Chapter 31

First Patrol on trading Canoes

Then it came my turn to go on patrol with the ADO. This was going to be for three weeks up the coast towards Moresby visiting villages between Abau and Hula – about sixty miles to the west of Abau. This trip was to be done by sailing canoe, since most was inshore and shallow water. The canoe was typical of the earlier trading canoes – two hollowed logs secured with outriggers and the mast in the centre with timber slats for decking. The mast was stayed and the sail was a square tarpaulin with a diagonal timber gaff going from the junction of the mast and deck to the uppermost corner. Going about with a change in wind direction was a case of moving the steering oar from one end to the other so fortunately the trade winds were fairly constant in direction. There was a coaming of sorts secured to the log sides to raise the freeboard but the log hulls were not covered over. Any water getting in was bailed out using coconut shells or tins, if they had any.

From my point of view this was what I came up here to do and going away was what the job required. Betty was in safe hands and knew that we would be separated like this and handled it well. I was glad that the Medical Officer’s wife, Bess, was on the island with her two children.
On this patrol there would be the ADO, myself, two native constables, native medical officer and cook boy. Patrol gear was packed into the patrol boxes along with rations for the party and a cash box for Commonwealth Bank Agency transactions on patrol. This carried one thousand pounds in silver and notes. The gear was loaded on the canoe deck and tied down. It was disconcerting to think of the money box sinking if the hulls filled with water. That would take some explaining and many times we were a long way offshore; but the canoe men knew what they were doing and it was an uneventful trip.

The plan was to do a census patrol to villages along the coast and some inland as well as visiting two plantations. The villages included Domera, Babaugina, Baramata, Otomata, Gavicone Mission, Kupiano and Wanigela. The procedure was to send advice to the village constable for the villages to be present for the census. The tables and chairs were set up and the Village Book checked. Each villager was called forward and recorded as family units. Births and deaths were recorded as well as pregnancies. With enlarged spleens due to malaria it was difficult to assess if a woman was pregnant, but a query to the police constable would say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ piccanniny, or /kikeni meraki, so ‘eo’– yes, or ‘las’ – no, was not very scientific, but it was effective. It was necessary to record pregnancies, as infants born with maladies had a habit of not surviving. At the same time the native medical officer would attend to minor ailments requiring first aid. More serious ailments were sent to the native hospital at Abau for treatment. This was also a time villagers could air their complaints within the village or with others and the ADO would sit in judgment. Then the banking would be conducted.

If we were staying in the village overnight the rest house was readied; stretchers set up with mosquito nets and the cook boy did his job. Often the cook boy went out with a shot-gun for a pigeon or something for the pot. There were always tins of bully beef with rice and taro or fish and crabs. So, that was the routine which depended on the size of the village and how long we remained there.

The villages were kept clean and porters would be supplied when we moved along the shore or inland. There was a standard rate of twist tobacco per day for porters in preference to money. One village was very much like the next, but two remain in my memory. One was Gavione at MacFarlane Harbour which had a mission there run by an Indian family. I don’t remember the religion, but we were made welcome and had lunch with them. Then we went up the harbour into the Marshall Lagoon. Kupiano was a village at the entrance to the lagoon and the village of Wanigela, which remains so clearly in my mind, was half way up the lagoon. Wanigela was built on stilts over mud flats and it was fascinating to see their young children using a piece of timber, like a body board, skating through the mud, one knee on the board and the other foot pushing like a skate board. There was no way you could walk through the mud.

From Wanigela we went across the lagoon up to Paili Plantation. There was some survey to be checked by the ADO for a land transfer. Paili had two resident Europeans – a manager and his assistant. It was primarily a copra plantation but they were branching into cocoa; the cocoa trees were planted between the coconut palms. The regular spacing and rows of coconut trees in a plantation makes one think of a war cemetery with row upon row of headstones all in a straight line wherever you look.

Native labour lines were used for operating the plantations and strict regulations applied to hiring and care of these labour lines or gangs. Apart from collecting, opening and drying the coconut meat a lot of time wass spent keeping the grass down, and this was done by a line of men with a sarif – simply a length of flat steel about an inch wide by an eighth of inch with a rag wrapped around one end for a handle and the other end bent at an angle; by swinging this like an elongated reaping hook the grass is cut as the line advances. The labour gangs were generally recruited from remote areas for one to two years – they were provided with a basic outfit, lap-laps or ramis, shorts, a standard food ration per man per week including rice, tinned meat, tea, sugar, salt, twist tobacco, matches and, at that time, it was prohibited to sell alcohol to a native. They were transported from their home village, fulfilled their contract, paid off and then returned to their village; this was a means of introducing a cash economy. Many of these natives were highlanders who had never been near the coast before and these men were away from their families and village, they had to live in native labour quarters and worked under supervision of the plantation manager.

The time on patrol went quickly and I have forgotten most of the events, but we worked our way around the coast and ended up either at Baia Plantation or Baramata Plantation where I think we were met by the “Minatonka” and returned to Abau. Betty managed remarkably well during my absence and we were pleased to be together again. The patrol report had to be typed and finished and we soon settled back into a routine between office and home. Shortly after, the other CPO, Gordon Fleet, went out for a short patrol to villages around the shores of Cloudy Bay. The island seemed a happy place. Betty was accepted and liked and we often had visitors to the island for lunch or dinner, a way of returning hospitality given to us. The plantation on Robinson River Plantation, inland from Abau was a large one that had a herd of cattle. Whenever they killed a beast for meat they sent a good supply to the island to be shared around. This was welcome after tinned meat.

There was another time they sent a foal, whose mother had died, to the island for Betty. It was accepted but not without reservations from the ADO. There was not much fresh milk on the island and so it was fed with powdered milk and seemed to be doing well for a time but then faded away and died. We were not veterinarians. There was also the instance when the only bull on the island was thought to be past his prime so was slaughtered for meat. A few months later the cow gave birth to a calf showing us how wrong you can be.

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