurd’ anyway and this largely accorded with Skinner’s thoughts. Jones’s death, he concluded, must have been suicide. This was a stark reality in contrast to the beautiful approaching tropical evening. Skinner felt at peace with himself but unquestionably Jones had not.

            Jones’s domestic staff wanted to clean up more around the house but Skinner thought it better to wait until the government vessel arrived from Rabaul. He decided to retire early and he showered and went to bed on a camp stretcher in the living room. The smell around the house had abated since the body had been moved.

            Early the next morning he was awakened with the call: Masta, sip i anka i stap. (The ship is lying at anchor). Shortly afterwards three white men arrived at the house. Harry Carruthers, the District Officer, was accompanied by David Hobhouse, a police sub-inspector, and Dr Roger Charing, a medical officer. Introductions were quickly made and Skinner took them all to Jones’s body. Dr Charing examined it thoroughly. He could find nothing to suggest that Jones’s death was anything other than suicide. He found the hyoid bone in the neck intact but strangulation was consistent with a simple obstruction of the airway caused by the rope that was still around his neck. In his report he concluded that Jones had died by his own hand four or five days previously. He recommended immediate burial. Carruthers and Hobhouse accepted the doctor’s recommendation and Skinner arranged to have Jones buried.

            Carruthers and Hobhouse interviewed a number of the plantation workers and about all they could find out was that for the last week or so Jones had not been seen around the plantation. Jones’s domestic staff said that he had been drinking heavily. Back in the plantation house Skinner and the officials reached the conclusion that this was another case of a white man gone ‘troppo’. Jones had lost it and Skinner could not help wondering why.

            The interment of Jones’s remains and the formalities were finalised and the officials decided to return to Rabaul. Skinner remained on the plantation to await the arrival of a newly appointed manager. Normally an investigation into a death would have been conducted from Kavieng, as the plantation was in the New Ireland District but in this case a quicker response could be mounted from Rabaul and being the death of a white man the authorities opted for Rabaul to handle matters.

            It would fall to Skinner to write to Jones’s relations in Sydney and he wondered what he would say. At this stage he had no idea why Jones had killed himself. In his experience of life, Skinner had found that tragedy was often associated with sex, money and religion, with one or all three playing a part. He wondered what, if anything, these factors had contributed to Jones’s death. Being of a philosophical turn of mind, Skinner determined in his own quiet way to try and understand why Jones committed suicide. He did not know what sexual problems Jones might have had but there was talk among his domestic staff that he was visited regularly by a young woman from the nearby village. Young white men on the plantations did not usually have money problems as in their relatively isolated situations they were usually able to save most of their salaries. Skinner could not detect any signs of misappropriation by Jones in the plantation stores and accounts. Jones was said to have been a follower of the Church of Christian Science but not a fanatical believer. Skinner found out from the plantation workers that it was not always satisfactory to seek treatment from Jones for medical complaints like fevers as he was not keen to give out medicines.

            While he was pondering Jones’s demise, Skinner was visited by the village headman or luluai from the nearby village and what he had to say explained quite a lot. It appeared that Jones had been carrying on for some time with a village woman and she had given birth to his child some months previously. Recently the child had become sick with what was probably malaria and the mother had brought the child to Jones for treatment. It seemed that Jones had not given the child any anti-malaria tablets but only told the mother to sponge the baby with cold water and in time the fever would go. The child died and when Jones heard this, he went to his house and stayed there, eventually killing himself.

            Skinner wondered about Jones’s state of mind. Did he become disillusioned with his religious beliefs when he realised that his child had died without life-saving medicine? Perhaps this was what had driven him to suicide. Skinner said to himself: “There you are, human tragedy is always associated in some ways with sex, money and religion. Perhaps money did not figure in Jones’s case.”

            A week later, a young man arrived from Rabaul to take over the management of the plantation and Skinner handed over the plantation’s affairs and returned to Rabaul.

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October 20, 2007 at 6:28 am (Short Story) ()

 Peter Davis had heard all the views: You can’t go back. You can’t recapture the past. The dreams of old men are just that. Nostalgia is said to be a yearning for the past. A seeking for a bygone time and place. He knew that the stream of life was just that, a flow thatpasses and changes. So what was Davis doing back in Angoram after thirty years? A broken down river settlement on the Sepik River in Papua New Guinea which had little to recommend it, apart from past memories. It was now largely a dysfunctional town. No electric power, airstrip or wharf and government office to assist and drive the daily lives of the residents. There was a hospital without patients, a condition that did not necessarily indicate a healthy population. He walked the muddy roads and dreamed of people long since gone, a colonial past of people and events. An expatriate life erased from living memory, or was it?True, no longer was there a club. The sub-district office, hotel and notorious Tobacco Road were gone. The opportunity to drink a brandy with Sandy, the former manageress of the hotel, was no longer there. The eccentric Dutch priest, if still alive, had long since left and with him, lively conversations about philosophy and theology. Young New Guinea women of bygone years were now either dead or old. The men who remembered Davis were, like him ―old. 

In this walk down memory lane, there was one considerable constant ― the mosquitoes.They were just like those of old and still as eager to practise their bloodsucking techniques.

Poor Davis himself was a shadow of his former self, an old man with piles, an enlarged  prostate and a heart condition. Age had certainly wearied him physically but not mentally, he remained as cerebrally sound as ever. The normal desires of life were still his. He still had an eye for a comely wench and he reflected that perhaps age was something like alcohol: it left desire unimpeded but in Shakespeare’s words: “taketh away the performance”. Some would call him “a dirty old man”. His retort would have been: “But I was a dirty young man.” Davis liked to think that he was a man who could confront the past and live the truth. Little did he know the past was about to catch up with him. Like a mirror on the wall, the past reveals the good, the bad and the ugly.

In a rather nondescript trade store near the former airstrip, Davis was to see his past reflected in a surprising way. He needed to purchase one or two items, and he asked the woman serving behind the counter for some soap and tins of fish and then looked into her face and asked: Wanem nem bilong yu?(What is your name?) She told him her name was Ipa Davis. He then asked: Wanem nem bilong mama bilong yu?(What is your mother’s name?) Ipa answered: Nem bilong mama, Elizabeth, em i dai pinis.( My mother’s name was Elizabeth and she is dead.)

It was then that Davis realized that he was looking at his own daughter. The whole experience was too much for him. He said nothing to Ipa and just paid for his purchases, and walked away.


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EMA on the grog

October 20, 2007 at 4:49 am (Short Story) ()

EMA on the grog 

            It was in the Sepik District of the Territory of Papua and New Guinea within sight of Mt Turu that Jim Kelly, European Medical Assistant, was camped in a village near the patrol post of Yangoru. He had just got out of bed and was listening to the ABC news on a portable wireless. The news was full of the Cuban Missile Crisis and what Kennedy and Khrushchev would do. At the time Jim could identify with any crisis as he was going through his own crisis; he badly needed a drink.

            He thought to himself what a fool he had been not to have secretly planted a bottle of whisky in his patrol box, to tide him over the next day or so. Apart from coordinating a smallpox vaccination campaign in the area, he had been expressly sent on patrol by the Medical Officer in Maprik to ‘dry out’. The officer said to him: “Jim, this is your last chance. Any more boozing on the job and I’ll have to report you to the Regional Medical Officer. Anyhow, your behaviour is not fair on Marge.” Marge was his long-suffering wife who was also the District Nurse.

            Kelly first came to New Guinea during the War with the army as a medic and after the cessation of hostilities, he joined the Health Department as a Medical Assistant with the Civil Administration. He was for a number of years highly regarded in the Territory for his medical work. In the Highlands he did ground-breaking work in treating leprosy in the Tari area. He was put in charge of the native hospital at Telefomin after the murders of Patrol Officers Szarka and Harris. He had also enhanced his position with the Health Department by marrying Marge, a trained nurse. She found ready employment and for a period, kept him on the straight and narrow. Jim needed this as his drinking had increasingly become a problem He was becoming a bottle-a-day man with an increasing inability to hide it. For years his redeeming qualities were that he always fronted up for work immaculately dressed and did not, as a rule, drink on patrol.

            He noticed that his hands were unsteady as he tried to drink a cup of tea before starting the day’s work. He thought to himself, “Thank god I’ve got good doktaboi”, native medical orderlies. His work really only consisted of sending them out to the surrounding villages with medical supplies to do the vaccinations while he  stayed at the village, where he was now,  carried out some medical examinations in a quiet and unruffled way, and hoped his craving for a drink would abate. If the going got too much, he could always get the driver of his Land Rover to take him to the nearby patrol post and cadge a drink from the patrol officers. He didn’t want to do this, if he could avoid it, as he was not keen that word should get back to Maprik that he was hanging around the patrol post.

            After issuing instructions to the medical orderlies; Luke from Manus, Tobis from the Middle Sepik and John from Rabaul, Kelly sang out for his mankimasta, his domestic servant, to bring him another cup of tea. The cup of tea put him in a better frame of mind and he was about to start a medical examination of a group of natives, when an out of breath and agitated villager informed him in garbled Pidgin and English that a plane had crashed some distance away towards Mt Turu, with the death of all on board.

            Kelly swung into action and sent his driver and Land Rover with a note to the patrol post stating that he intended to walk immediately to the crash site and render what assistance he could if there were survivors. The site was only accessible by foot through the jungle. He packed a patrol box with essential medical supplies and arranged carriers from the village.

            The purpose and dynamism that Kelly now displayed was nothing short of miraculous. In his eagerness to get moving, his craving for drink abated and he concentrated on the task at hand.

            The walk to the crash site took a good two hours, some of which was through dense jungle. On his way there, Kelly thought to himself, “I wish Marge could see me now.” He knew that he was at times a terrible embarrassment to her with his drinking, guests arriving at their house to find him in a drunken sleep on a chair and awaking hours after just as they were about to leave. Marge once said to a young visiting doctor, “I would rather have anything than an alcoholic husband, even a philandering one would be far better.” It was now years since he had had any physical relationship with Marge. His boozing had virtually made him impotent. He knew that drink had often made him ineffective in his medical work. This at times had led to dire consequences. European Medical Assistants, at this time in the Territory, were very often the only medical help available. He thought of a botched birth delivery he had done while stationed in Dreikikir. This was all because of his inebriated state at the time. Kelly was very conscious, as it were, of letting the side down and this only made him drink more. His life seemed to him full of pride and shame. He was proud of his Irish descent and he spoke with pride of visiting his father’s relations in Dublin. Drinking in a pub just off O’Connell Street with a distant relative, a man came up to the relative and said, referring to Jim, “What’s that Englishman doing in the bar?” Whereupon the relative said, “That’s no Englishman but the son of Daniel Kelly visiting from Australia.”

            All these thoughts were going through his mind as the team moved towards the crash site. When they came upon the plane, Jim saw that the fuselage was more or less intact. One wing had been severed. There were four people on board. The two natives behind the cockpit were both dead. In the front, the passenger, a white woman, was dead and still strapped to her seat. The pilot was just outside the plane lying on his back and obviously very seriously injured. Both his legs were broken and he was suffering with extensive internal injuries, but he was still conscious and able to converse. Jim immediately recognized him. He was Fr Pat Ryan, an Irish priest with the Mission in Wewak. Before entering the priesthood, Fr Ryan had been a pilot with Aer Lingus and for the past year had been flying Catholic Mission planes.

             “Don’t worry, Father we’ll have you as right as rain in no time,” Jim said, making him as comfortable as possible and giving him a shot of morphia. In spite of being conscious, Jim could see that he was not going to last long. “Ah, Jim, it’s good to see you and how fitting for one Irishman to see another into the next world.” “Don’t worry, Father, you just settle down.” In a short time the morphia started to work and Fr Ryan’s pain somewhat abated, but he was still intent on talking. “I did my best to avoid any villages. There was just nothing I could do. There must have been a blockage in the fuel line. I tried the auxiliary tank but it would just not come into play. These bloody single-engine Dorniers.” On saying this, he went into rapid decline and he just managed to say to Jim:”Let’s say the Our Father.” They started the prayer: “Our Father, who art in heaven hallowed be…” He lost consciousness, Jim held his hand and finished the Lord’s prayer. Fr Ryan then died.

 Just as this happened, two patrol officers arrived from Yangoru. Arrangements were made to remove the bodies and secure the site for the Civil Aviation Department investigation that would follow.

            Jim returned to his camp still in a state of heightened motivation but also with an anticlimactic sense of, “Oh, well, so what.” He told himself that he had done all he could for Fr Ryan but he could not deny that his death had profoundly affected him Death was nothing new to Jim but the appropriateness of the good priest’s words of one Irishman seeing another into the next world and the dimension and refuge implied in the Lord’s prayer in some strange way gave him comfort.

            Kelly was born a Catholic but as an adult had not practised. In the terminology of the day, he had married Marge outside the Church in a Protestant ceremony but like most lapsed Catholics of his generation, he was not entirely comfortable outside the Church.

            The patrol officers from Yangoru had asked Jim to join them back at the station for a few drinks. “Damn it”, he said to himself. “I need a drink.” But for some reason, before leaving, Jim got down on his knees and prayed:”Help me Lord, I’m powerless.” He did not go to Yangoru for drinks and a fortnight later returned to Maprik. Word soon got around that Kelly was no longer drinking. 

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